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Teen Eating Disorder Facts

A Factsheet for Parents of Troubled Teens


Updated October 03, 2011

Types of Eating Disorders

The following definitions come from the ANRED site:

Anorexia nervosa

  • Person refuses to maintain normal body weight.
  • Weighs 85% or less than what is expected for age and height.
  • In women, menstrual periods stop. In men levels of sex hormones fall.
  • Young girls do not begin to menstruate at the appropriate age.
  • Person denies the dangers of low weight.
  • Is terrified of gaining weight.
  • Reports feeling fat even when very thin.
  • In addition to the above, anorexia nervosa often includes depression, irritability, withdrawal, and peculiar behaviors such as compulsive rituals, strange eating habits, and division of foods into "good/safe" and "bad/dangerous" categories.

Bulimia nervosa
  • Person binge eats.
  • Feels out of control while eating.
  • Vomits, misuses laxatives, exercises, or fasts to get rid of the calories.
  • Diets when not bingeing.
  • Believes self-worth requires being thin.
  • May shoplift, be promiscuous, abuse alcohol or drugs or abuse credit cards.
  • Weight may be normal or near normal.
  • Like anorexia, bulimia can kill. Even though bulimics put up a cheerful front, they are often depressed, lonely, ashamed, and empty inside. They have great difficulty talking about their feelings, which almost always include anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and deeply buried anger.

Binge eating disorder
  • The person binge eats frequently and repeatedly.
  • Feels out of control and unable to stop.
  • May eat rapidly and secretly, or may snack and nibble all day long.
  • Feels guilty and ashamed.
  • Has a history of diet failures.
  • Tends to be depressed and obese.
  • People who have binge eating disorder do not regularly vomit, overexercise, or abuse laxatives. They may be genetically predisposed to weigh more than the cultural ideal, so they diet and then binge in response to the hunger. Or they may eat to comfort themselves, avoid threatening situations, and numb emotional pain. Regardless of the reason, diet programs are not the answer and almost always make matters worse.

Why Do People Do It?

People with eating disorders appear to share a common personality type. They may suffer from low self-esteem and a strong need for control in their lives. They are often perfectionists and over-achievers. Eating may be a way to cope with stress and anxiety for many. Unfortunately it is followed by extreme guilt and a fear of gaining weight.

Who Gets Eating Disorders?

According to Room 42 Resource Center, eating disorders appear to run in families, with females being affected most often. Whether this is genetic or a result of parental attitudes is not certain. One study found that mother's who are overly concerned about their daughter's weight and attractiveness may put their child at risk. It has also been found that girls with eating disorders often have fathers or brothers who are critical about their weight.

Most of those with eating disorder are young and adolescent women, although men and older women can also be affected. Anorexia and bulimia are found most often in Caucasian women. Binge eating disorder, in contrast, affects African Americans and Caucasians at an equal rate. About 1/3 to 1/4 of it's victims are men.

Those in professions that put an emphasis on thinness are also prone to eating disorders.


Treatment depends upon what type of eating disorder the person has.

A person with binge eating disorder would typically be given antidepressants and cognitive therapy to help them recognize triggers, monitor their stress and modify their unhealthy responses to stress.

In addition to cognitive therapy and antidepressants, Bulimia treatment may also include psychodynamic therapy to focus on their self-esteem issues; group therapy, which is believed to bring about longer-lasting results in combination with other therapy types; family therapy to teach family members how their own behaviors may be contributing to the disease. Treatment for bulimia also usually involves nutritional counseling. If the person is experiencing any life-threatening complications from their disorder, hospitalization may be a part of treatment also.

Anorexia treatment is much more likely to include hospitalization, especially if the patient has become severely malnourished. Cognitive therapy is used to help the patient sort out the unrealistic beliefs they have developed about their weight. It also helps them recognize triggers and learn healthy ways to cope with stress. Psychodynamic therapy is employed to help them recognize the emotional reasons behind their disorder and to help them accept weight gain. Family therapy is especially critical for teenagers living at home, because unhealthy family interactions may have played a large role in the original development of the disorder. Group therapy, helps the patient find support and role models for recovery. Antidepressants should be used with caution. Certain antidepressants may present health risks to the malnourished individual. Further, certain antidepressants suppress appetite and are not appropriate for the anorexic patient.

More Fact Sheets for Parents of Troubled Teens

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Depression
  4. Who's at Risk?
  5. Age Groups
  6. Child Depression
  7. Depression in Teens
  8. Eating Disorder Facts for Parents

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