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The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) defines eating disorders as “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behavior.” There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), each is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The three main types of teenage eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. To recognize if your child is struggling with an eating disorder it is helpful to be aware of the warning signs, respectively. Anorexia nervosa is when a young person limits his or her food intake to the point of starvation, making his or her body unable to function properly or maintain a healthy weight. Warning signs an adolescent is struggling with anorexia may include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Constantly weighing themselves
  • Obsessively reading nutritional information 
  • Weight gain fears
  • Eating only low-calorie foods 
  • Distorted body image 
  • Distracted and unable to concentrate
  • Skipping meals
  • Regularly making excuses not to eat
  • Denying there is a problem despite excessive weight loss

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves habitually overeating (bingeing) typically followed by purging (e.g., vomiting). There are several signs and symptoms that may manifest in a young person struggling with bulimia, which can include but are not limited to any combination of the following examples, provided by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):

  • Appears uncomfortable eating around others
  • Fear of eating in public or with others
  • Shows unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
  • Discolored, stained teeth
  • Has calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Diets frequently
  • Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Non-specific gastrointestinal complaints
  • Sleeping problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired immune system

The third most common type of eating disorder is known as binge eating disorder (BED). Teens with binge eating disorder will excessively overeat in one sitting and experience out of control eating habits. Binge eaters make very little or no attempt to compensate for their overeating, which can lead to obesity. Young people with binge eating disorder typically attempt to binge in private. Therefore, it is essential to be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Depression
  • Eating in secret
  • Anxiety
  • Skipping meals
  • Finding hidden food in unusual places
  • Eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Continuing to eat, even when painfully full 
  • Inability to feel satiated
  • In extreme cases, suicidal ideation

Keep an eye on your child’s behaviors and be aware of any noticeable differences that may indicate a need for additional support. The pervasive symptoms associated with any type of eating disorder can cause adverse physiological consequences and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in daily life. Young people that suffer from eating disorders often struggle with malnutrition such as a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. If left untreated, eating disorders can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder it be best to err on the side of caution and pursue professional guidance.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.