How to Detect Eating Disorders During Adolescence

It's important that we detect eating disorders during adolescence early on and seek professional help right away. Learn more.
How to Detect Eating Disorders During Adolescence
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 14 January, 2023

Complexes associated with a person’s physique are a general problem, but especially for adolescents. Therefore, it’s important to be able to differentiate whether they’re just complexes or if they can lead to an eating disorder. This can lead to dangerous behaviors on the part of young people, such as ingesting dangerous substances, resorting to extreme dieting, or engaging in self-destructive behavior. With this in mind, we want to talk about how to detect eating disorders during adolescence.

The prevention of eating disorders plays a very important role. Many disorders are serious, and their consequences can be very negative in all areas. In this article, we’re going to see how we can detect an eating disorder so that you’re able to deal with it in time.

Eating disorders, which type occurs most frequently among young people?

The two eating disorders that most worry parents and that occur most frequently among adolescents are bulimia and anorexia.

1. Bulimia nervosa

This is an eating disorder in which there’s an excessive preoccupation regarding food. This results in episodes of binge eating, after which young people try to get rid of the calories they’ve consumed and engage in extreme weight control practices. For example, they resort to vomiting, fasting, or the use of laxatives, among others.

Bulimia and anorexia can stem from unhealthy eating habits and a combination of family, emotional, and social problems, among others.

2. Anorexia nervosa

This is when there’s a refusal to maintain a normal weight for the adolescent’s age and height. There’s an excessive fear of gaining weight, despite being underweight. At the same time, there’s a body distortion, as young people see themselves as overweight, when the reality is quite the opposite. In addition, they deny being sick and, in the case of women, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period) may appear.

Warning signs to detect eating disorders during adolescence

There are some behaviors and behaviors that can lead us to think that there’s something wrong. Below, we’re going to look at some signs that may alert us to the fact that our children may be starting to suffer from one of these disorders. The important thing is not to be alarmed and to seek the help of a specialist who can guide and advise us.

  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Fewer hours of sleep
  • Excessive preoccupation with weight
  • Increased physical activity or compulsive exercise
  • Restriction of food, especially those with a higher caloric value
  • Excessive water consumption
  • Distortion of their image
  • They may have hidden food stored in different places
  • Excessive consumption of sugarless chewing gum
  • Low mood and symptoms of depression
  • Denial of the disease
  • They refuse to go to meals with more people
  • Abuse of tobacco in order to reduce their anxiety about eating
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Concentration and learning problems
  • Forced vomiting 

Tips to help adolescents with symptoms of eating disorders

If your child’s going through an eating problem, it’s important to support them at all times. You mustn’t forget that they’re in a difficult emotional situation and need the support of everyone in their environment.

These young people have very low self-esteem, which creates insecurities and a constant state of anxiety. Most of them have problems with social integration, feel isolated, and can be victims of teasing, among other problems.

A teen girl inspecting her body in the mirror.
Parents should explain to their children that physical appearance isn’t the most important thing for their successful development in society.

Establish healthy eating habits

Good eating habits will be very important in order to have a healthy diet, promote self-esteem, and promote self-confidence in adolescents.

Promote family unity

Family unity is a protective factor for the prevention of these disorders. We must offer good role models, in which the most important aspect of beauty is health. It’s key to offer your children all the resources you have at your disposal to allow them to solve their problems by themselves.

Sharing meals with children

Sharing lunches and dinners with teenagers is key in order to promote togetherness and good eating habits. Also, it’s a good idea to take advantage of these moments to let them express themselves and tell you about their problems. At the same time, adults should listen to their teens without judging or blaming them.

Regarding how to detect an eating disorder in adolescence

As we’ve already seen, it’s important to detect eating disorders in adolescence early on. We must keep in mind that good eating habits in the family will be a protective factor against this problem. It’s important that there’s consistency between what we ourselves do and what we ask of our children. For example, we can’t tell them to have good eating habits if we don’t have them ourselves.

If we follow these tips, we can help adolescents with eating problems. However, we must never forget that the help of a professional will be necessary to be able to advise, guide, and detect the causes of this disorder for their recovery.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rutsztein, G., Murawski, B., Elizathe, L., & Scappatura, M. L. (2010). Trastornos alimentarios: Detección en adolescentes mujeres y varones de Buenos Aires. Un estudio de doble fase. Revista mexicana de trastornos alimentarios, 1(1), 48-61.
  • Behar, R., Alviña, M., González, T., & Rivera, N. (2007). Detección de actitudes y/o conductas predisponentes a trastornos alimentarios en estudiantes de enseñanza media de tres colegios particulares de Viña del Mar. Revista chilena de nutrición, 34(3), 240-249.
  • Pamies, L., & Quiles, Y. (2014). Perfeccionismo y factores de riesgo para el desarrollo de trastornos alimentarios en adolescentes españoles de ambos géneros. Anales de psicología, 30(2), 620-626.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.