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Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder, and What to Do If You Spot Them

Eating disorders are a scary reality, and one that you will need to address as a parent of a teenager. It’s important to reinforce positive body values and healthy eating habits from a young age, and it’s important to talk openly with your teen about their own relationship with their body. But when to worry? What are the signs of an eating disorder?

It’s also crucial to keep an open eye and monitor your teen. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, these are ten common signs that your teen may have an eating disorder:

10 Eating Disorder Symptoms:

  1. Drastic weight loss.
  2.  Preoccupation with counting calories.
  3. The need to weigh yourself several times a day.
  4. Excessive exercise.
  5. Binge eating or purging.
  6. Food rituals, like taking tiny bites, skipping food groups or re-arranging food on the plate.
  7. Avoiding meals or only wanting to eat alone.
  8. Taking laxatives or diuretics.
  9. Smoking to curb appetite.
  10. Persistent view of yourself as fat that worsens despite weight loss.

If You See Signs of an Eating Disorder:

1. Pay closer attention.

“If you see one symptom, pay closer attention,” says Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and author of Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate. “If you see one symptom and your gut says there’s a problem here, then you can’t ignore it, and if you see a couple symptoms, you can’t ignore it even if you want to believe it’s not real.”

2. Get help.

You can start by calling an eating disorder hotline or reaching out to a local clinic, but according to Gilboa, the most efficient route will likely be talking to the doctor that knows your teen best. Before scheduling an appointment for your teen, have a one-on-one conversation with your doctor about what you’re seeing. It’s also OK to let your doctor take the lead here. Health practitioners are often able to talk to teenagers about weight and eating behaviors in a neutral, supportive way that parents may not be able to.

3. Talk, but be nonjudgmental.

That said it is also a good idea to address the situation with your teen directly. But it’s a conversation parents should prepare for.

“The best way to start is by asking short questions and really listening to the answer,” says Gilboa. Simply ask them, “How are you feeling about your body?”

You can express your concerns if you feel that you need to, but that can oftentimes put your teen on the defensive or make them try to mitigate your concerns by telling you anything to make you feel better.

“You’re much better off asking short nonjudgmental questions but letting your teen know you’re going to keep asking because it’s one of many important conversations you need to be having,” says Gilboa.

Rebecca Borison is a writer in New York City.

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