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What Causes Teenage Eating Disorders?

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

Teenagers that have eating disorders are not rare. Today, millions of teens, especially girls, struggle with weight obsession. One in seven women has an eating issue or is battling one at any time. According to research conducted a few years ago, more than one in three adolescent girls, or 36%, were considered overweight, and 59 percent were actively trying to lose weight.

Girls make up more than 90% of those who suffer from eating disorders. However, teenage boys also struggle with body image issues. Many males diet or exercise compulsively to achieve the ideal body. (1)

What are Eating Disorders?

Psychological illnesses known as eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, cause severe abnormalities in eating behaviour—teens with anorexia struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Bulimia is characterized by recurrent binge eating episodes followed by compulsive actions like vomiting or using laxatives to purge the body of food. Unrestrained overeating is a hallmark of binge eating. (2)

As many as one in every one hundred girls struggle with an eating disorder known as anorexia. Anorexic adolescents dread gaining weight and typically weigh at least 15% less than their optimal body weights. They consider their appearance the most critical factor in determining their level of self-worth. (3) (4)

The prevalence of bulimia among young women in the United States is a topic of much debate among experts. The late teenage or early adult years are typically when bulimia first manifests itself. People with bulimia go through cycles in which they eat excessive food, followed by purging behaviours such as vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or engaging in long periods of aerobic exercise.

What exactly are the causes of eating disorders in adolescents?

No one factor leads to someone developing an eating issue. Eating disorders are believed to be caused by a confluence of circumstances, including dysfunctional family dynamics, psychological issues, and heredity. It's possible that the adolescent has low self-esteem and is fixated on maintaining a slim physique.

Teens who participate in activities like ballet, gymnastics, or running, in which maintaining a thin physique is valued, have been linked with an increased risk of developing eating problems. One study found a correlation between anorexia and an obsession with perfectionism, which the researchers defined as concern over making mistakes, having high personal standards, and having high expectations and criticism from parents. (8)

The 12 Types of Eating Disorders

1. Anorexia Nervosa

Because it has the most significant mortality rate of all mental illnesses, specialists consider anorexia nervosa to be the most dangerous of all mental illnesses. Because of this, we can reasonably consider it the most severe of the twelve types of eating disorders. This disorder is characterized by intense dieting, which may also include excessive exercise and several other forms of purging behaviours. (9)

2. Bulimia Nervosa

This behaviour, known as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa, is characterized by the recurrent consumption of excessive amounts of food, followed by the purging of that food. Purging practices include:

● Over-exercising.

● Forcing oneself to throw up.

● Using diet pills and laxatives.

● Forcing oneself to throw up.

Both bingeing and purging are harmful practices, and engaging in both of them at the same time can quickly bring on a host of severe medical symptoms.

3. Muscle Dysmorphia

In contrast to the vast majority of eating disorders, muscular dysmorphia is more likely to impact males than it is on women. An unhealthy preoccupation with one's musculature and physique is one of the defining characteristics of this condition. The person will get obsessed with attaining what they perceive to be the "ideal" form of the physique.

4. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED) is recurrent bouts of compulsive overeating of significant quantities of food. A person is said to have binged when they eat an excessive amount of food in a short period, typically less than two hours. Binge eating is characterized by a trance-like condition, followed by feelings of guilt and humiliation and subsequent weight gain. In contrast to bulimia, binge eating disorder typically does not involve any purging activities. Because of binge eating, those who suffer from BED almost always have a weight problem.

5. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

The Oxford Classification of Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) is a "catch-all" for eating disorders that do not fall into the categories above. OSFED is a diagnosis frequently given to patients with atypical forms of anorexia or bulimia and those with any of the seven unofficial illnesses listed below.

Even though these disorders are not listed in any diagnostic handbook, psychologists and doctors continue to use these names. As the official diagnosis, these illnesses are frequently included under the umbrella term OSFED, which stands for "other specified feeding or eating disorder." Nevertheless, this terminology is more particular, and using them can assist us in communicating more clearly.

6. Compulsive Over Eating (COE)

This condition is quite similar to the disorder known as binge eating. The individual suffering from COE does not engage in binge eating episodes but continuously consumes vast quantities of food throughout the day. This is what distinguishes COE from other eating disorders.

7. Prader Willi Syndrome

An inherited genetic condition is the root cause of this syndrome, which manifests in obsessive eating and ultimately leads to obesity. It starts with babies having weak muscles, difficulty feeding themselves, and delayed development. The child will, after that, experience an unquenchable appetite due to the sickness. Children with Prader-Willi Syndrome frequently acquire diabetes and have difficulty adjusting to typical ways of living.

8. Diabulimia

This happens when a diabetic person tries to lose weight by injecting themselves with insulin their doctor prescribed.

9. Orthorexia Nervosa

Everyone feels the push to eat these days healthily for various reasons. When someone has orthorexia Nervosa, they are obsessed with creating the ideal diet to the point that it causes significant problems in their life.

10. Drunkorexia

This word refers to an eating disorder frequently accompanied by drunkenness and has a slightly vulgar name. To "save calories" from consuming alcohol, individuals who suffer from drunkorexia reduce their food intake and purge. In the absence of treatment, drunkorexia can lead to a severe form of malnutrition.

11. Pregorexia

Since it is pretty general information that pregnancy causes weight increase and other bodily changes, most women enter pregnancy with a strategy to reduce or maintain their current body weight. Sometimes the strategy for losing weight can be excessively strenuous, which puts the mother and the unborn child in danger. A low birth weight, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and depression are all potential outcomes of pregorexia.

12. Selective Eating Disorder

This eating problem is similar to being fussy about what you eat but on a far more severe and debilitating level. When people are extremely picky about the food they consume, typically only eating one or two meals daily, they risk their health.

It is so important to recognize the signs of an eating disorder. Watching a child, especially if you are a parent struggling with an eating disorder, can be very upsetting. However, knowing and recognizing the signs could mean a critical difference in their recovery by seeing them earlier.

12 Signs your teenager may have an eating disorder

  1. Isolation

  2. Eating rituals

  3. Secretive eating

  4. Purging

  5. Excessively restricting food

  6. Excessive fear

  7. Physiological changes

  8. Excessive exercise

  9. Body insecurity

  10. Fear of eating in front of others

  11. Changes in appearance

  12. Pleasure in other eating

What Support is Available For Teens Suffering with an Eating Disorder?

Following are the 5 support that helps teens who suffer from eating disorder.

  1. Sessions of talk therapy, both in groups and one-on-one settings

  2. Education encompassing all aspects of nutrition

  3. Life skills training

  4. Multiple forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (also known as CBT) and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)

  5. Equine therapy, along with other forms of experiential therapy (11) (12)

Other organisations

Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC)

Advice and support for anyone affected by eating problems.


0808 801 0677 (England) 0808 801 0433 (Wales) Offers information and advice on eating disorders, and runs a supportive online community. Also provides a directory of support services at HelpFinder.

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) Information about cognitive behavioural therapy and related treatments, including details of accredited therapists.

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Professional body for talking therapy and counselling. Provides information and a list of accredited therapists.


0808 802 5544 (Parents Helpline) 85258 (Crisis Messenger for young people – text the letters YM) Committed to improving the mental health of babies, children and young people, including support for parents and carers.

If you feel you would like a better insight into the ongoing mental health problems, we do offer online Mental Health First Aid courses.

Provided by an instructor qualified under Mental Health First Aid England, allowing yourself to become a qualified Mental Health First Aider.

For further information Email:


  1. Grunbaum, J; Kann, L; Kinchen, S; et al. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report Surveillance Summary, 2004.

  2. Nattiv, A; Agostini, R; Drinkwater, B; Yeager, K. Clinical Sports Medicine, 1994.

  3. Halmi, K; et. al. American Journal of Psychiatry, November 2000.

  4. Whittal, M; Agras, W; Gould, R. Behavioral Therapy, 1999.

  5. Woodside, D. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2001.

  6. American Psychiatric Association Task Force on DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed, Text Revision, Washington, DC, 2000.

  7. Kelley R. Newsweek, Nov. 15, 2006.

  8. International Academy of Eating Disorders.

  9. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

  10. National Eating Disorders Association.

  11. Eating Disorders Coalition.

  12. Academy for Eating Disorders.


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I am extremely passionate about women's healthcare and mental health.

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