Causes of Eating Disorders in Teenagers and The Best Solution


Today, young people are battered by advertising and media with messages about what body type they need to have, how they should dress, what they should show off to be “good enough.” It’s a complicated world of mixed messages, even from their peers.

Eating disorders are serious mental and physical disorders that revolve around body weight, body image, and an obsession with food. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating. Some outsiders overlook these disorders, but if left untreated, these disorders can be deadly.

Influencing Factors for Eating Disorders in Teens

girl on a fenceEating disorders develop as a result of a number of factors—physical, environmental, and psychological. Factors may include erratic hormone functions and genetics. Having a family member with an eating disorder may increase the risk of others in the family developing an eating disorder.

Dysfunctional family environments and peer pressure, along with a negative body image and low self-esteem, are also factors for teens as they are developing their personal identities. Other stressors may come from childhood trauma like physical or sexual abuse or school bullies.

Eating disorders are closely associated with depression and other mental illnesses. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 50% of people who have eating disorders also have some form of depression. It’s important to recognize that eating disorders are mental illnesses and have deeper causes than the desire to create a better body image.

The Three Main Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are the three main eating disorders, each with its own distinct symptoms.

  1. Anorexia
    People suffer from anorexia when they refuse to eat regularly and are not getting the nutrition they need to maintain a healthy body weight. This causes a person to become dangerously underweight. It is essentially a form of starvation which forces the body to slow down nutritional regulation to conserve energy. Beyond the primary physical factors, people with anorexia experience an unhealthy fear of weight gain.
  2. Bulimia
    Those suffering from bulimia consume mass quantities of food and force themselves to vomit. They try to justify self-induced vomiting by convincing themselves that it can help reduce any guilt they feel about overeating and is an acceptable way to prevent weight gain. Many even use excessive exercise and laxatives to prevent food from being properly digested as a way to “burn” calories.
  3. Binge Eating
    Binge eating occurs when individuals consume excessive amounts of food in a short period of time, without purging. This is also followed by periods of intense shame and guilt and isolation from friends and family because of this shame.

Many other eating disorders exist but have overlapping symptoms that appear in the three main types above, so they cannot be specifically defined. Keep an eye on your teen to ensure he or she does not exhibit these tendencies. If you find your teenager showing any signs of an eating disorder, it’s important to talk to them about it and explore treatment options.

Treatment of Eating Disorders in Teenagers

beautiful red head woman on bikeThe National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that some studies have reported eating disorders will affect as many as one in 20 people during the course of their lifetimes. It is important to get your loved one help as soon as possible.

It is essential to provide your loved one with family counseling to ensure your family is playing an active part in your teen’s recovery. This means supporting a healthy body image and nutritional eating habits as well as working through any traumatic factors that may have caused your teen to develop an eating disorder.

If you believe your teen or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, consider finding them help in a safe and judgment-free environment. Seeds of Hope offers personalized programs, from one-on-one therapy sessions to group counseling for adults and teens. These intensive outpatient sessions are designed to support individuals and their families on the road to mental and physical recovery.