Help! I Think My Teen Has an Eating Disorder

Help! I Think My Teen Has an Eating Disorder

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 9% of women, men, and kids in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Worse, every 52 minutes, someone in the country dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.

If you suspect your teen has an eating disorder, you may wonder what you can or should do about it. You don’t want to interfere with their sense of agency and independence. But you’re afraid that they’re robbing themselves of essential nutrients and may endanger their health.

At The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling, our caring counselors diagnose and treat eating disorders at our offices in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City, or through secure teletherapy. Anyone at any age can be affected by an eating disorder, but young women are particularly at risk.

Do you think your teen has an eating disorder? Following are some signs that they might and what you should do about it.

They’ve lost or gained weight

One of the most common types of eating disorders in teens and young people is anorexia nervosa, which is marked by an extreme fear of weight gain. Sometimes, this condition develops so gradually that you don't notice until they’ve lost a lot of weight.

They may hide their weight loss with baggy clothes. They may experiment with various diets or with fasting to lose weight for a special occasion. But they don’t stop with that initial weight loss.

In fact, your teen may perceive themselves as “fat,” when it’s quite clear to others that they’ve lost a significant and troubling amount of weight. Conversely, if your child is a binge eater, they may have gained a lot of weight.

They eat in private

Many children and teens with eating disorders refuse to have family meals. They may also pick up their food or refuse to eat from certain food groups.

They may also sneak food into their rooms or otherwise ensure that nobody sees them when they eat. Eating in private is particularly associated with both binge eating, in which they may eat normal amounts at some times and then overindulge in others, and bulimia nervosa. 

They smell like vomit

If your teen has bulimia nervosa or anorexia, they may sometimes smell like vomit. Unlike a binge eater, after they overindulge, they make themselves get rid of the food they’ve ingested. As with anorexia, somebody with bulimia may lose a significant amount of weight.

Excessive laxative use is also associated with anorexia or bulimia. If you find laxatives in your teen’s bedroom or bathroom, especially as they relate to weight loss, then that could be an indication that they are battling an eating disorder.

Your daughter no longer menstruates

One of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is the cessation of monthly periods in females. When a girl loses too much weight, her body senses that she isn’t able to support a new life and so stops releasing eggs.


Another hallmark associated with eating disorders is excessive exercise. When girls and women lose too much body fat, their periods stop. Even athletic girls and women who don’t have an eating disorder are at risk for this complication.

How to help your teen

Eating disorders don’t resolve on their own. They’re complex psychological and physiological problems that require a team approach to resolve. Our experts use a customized approach to help your teen — and your family — including counseling and, in some cases, medications.

We may also work hand-in-hand with your primary care physician to help your teen recover. In addition, we may refer them to a nutritionist to be sure they’re getting the nutrients they need, despite their disorder.

Your teen may also have other problems that contribute to their eating disorder, including substance abuse, depression, or anxiety. The first step is to bring them for a consultation and evaluation so that we can then customize a treatment plan.

Early intervention is best when it comes to the treatment of eating disorders. Untreated eating disorders can lead to malnutrition, organ failure, and even early death.

If you suspect that your teen suffers from an eating disorder, don’t just wait it out. Contact our caring and sensitive team by phone or using our online form today. After the initial evaluation, we may also be able to offer telehealth counseling sessions.

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