What are the Different Types of Teen Eating Disorders?

Lindsay Kahl

Many individuals who develop eating disorders do so during adolescence. Teenagers, especially young women, appear to be particularly susceptible to thoughts and behaviors that constitute disordered eating. Many girls who have teen eating disorders continue to struggle with food and body image issues into adulthood. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as many as 10 percent of young women in the United States have an eating disorder. Teen eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a catchall category called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

Suggestions for healthier eating alone do not usually help individuals who binge eat.
Suggestions for healthier eating alone do not usually help individuals who binge eat.

Virtually all teen eating disorders are marked by extremes in thoughts and behavior regarding food. In the case of some diagnoses, it could be extreme food restriction, overexercising or severe distress in regard to weight and food consumption. With other diagnoses, it could be extreme binge eating and possibly purging after overconsumption.

Anorexia is one of the most common types of eating disorders suffered by teenagers.
Anorexia is one of the most common types of eating disorders suffered by teenagers.

One of the major types of teen eating disorders is anorexia nervosa. The disease is characterized by a pronounced fear of weight gain, distorted and unrealistic body image and an inability or unwillingness to maintain a normal, healthy weight. Most teens with anorexia severely restrict food intake and might exercise excessively. Some teenagers with anorexia might vacillate between binging and purging on large amounts of food and then restricting food intake again. The distinction between bulimia and this type of anorexia is that a young woman will be given an anorexia diagnosis only if she is underweight and stops having her menstrual period.

Bulimia is most prevalent among adolescent females.
Bulimia is most prevalent among adolescent females.

Bulimia nervosa is another one of the major teen eating disorders. This disease is characterized by sessions of binge eating followed by behaviors to try to undo or negate the consumption of calories. These compensatory behaviors can include vomiting, fasting, use of diuretics and excessive exercise. Anorexia can be apparent because of a sufferer’s low body weight, but bulimia can be difficult to detect. Many teens with the disease maintain an average weight despite their behaviors.

Another diagnosis that a physician might give a teen is Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS). A clinician might use this diagnosis when a patient meets most, but not all, of the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia. For instance, some young women meet all of the criteria for an anorexia diagnosis, but they still have regular menstrual periods. This category also includes binge-eating disorder, which has become increasingly common. Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating extremely large quantities of food in one sitting but without the compensatory behaviors common to bulimia.

Teen eating disorders can be insidious, long lasting and even life threatening. Out of all of the mental illnesses, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate. If any individual suspects a friend or loved one might be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help.

Teens may rely too much on their weight to determine their body image.
Teens may rely too much on their weight to determine their body image.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@browncoat - Even though it might not technically be a disease, these disorders have enough in common from person to person that I think it makes sense to treat them like a disease, particularly that they need professional help to be treated properly.

Teenage eating disorders can be destructive and often follow a fairly predictable path. And it's very easy for someone who doesn't understand how they work to dismiss them, or to think they have solved the problem when in fact the symptoms have just been driven into hiding.


@croydon - I think the rates are higher in adolescence because the brain is more malleable at that age and more susceptible to messages from peer groups and media in general. Girls' body image in particular is hammered into them from all sides, and it can be easy for them to have very unrealistic expectations for themselves.

Specific eating disorders aren't a disease so much as the symptoms of a disease. They aren't something universal to humans, but are the unfortunate result of particular cultural conditions and particular mental states. I'm pretty sure that if you look at cultures where body size is not considered much of an issue, they won't have eating disorders, but may have some other kind of obsessive disorder in people who fit the profile, but never latch onto food as a means of control because that doesn't make sense to them.


The danger of developing an eating disorder is probably greatest during adolescence but it's important to remember that it's possible for people of all ages to develop them, including children younger than teenagers and adults as well. Eating disorders can originate from a time of great stress in someone's life, or they can develop as the result of other kinds of mental illness.

I think it gets diagnosed less often in adults because there isn't anyone there to monitor their habits and so they can conceal the symptoms much more easily. But I'm sure the eating disorder statistics for that age group are much higher than they are usually presented as being.

Post your comments
Forgot password?