What Causes Eating Disorders in Teenagers?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably worried about your young teenager and wondering why they’ve stopped eating or, in other cases, started wolfing down food compulsively. If this description is familiar to you, your child may have an eating disorder. These disorders are relatively common, so you’re not alone in finding a solution to your adolescent’s newfound troubles. A teenage residential treatment center is available to help.

In this article, we’ll explain what an eating disorder is, what causes these disorders, and how you can help your teen with an eating disorder. 


What is an Eating Disorder? 

An eating disorder is a type of mental disorder that alters a person’s behavior regarding their diet and eating habits. Eating disorders are psychological problems that often center around body image, body weight, and obsessive behaviors regarding diet. 

Eating disorders are serious problems that should not be neglected; most of them develop during adolescence or early adulthood. Because they occur during a person’s formative years, they could have long-term effects on the quality of life of affected people.

A recent Harvard University research shows that nine percent of Americans will suffer from some eating disorder in their lifetime. Although most sufferers of eating disorders are female, eating disorders may affect people of any gender.


What Causes Eating Disorders in Teenagers?


Types of Eating Disorders 

There are several types of eating disorders documented in the medical field. We’ll discuss the common ones below: 

  • Anorexia nervosa

Commonly called anorexia, this eating disorder is one where a person compulsively limits their diet, and avoids consuming food to keep their weight at a very low level. The rationale for this is to reduce calorie intake so that they maintain a slim build.

However, people suffering from this condition obsess over every bite they take and become emaciated and distressed. Because of this, their weight may fall below what is healthy for their body. 


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  • Bulimia nervosa

Also called bulimia, this condition is essentially the reverse of anorexia nervosa. The word ‘bulimia’ stems from Greek origins as a combination of ‘ox’ and ‘hunger,’ and the symptoms of this condition reflect this etymology. People who have this condition consume large quantities of food in short periods.

They typically follow this by attempting to purge this food by vomiting, using laxatives, or doing excessive physical activity. Typically, people who have bulimia have short bursts of overeating ‘streaks,’ followed by attempts to compensate by forcefully purging it out. 

  • Binge-eating disorder

Binge-eating is another common eating disorder that typically affects teenagers and young adults in the country. People who suffer from binge-eating disorders are unable to control themselves around food. Such persons are known to consume large quantities of food in a short time without purging. 

These episodes are often followed by feelings of guilt and shame, as a result of this behavior. Sufferers often hide from their family and friends because of the guilt they feel engaging in these acts. 

  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) 

This eating disorder was previously known as ‘Selective Eating Disorder,’ but recent discoveries have made medical professionals and psychologists reclassify the condition.

People who suffer from avoidant restrictive food intake disorder are often misdiagnosed as having anorexia, but there are important differences. Persons with these conditions obsessively avoid eating certain types of food, but their reasons are unrelated to body image or weight. 

They simply have an aversion to such foods and will go to great lengths to avoid them. ARFID can be dangerous because, by avoiding specific foods, patients may unknowingly deny themselves valuable nutrients that are essential for growth and survival. That may lead to a series of nutritional disorders and deficiencies, depending on the type of food avoided and the duration of avoidance.


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  • Pica

Pica is an eating disorder where a person compulsively eats items that aren’t food. In some cases, the person may consume harmless items. However, it becomes a serious problem when the person consumes substances that are dangerous to the body, such as metal, paint, or cigarette ashes.

That may lead to poisoning, choking, or infections. People with this condition are typically attracted to the item of choice, usually a preference for its smell, taste, or texture. 

Causes of Eating Disorders in Teenagers 

A wide variety of factors cause eating disorders. A few of them are: 

  • Genetics and family history 

Genes are the building blocks of the body. They serve as a blueprint for the growth and development of a person and can be passed from parents to their offspring during birth. 

Certain genes in a person’s DNA may predispose them to specific eating disorders. Because of genetic factors, a person whose relative had a specific eating disorder may be more likely to have the disorder. 

  • Dissatisfaction with body image

Body image is an important aspect of one’s personality. It describes how a person feels about their body image and body shape. Many teens do not like their physical appearance. They believe that altering their feeding habits can change how they look. 

Hence, they begin dieting compulsively in search of the perfect body. Body dissatisfaction is the cause of many eating disorders among teenagers and young adults.

  • Trauma

Teens who have suffered from excessive trauma, especially in their early years, tend to use abnormal eating behaviors as coping mechanisms. Such trauma may be physical, emotional, or sexual. Research has shown that people suffering from trauma are more likely to have eating disorders. For example, many people with bulimia take to eating to cope with the hurt they feel. 

  • Major life changes or transitions

Sudden, massive life changes can be difficult to cope with, especially with no one to talk to. A broken home, the loss of a loved one, or a dramatic change in financial fortunes can be tough for a young person to process. Because of these changes, many young people resort to eating disorders as a coping mechanism. 


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Build a Better Eating Habit for Your Teen

Eating disorders are caused by physical, emotional, social, and genetic factors. To help your teen, you’d need to understand what made them turn to obsessive eating habits. Sit and talk with the child to understand what they face, or get an eating disorder therapist to help.


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