Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are a growing problem amongst teens today. In fact, one report says that 1 or 2 out of every 100 students will deal with one. Both eating disorders are characterized by extremes. Extremes in the way your teen may think about food as well as their eating behavior.

What is Teen Anorexia?

Anorexia is classified as a mental illness and is characterized by a person’s inability to maintain a normal, healthy weight. People with AN focus obsessively on restricting their energy intake (food) because of an overwhelming fear of gaining weight and a distorted self-perception. Often anorexia comes from a need to control at least some area of a person’s life or because a person struggles to express complex or frightening emotions any other way.

In an attempt to control what your teen may see as out-of-control eating, they might restrict certain foods like carbs or fats at an extreme level. It is also common to see teens with AN count calories and skip meals. Again, the key is that the behavior is extreme and obsessive. It isn’t uncommon to find an anorexic person trapped by rigid and excessive rules and thinking patterns.

What are the Warning Signs of Anorexia?

There are both physical and psychological signs to watch out for if you are concerned your teen or friend may be suffering from AN. They could be a combination of the following:

  • Frequent weight changes or a significant drop in weight.
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Feeling cold even in a warm environment
  • Feelings of exhaustion and trouble sleeping
  • Changes to skin tone and facial features (looking pale, sunken eyes)
  • Other common malnutrition symptoms.
  • A preoccupation or obsession with food, body shape and weight
  • Meal times cause anxiousness or irritation
  • Cutting food up into very small pieces and avoiding eating it
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom following eating to purge by vomiting
  • Avoiding friends and family around meal times
  • Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem
  • Inability to think clearly and difficulty concentrating
  • Abuse of laxatives, appetite suppressants, and enemas


While bulimia is very similar to anorexia, they are two different types of eating disorders. While AN is typically all about restriction, bulimia is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating when the sufferer feels no control over the eating and consumes more food than is necessary. Usually, there is such a feeling of shame and guilt, that the eating is done in secret and at a rapid pace. A session of binging is followed by the compensatory behaviors of self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, abusing laxatives and diuretics, or fasting. These episodes typically happen at least once a week for a minimum of three months.

The binging that comes with BN does not have anything to do with hunger instead it is usually a response to stress, self-esteem issues or depression. The teen suffering from BN will feel out of control while consuming the large quantities of food (sometimes up to 20,000 calories at a time) followed by a short-lived calmness. Unfortunately, the peace is often followed by guilt and self-hatred, which leads to the self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, etc.


  • Broken blood vessels inside the eyes
  • Oral trauma like lacerations in the lining of the mouth of throat from repetitive vomiting
  • Chronic dehydration
  • Disappearance of large amounts of food
  • Your teen eating in secrecy
  • Extreme swings in weight
  • Frequently using the bathroom after meals
  • Enlarged glands in the neck and under the jaw line
  • Your teen smelling of vomit
  • Stomach ulcers

Bulimia can sometimes be treated with a supportive family, self-help, and the assistance of a therapist. Anorexia will typically need the help and intervention of professionals like a clinic, doctor, specialist, or a therapist. If you are concerned that your teen may be suffering from AN or BN, there are resources out there to help.

Emergency Help

Therapeutic Help

Remember you are not the only parent to worry about your teen. You are not alone. Your teen is not the first one to need help, and they are not alone. We are here to help.