How to help your teen if you think he or she is struggling

March 16, 2023

teens talkingThere’s good reason to learn more about eating disorders. They are more common than you might suspect, and who is affected might surprise you. In fact:

  • Approximately 500,000 teens struggle with eating disorders, according to a study cited by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
  • These conditions can have serious consequences, up to and including death.
  • Eating disorders often begin during the teenage years, though younger children and adults are also at risk.
  • Males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa, a common eating disorder, and are at a higher risk of dying from it. Why? They are often not diagnosed as quickly, as people often assume males don’t have eating disorders.*

What follows are answers to several common questions about eating disorders.

Q. What are the signs of an eating disorder?

There are different types of eating disorders, and the signs can vary with each. Some signs may be physical, such as dramatic weight loss or noticeable fluctuations in weight, menstrual irregularities, gastrointestinal issues, stained or discolored teeth, and hair loss. Others may be behavioral, such as preoccupation with weight, avoiding eating with others and disappearing to the bathroom after eating.

Q. What are the types of eating disorders?

There are three main eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an extremely low body weight and severe food restriction.
  • Bulimia nervosa involves binge eating and then purging through forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, fasting and/or excessive exercise.
  • Binge-eating disorder entails excessive, out-of-control eating, but without the purging or restricting; people with this condition tend to be obese or overweight.

Q. What are the health risks?

Eating disorders are the second leading cause of death in psychological disorders only behind the opioid crisis. Approximately one person will die from an eating disorder every 60 minutes, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). People with eating disorders often have co-existing mental health issues, such as depression, low self-esteem and suicide risk. Health concerns can affect the electrolytes, kidneys, esophagus and heart. With anorexia nervosa, a lack of essential nutrients can cause the body’s organ systems to slow down and result in numerous problems, including possible heart failure.

Q. What should I do if I think my loved one has an eating disorder?

Talk with your doctor right away. Early treatment can support better chances of recovery. A multidisciplinary approach is often needed to address the nutritional, medical and mental health components of an eating disorder. You can help your child find their way FORWARD with help from Northwest Texas Healthcare System Behavioral Health. Visit for more information. To learn more about eating disorders, visit

Northwest Texas Healthcare System also offers medical nutrition therapy (MNT) – also known as outpatient nutrition counseling – from a registered and licensed dietitian. We can help treat conditions such as malnutrition, kidney disease, diabetes, and many others. These services can be covered by insurance with a physician order and are also available for patients out-of-pocket without a physician order.

*Mond, J.M., Mitchison, D., & Hay, P. (2014) “Prevalence and implications of eating disordered behavior in men” in Cohn, L., Lemberg, R. (2014) Current Findings on Males with Eating Disorders. Philadelphia, PA: Routledge.

**Campbell, Kenisha and Peebles, Rebecka, “Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents: State of the Art Review,” Pediatrics®, September 2014, Volume 134/Issue 3, pages 582-592