Could Your Daughter Have An Eating Disorder And Not Know It?

No adolescent or teenager is immune to having an eating disorder. Eating disorders occur in people of all shapes, sizes, colors and races. More than 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect all ethnic groups and cultures. They affect both sexes. Bulimia nervosa treatment and anorexia nervosa treatment can help a person become fully recovered. Bulimia nervosa recovery and anorexia nervosa recovery is possible.

Eating disorders occur because of a complex set of personality traits, environmental factors and genetics. It is estimated by experts that up to 80 percent of the risk for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is due to genetic factors. Eating disorders often occur along with other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.

The consequences of eating disorders can be severe. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, and out of every five deaths associated with anorexia nervosa is due to suicide. Other complications of eating disorders include heart, lung, kidney and liver failure. Diabetes, bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies, bowel problems and more can all occur because of complications from eating disorders.

Getting the Help Needed

Many people with eating disorders do not get the help they need. The nature of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, mainly the secrecy surrounding the disorders, makes it hard to detect these issues at their inception. People struggling with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa may experience guilt, shame, anxiety and other negative feelings surrounding their behaviors.

Parents need to be watchful for the signs of eating disorders in their kids and teens. Being aware of the signs of an eating disorder can help parents get help for their teenager sooner. Here are some very important warning signs that your daughter might have an eating disorder.

Unusual Food-Related Behaviors

People with anorexia nervosa may have extensive rituals surrounding eating. A person with an eating disorder might feel the need to weigh or carefully measure the food they consume; these patterns may become habitual and rigid. Being unable to weigh food or count calories might result in anxiety or irritability. Anorexia nervosa treatment can help address and treat these issues.

A person with anorexia nervosa might exhibit new behaviors with their food, such as using large quantities of condiments or cutting their food up into tiny pieces. Other behaviors may include insisting on eating alone or preparing food for others but refusing to eat it themselves. Other food-related behaviors associated with anorexia include could include refusing to eat certain categories of food and avoiding mealtimes. A teen with anorexia nervosa might come up with excuses to not attend food-related gatherings or events.

Sometimes, teens with anorexia nervosa will wear loose-fitting sweats and other baggy clothes to hide weight loss. Although wearing loose-fitting clothes is not a sign of an eating disorder in and of itself, when combined with other behaviors related to eating disorders, such as a sudden preoccupation with body size, it could be a potential warning sign.

Other food-related behaviors related to eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa, may include eating large quantities of food in a very short period of time. They may try to hide the amount of food they eat by throwing away wrappers and engaging in other secretive behaviors surrounding food. A person with binge eating disorder may insist on eating alone, they may make runs to the grocery store or restaurants late at night when others are not around, or parents may find stashes of food or food wrappers in their bedroom.

Compulsive Exercise

People with eating disorders may engage in compulsive exercise or obsessive behaviors surrounding exercise. Eating disorders and compulsive exercise may occur together. This can reminiscent of bulimia nervosa symptoms. Someone with bulimia nervosa may exercise to counter the effects of a binge episode. Although, a person with anorexia nervosa may also work out excessively to lose weight. A teenager with any eating disorder might exercise in pursuit of what they perceive to be the “perfect” body type.

When does exercise become compulsive? Exercise could be considered compulsive when a person is driven to exercise in spite of illness, injury or other problems. Adolescents and teens who compulsively exercise will often miss out on activities with friends and other social activities to work out. They may panic or become irritable if they cannot exercise. If your teenager refuses to miss a workout even if she is sick, ill or tired, it could be a sign she is exercising compulsively as a symptom of an eating disorder. If she gives up other important activities in her life to work out more often, that can also be a warning sign.

Extreme Anxiety

Anxiety often occurs in conjunction with eating disorders. In fact, according to a large research study, almost 60% of people diagnosed with eating disorders had a co-occurring anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common co-occurring disorders diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

Aside from co-occurring with eating disorders, anxiety can also be a symptom of an eating disorder. A person with anorexia nervosa may be extremely anxious about gaining weight. They might constantly worry about diet, calories and food intake. They may also be very anxious about their body image and size. If your teenager worries excessively about their body shape or size, food intake or the ingredients of the food they eat, it could indicate they have an eating disorder.

Social Isolation

Social isolation often occurs with eating disorders. It is a warning sign when a teenager that used to enjoy hanging out with friends or participating in after-school clubs no longer desires to do so. A teenager with an eating disorder may withdraw from their usual activities and friends to engage in eating disorder related behaviors.

Social isolation can be a symptom of many mental health disorders, including depression. However, with an eating disorder, the person will often becomes isolated because the eating disorder takes over their life. They may be so concerned with clean eating, exercising or counting calories that they forgo social events. Because of the guilt and shame associated with binge eating episodes, a teenager with bulimia or binge eating disorder might avoid eating with others altogether, resulting in even further isolation.

A Loss of Menstrual Period

Anorexia nervosa can lead to amenorrhea, which is a loss of monthly menstrual periods. Amenorrhea refers to the loss of the menstrual cycle in females that are of childbearing age. Primary amenorrhea refers to failing to start menstruation by the age of 16. Secondary amenorrhea refers to losing menstrual periods after having had them in the past. This disorder occurs because the hormones involved in menstruation are interrupted. Amenorrhea can occur when a female restricts food intake severely or engages in excessive exercise, leading to a much lower body mass than normal.

Amenorrhea has many negative consequences for females, one of which is a hormonal imbalance. Hormonal imbalances cause irritability, night sweats, insomnia and can even be associated with certain types of cancer, such as endometrial cancer.

Distorted Body Image

A person with anorexia nervosa may have an unrealistic view of their body. They may believe they are overweight in spite of evidence to the contrary. A teenager with anorexia nervosa may be very underweight and still feel she is too big. She might obsessively scrutinize her appearance in mirrors and make disparaging comments about her size or shape.

Having No Energy

A person with an eating disorder may experience a significant drop in energy. They may feel dizzy due to vitamin deficiencies and anemia. It often becomes difficult for a person with anorexia nervosa to perform daily activities due to this lack of energy.

Fainting and Dizzy Spells

Dizzy spells, fainting and syncope are not uncommon side effects of anorexia nervosa. The person may complain of sudden muscle weakness and dizziness, difficulty walking, and electrolyte imbalances and low blood pressure may also result. Fainting can be dangerous in and of itself as it could lead to head injuries or bodily harm. Low blood pressure and electrolyte imbalances can also cause other serious issues, such as heart failure.

Stomach and Digestion Issues

People with eating disorders may have stomach and digestive issues. Long-term food restrictions associated with anorexia nervosa can cause muscular atrophy of the digestive tract. This can cause bloating, abdominal swelling, trapped gas and constipation.

Binge eating episodes associated with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder can result in stomach pain and cramping, and can also cause the stomach to become distended and swollen.

Bulimia nervosa can cause upper GI symptoms and result in acid reflux disease due to repeated episodes of vomiting. The episodes may eventually cause the esophagus to rupture which can produce bloody vomit.

The constant use of laxatives can cause bowel issues. The person’s colon may be damaged and become incapable of transporting fecal material. As the disorder progresses, the person might require a colostomy bag due to problems with the colon.

Difficulty Concentrating

People with anorexia nervosa often have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. They may be more apt to forget information. Paying attention to things and focusing on tasks and schoolwork can be hard. A parent may notice a sudden decline in their teenager’s grades. Anorexia nervosa recovery or bulimia nervosa recovery can help reduce these problems.

Mood Swings

Eating disorders often co-occur with mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Approximately five percent of people with a mood disorder also have an eating disorder. For females with mood disorders, the rate is as high as 33 percent. A person with an eating disorder may have frequent mood swings. They may be depressed, irritable or anxious. Periods of crying, intense sadness or anger may be common.

Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

Self-harming behavior and suicidal ideation can also be common among individuals struggling with eating disorders. Research has found nearly 50 percent of adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa also exhibited self-harming behaviors, and as many as 60 percent of females with eating disorders also experienced suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Suicide is a common cause of death for people with anorexia nervosa accounting for approximately one out of five people who die from anorexia nervosa. Thankfully, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa treatment can help reduce the chance of self-harming behaviors and suicide in a person with an eating disorder.

There are treatment options for individuals struggling with eating disorders. Bulimia nervosa treatment and anorexia nervosa treatment can increase the chances of a person become fully-recovered. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa recovery is possible with treatment.


With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.