Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Eating Disorders: Facts for Teens

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is an obsession with food and weight. Although we all worry about our weight sometimes, people with an eating disorder go to extremes to keep from gaining weight. There are two main eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Did you know?
  • 8,000,000 or more people in the United States have an eating disorder.
  • 90% are women.
  • Victims may be rich or poor.
  • Eating disorders usually start in the teens but may begin as early as age 8.
Source: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

What causes eating disorders?

We don't know exactly. Possible causes include feeling stressed out or upset about something in your life, or feeling like you need to be "in control." Society also puts a lot of pressure on people to be thin. This pressure can contribute too.

What is anorexia?

People with anorexia are obsessed with being thin. They don't want to eat, and they are afraid of gaining weight. They may be freaked out about how many calories they take in or how much fat is in their food. They may take diet pills, laxatives or water pills to lose weight. They may exercise too much. Anorexics usually think they're fat even though they're very thin. People with anorexia may get so thin that they look like they're sick.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is eating a lot of food at once (called binging), and then throwing up or using laxatives (called purging). After a binge, some bulimics fast (don't eat) or overexercise to keep from gaining weight. People with bulimia may also use water pills, laxatives, or diet pills to "control" their weight. People with bulimia often try to hide their binging and purging. They may hide food for binges. Bulimics are usually close to normal weight, but their weight may go up and down.

What's wrong with trying to be thin?

It's healthy to watch what you eat and to exercise. What isn't healthy is worrying all the time about your weight and what you eat. People with eating disorders do harmful things to their bodies because of their obsession about their weight. If it isn't treated, anorexia can cause the following health problems:
If it isn't treated, bulimia can cause the following health problems:

Can eating disorders be treated?

Yes. For anorexics, the first step is getting back to a normal weight. If you're malnourished or very thin, you may be put in the hospital. Your doctor will probably want you to see a dietitian to learn how to pick healthy foods and eat at regular times. For both anorexics and bulimics, family and individual counseling (talking about your feelings about your weight and problems in your life) is helpful.
What are the warning signs?
The following are possible warning signs for anorexia and bulimia:
  • Unnatural concern about body weight (even if the person is not overweight)
  • Obsession with calories, fat grams and food
  • Use of any medicines to keep from gaining weight (diet pills, laxatives, water pills)
More serious warning signs may be harder to notice because people who have an eating disorder try to keep it secret. Watch for these signs:
  • Throwing up after meals
  • Refusing to eat or lying about how much was eaten
  • Fainting
  • Over-exercising
  • Not having periods
  • Increased anxiety about weight
  • Calluses or scars on the knuckle (from forced throwing up)
  • Denying that there is anything wrong
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc.: http://www.aabainc.org
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. : http://www.anred.com
National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders: http://www.anad.org
National Eating Disorders Organization (NEDO): http://www.laureate.com
Eating Disorders Recovery Online : http://www.edrecovery.com