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Eating Disorders: Facts for Teens

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is an obsession with food and weight that harms a person’s well-being. 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 and bulimia.

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 constantly worry 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 the throwing up or using laxatives to remove the food from the body (called purging).  After a binge, some bulimics fast (don’t eat) or over exercise to keep from gaining weight. People with bulimia may abuse water pills, laxatives or diet pills to “control” their weight.

People with bulimia often try to hide their bingeing 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.

Can eating disorders be treated?

Yes. For anorexia, 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?

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

The following are possible warning signs of 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)

Where can I get more information?

National Eating Disorders Association

Toll-Free Information & Referral HelpLine 1-800-931-2237

603 Stewart Street, Suite 803

Seattle, WA 98101-1264

National Assoc. of Anorexia and Associated Disorders  


P.O. Box 7

(206) 382-3587, Fax (206) 829-8501

Highland Park, IL.60035

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 If it isn’t treated, anorexia can cause the following health problems:

• Stomach problems

• Heart problems

• Irregular periods or no periods

• Fine hair all over the body, including the face

• Dry, scaly skin

• Kidney problems

• Dental problems (from throwing up stomach acid)

• Dehydration (not enough water in the body)

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