Could Your Teen Have an Eating Disorder? Recognize the Warning Signs

Posted by on July 06, 2020

Written by Teresa Bansen, MSW, RSW.

Most families are finding ways to adjust to a new routine built around socially distancing and spending most of their time at home. While this new routine has likely raised some challenges, there are some potential benefits to being home for longer periods of time with your family. One of these benefits can be an opportunity for parents to recognize signs that their teen may be struggling with an eating disorder.

How do you know when to be concerned? Take a look at this list of behavioural, emotional and physical sings outlined by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (

If you recognize some of these signs in your teen, it could be an indication that he or she may be struggling with their relationship with food.

Common Symptoms of Eating Disorders   

Behavioural Signs

  • Increasingly restrictive eating pattern (e.g. adopting a new diet such as vegetarianism, progressively cutting out foods or entire food groups from their diet)

  • Avoiding foods based on colour or texture

  • Eating abnormally small bites of food, cutting food into small pieces, pushing food around the plate, not finishing meals

  • Eating more than normal in frequency and quantity, even when not hungry

  • Eating to the point of discomfort

  • Disappearing to the bathroom after meals, turning on music or videos while using the bathroom, vomiting soon after eating

  • Eating alone or in secret, fear/refusal of eating with others

  • New or increased interest in grocery shopping, cooking for others, cooking or weight loss shows, diet books, etc.

  • Highly intense and ritualistic exercise routines

Emotional Signs

  • Loss of interest in life, hobbies, friends, old favourite foods, etc.

  • When upset, food is what they turn to most often for comfort

  • Discussions about food increase irritability

  • Overall increased irritability/uncharacteristic emotional outbursts

  • Opting for clothing that is either more concealing OR revealing of their body shape or size

  • Consistent complaints about body weight, shape or size

Physical Signs

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Lack of growth in height

  • Feeling cold all the time

  • Frequently fatigued

  • Changes in sleep patterns (e.g. sleeping a lot more or less)

  • Dizzy spells

  • Brittle nails

  • Constant dry mouth or bad breath

  • Menstrual irregularities (e.g. loss of periods or absence of expected periods)

  • Frequent stomach aches or gastrointestinal issues

I’m worried my teen might be showing some of these signs. What do I do?

As eating disorders in teens lead to severe medical complications if left untreated, it is imperative to make an appointment with your doctor ASAP to discuss your concerns.

Many family doctors do not have specialized training in eating disorder assessments or treatments. Having worked almost 10 years in the field of eating disorders, I have unfortunately heard from many upset parents that their concerns were not taken seriously when their concerns were first raised. Trust your parental intuition if you feel something is off; you know your child better than their healthcare providers.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Request a referral to a specialized eating disorder treatment centre or consult specialized, trained professionals.

Important to Remember

  • Eating disorders are secretive illnesses, meaning that behaviours are often kept hidden and therefore may be hard to spot

  • People with eating disorders may not think they have a problem with food or will likely deny that they are struggling

  • Many family doctors do not have specialized training in eating disorder assessments or treatments

  • DO NOT rely on your teen to decide whether or not to seek treatment. Seek a professional assessment or advice from eating disorder specialists

Helpful Resources

Want to learn more about specialized counselling?



As a former therapist in eating disorder programs at SickKids Hospital, BC Children’s Hospital and Sheena’s Place, Teresa has a nuanced understanding of the ongoing psychological work that supports long-term recovery from an eating disorder.

Or, book with Teresa.

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