How To Support Teens Who Have an Eating Disorder

Apr 5, 2020
Mental Health

Understanding Eating Disorders in Teens

Supporting teenagers who are struggling with eating disorders requires a deep understanding of these complex and potentially life-threatening conditions. As a parent, guardian, or concerned individual, it is essential to educate yourself about various types of eating disorders, their underlying causes, and the potential impact on mental and physical health.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders that commonly affect teenagers:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: characterized by a fear of gaining weight, self-imposed starvation, and distorted body image.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large quantities of food, often quickly and to the point of discomfort, without the compensatory behaviors seen in bulimia nervosa.
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED): a category that includes individuals who exhibit disordered eating patterns but do not meet the specific criteria for other eating disorders.

Causes of Eating Disorders

The development of eating disorders in teenagers is influenced by a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors:

  • Genetic Factors: Certain genetic traits may predispose individuals to eating disorders, meaning they are more likely to develop the condition if other factors are present.
  • Psychological Factors: Teens struggling with body image issues, low self-esteem, perfectionism, or emotional difficulties may be more susceptible to developing eating disorders.
  • Environmental Factors: Societal pressures, media influence, social isolation, family dynamics, and diet culture can contribute to the development of eating disorders in susceptible individuals.

Important Ways to Support Teens with Eating Disorders

1. Educate Yourself

Empower yourself by learning about eating disorders, their warning signs, and potential consequences. Understanding the challenges faced by those with eating disorders helps you better empathize and provide appropriate support.

2. Encourage Open Communication

Establish a safe and non-judgmental environment for your teenager to express their thoughts and feelings. Encouraging open communication fosters trust and helps them feel understood and supported.

3. Seek Professional Help

Consult with a qualified mental health professional who specializes in treating eating disorders. They can provide therapeutic interventions, create an individualized treatment plan, and offer valuable guidance for both the teenager and their family.

4. Foster a Healthy Body Image

Encourage body positivity and promote healthy attitudes towards food, weight, and appearance. Emphasize the importance of nourishing the body with nutritious food rather than focusing solely on weight loss or physical appearance.

5. Avoid Negative Comments and Triggers

Be mindful of the language you use and avoid making negative comments about your own or others' bodies or food choices. Additionally, create an environment that minimizes triggers such as scales, dieting materials, or unrealistic body ideals.

6. Support Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Help your teenager discover and adopt healthy coping mechanisms other than using food or unhealthy behaviors. Encourage hobbies, physical activities, creative outlets, and mindfulness practices as positive alternatives for dealing with stress and emotional distress.

7. Involve the Entire Support Network

Include trusted friends, relatives, and school personnel in the support network to create a unified front. Collaboration among various individuals ensures consistent support and reduces the sense of isolation that eating disorders can breed.

8. Encourage Balanced Nutrition

Promote a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from different food groups. Encourage regular meals and snacks to ensure proper nourishment and discourage restrictive eating patterns.

9. Patience and Support

Recovery from an eating disorder takes time, and setbacks are common. Patience, understanding, and unwavering support are crucial throughout the journey. Celebrate small victories and offer encouragement during challenging times.


Supporting teenagers struggling with eating disorders requires compassion, education, and a collaborative approach. By understanding the complexities of eating disorders, fostering open communication, seeking professional help, promoting body positivity, and providing a supportive environment, you can help teenagers on their path toward recovery and improved mental and physical health.

Remember, the journey to recovery is unique for each individual, and maintaining a strong support system is key. By following these guidelines and engaging in ongoing education and dialogue, you can make a significant difference in the lives of teens with eating disorders.

This article provides valuable insights on how to support teenagers struggling with eating disorders. It emphasizes the importance of understanding these complex conditions and their potential impact on mental and physical health. Educating ourselves about different types of eating disorders and their underlying causes is crucial in providing effective support. As parents, guardians, or concerned individuals, let's shower these teens with love, understanding, and any necessary professional help they may need.🙏💙
Nov 11, 2023