How to Tell If You or a Friend May Have an Eating Disorder

Teenage girls and college-age women — and increasingly teenage boys and young men — are especially prone to developing eating disorders, mental illnesses characterized by a dangerous obsession with losing weight or staying thin. Teens with eating disorders may starve themselves (anorexia nervosa), or they may binge on food and then throw up or take laxatives to purge themselves of the excess (bulimia). How can you tell if a diet has progressed to something dangerous?

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexics starve themselves because of an irrational fear of becoming fat. Teens with anorexia nervosa starve themselves, are obsessed with food and may indulge in compulsive exercising.

These behaviors and emotional symptoms suggest anorexia nervosa:

  • Loss of a significant amount of weight.
  • Continuing to diet and "feeling fat" even after reaching a goal weight, or becoming visibly thin.
  • Irrational fear of gaining weight.
  • Obsession with food, calories, fat content and nutrition.
  • Weighing oneself once a day or more.
  • Refusal to discuss a diet with others.
  • Cooking for others but not eating.
  • Compulsive exercising.
  • Lying about eating.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Eating large amounts of food and getting rid of it by throwing up, fasting, taking laxatives or exercising excessively. This is called bingeing and purging.

Physical symptoms of anorexia:

  • Hair loss.
  • Loss of monthly menstrual period.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Weakness and exhaustion.
  • Constipation.
  • Growth of body hair on arms, legs and other body parts.
  • Heart tremors.
  • Dry, brittle skin.
  • Shortness of breath.