Published On: Sep 13, 2018|Categories: Teens & Children|

Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that revolve around body weight, body image and an obsession with food. These disorders are often overlooked, but if left untreated, they can be deadly.

As a parent, you may wonder what causes eating disorders in teens so you can protect your child from developing one. Your teen may already be showing symptoms you’re concerned about. Here’s what you need to know about the causes and risk factors of eating disorder development.

What causes eating disorders in teenagers?

While many people may attribute mental health disorders to a single reason, like other disorders, there is no one cause of eating disorders. These illnesses develop as a result of a number of factors — physical, environmental and psychological.

Physical factors

Physical factors for eating disorders may include:

  • Genetics: Having a relative with an eating disorder increases an individual’s risk of developing one;
  • Dieting: Unhealthy dieting techniques can lead to disordered eating;
  • Hormonal changes: Puberty causes hormonal changes that can trigger an eating disorder. Girls are especially at risk, since they experience hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle.

These and other physical factors can contribute to the likelihood of experiencing an eating disorder.

Psychological influences

Today, young people are battered by advertising and media with messages about what their bodies should look like. It’s a complicated world of mixed messages, even from peers. Negative body image and low self-esteem are major risk factors for teens as they are developing personal identities.

Additionally, eating disorders are closely associated with depression and other mental illnesses. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to 50% of people with an eating disorder also experience a mood disorder. It’s important to recognize that eating disorders are mental illnesses and have deeper causes than the desire to create a better body image.

Environmental causes

Dysfunctional family environments and peer pressure are also factors for teens as they are developing personal identities. Even a teen living in a healthy environment may receive negative messages from culture and media consumption.

Stressors or major life changes also factor into eating disorder risk. Stressors may come from a variety of places, from childhood trauma like physical or sexual abuse or school bullies, to a divorce or death in the family.

Can parents cause eating disorders?

Parents may blame themselves or be blamed by relatives when their child develops an eating disorder. The truth is, parents cannot directly cause an eating disorder. These are complex illnesses with many different influencing factors.

However, your attitude towards eating and body image does have an impact on your child. By modeling healthy behaviors and attitudes, you can reduce the risk of your son or daughter developing an eating disorder. On the other hand, an unhealthy model can act as a trigger for a teen already prone to an eating disorder.

Types of eating disorders in teens

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating are the three major eating disorders.


People with anorexia refuse to eat regularly and do not receive necessary nutrition to maintain a healthy body weight. Beyond the primary physical factors, people with anorexia experience an unhealthy fear of weight gain.

Learn More about Anorexia


Those suffering from bulimia consume mass quantities of food and then purge the food through a variety of tactics such as vomiting, laxative use or excessive exercise.

Learn More about Bulimia

Binge eating

Binge eating occurs when individuals consume excessive amounts of food in a short period of time, without purging. This is also followed by periods of intense shame and guilt and isolation from friends and family because of this shame.

Learn More about Binge Eating Disorder

There are also several other types of eating disorders such as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). These eating disorder types are less common, but are just as dangerous. It’s important to get a professional evaluation for your child if they display any abnormal eating or exercise habits.

If you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your teen, consider taking our quiz to see if it could be an eating disorder.

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Teen eating disorder treatments

Treatment for eating disorders usually involves therapy, nutritional counseling and sometimes medication. Family counseling may also be incorporated since full recovery requires adequate environmental support at home.

If you believe your teen is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to find help in a safe, judgment-free environment. Seeds of Hope offers personalized adolescent programs, from one-on-one therapy sessions to group counseling for teens.

Contact Seeds of Hope to schedule an appointment and take advantage of the best teen eating disorder treatments. Seeds of Hope also has teletherapy available for a variety of service options. For more information, call (610) 644-6464 today.

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