Adolescent Eating Disorder Treatment: 7 Signs That You Should Seek Help

Adolescence is a period filled with lots of big changes, which can be both exciting and challenging. It’s also a high-risk time for the development of eating disorders: about 12% of adolescent girls have some form of eating disorder, and eating disorder rates are rising among adolescent boys. Given these risks, if you have an adolescent child, it’s important to be on the lookout for disordered eating behaviors and other signs that something might be amiss. If you’re concerned about your child, it’s important to seek adolescent eating disorder treatment options promptly. Early intervention is associated with better outcomes, and eating disorders don’t go away on their own.

Read on to learn seven signs of eating disorders in adolescents.

Signs you should seek treatment for an adolescent eating disorder

1. Physical signs

Eating disorders can have a variety of different physical consequences, including:

  • Dizziness and fainting. Inadequate nutrition is a leading cause of fainting spells and dizziness.
  • Noticeable changes in your child’s skin and hair. If your child has brittle hair and dry skin, this could be caused by poor nutrition.
  • Persistent dehydration. Dehydration can also lead to physical changes such as dry mouth and flushed skin.
  • Frequent injuries. Excessive exercise, another common symptom of eating disorders, can lead to overuse injuries.

2. Dramatic weight changes

Sudden changes in weight can be a strong indicator of an eating disorder. While weight fluctuations are normal as your child develops, extreme changes can suggest a deeper issue. Depending on the eating disorder, you may notice your child either rapidly gaining or losing weight. These weight changes tend to be a sign of disordered eating habits, like restricting or binge eating. If your child has fallen off their growth chart (even without weight loss), this is also a cause for concern.

3. Fear of weight changes

People with eating disorders often experience intense fear of weight gain or changes in body shape. Physical changes are a natural part of adolescence, and it’s normal for young people to have insecurities about their developing bodies, but for someone struggling with an eating disorder, those insecurities will be more pronounced, and even debilitating. Anxieties relating to weight and body shape are often a driving force behind many eating disorder symptoms, like restrictive eating or purging.

4. Strict dieting

Does your child have a newfound preoccupation with what they eat? This could signal the onset of an eating disorder. An obsession with calories, fat content, and other aspects of diet can lead to disordered eating behaviors, which can turn into a full-blown eating disorder. If your child has started scrutinizing nutrition labels, restricting how much they eat, or removing certain foods or food groups from their diet, these choices might be driven by a burgeoning eating disorder. Recognizing this kind of shift in eating habits is crucial for early detection and intervention.

5. Increased secrecy

Eating disorders thrive in secrecy. If your child starts to act more secretive around food, exercise, or their body, it could signal an eating disorder. People with eating disorders tend to hide or obscure their disordered habits and changing bodies, often out of a sense of shame, but also because eating disorders protect themselves by remaining hidden from loved ones. If you notice that your child skips family meals, prefers to eat alone, hides or hoards food, disposes of food wrappers discreetly, exercises in secret, wears baggy clothes to hide their body, or other secretive behaviors, it could be a red flag.

6. Social withdrawal

Social withdrawal can be a sign of several different issues in adolescents, including eating disorders. An eating disorder can make it stressful to eat around others, causing your child to avoid food-related outings, like going to restaurants with friends or parties where food will be served. Eating disorders can also lead people to lose interest in the things that once brought them joy, like spending time with friends. If you notice your adolescent detaching from their social life, check in with them to try to understand what’s behind it.

7. Mood swings

It’s normal for adolescents to experience a lot of mood fluctuations as they grow and mature, which can make it difficult to determine if mood swings are a normal developmental phase or associated with an eating disorder. But if your child is exhibiting other signs of disordered eating, along with sudden changes in temperament, an eating disorder could be to blame. These mood changes can be brought on by the physiological effects of malnourishment and irregular eating patterns, as well as the increased anxiety and depressive symptoms that tend to come with eating disorders.

What adolescent eating disorder treatment looks like

Family-based therapy (FBT) is an evidence-based approach for treating eating disorders in adolescents and young adults. FBT is based on the idea that a patient’s healthy family members are the ones best suited to help them recover from their eating disorder. This means that recovery happens at home, and that family (or chosen family) is actively engaged in their loved one’s recovery.

When you seek adolescent eating disorder treatment at Equip, each family is matched with a dedicated 5-person care team that includes a medical provider, dietitian, therapist, peer mentor, and family mentor. This care team guides you through FBT using evidence-based modalities, providing accountability, tools, and support to build a sustainable recovery at home. Our virtual treatment model is designed to provide accessible, effective care without having to uproot your life.

Get in touch with our team today for more information about adolescent eating disorder treatment at Equip or to schedule a consultation.


1. Gagne, D. A., Von Holle, A., Brownley, K. A., Runfola, C. D., Hofmeier, S., Branch, K. E., & Bulik, C. M. (2012). Eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns in a large web-based convenience sample of women ages 50 and above: Results of the gender and Body Image (GABI) study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(7), 832–844.

Randy Smith
Content Writer
Clinically reviewed by:
Maria La Via, MD
Director of Psychiatry, Equip
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