Eating Disorders: What Parents Should Know, When to Ask for Professional Help

By Michael Klinkner, Evolve Counseling AZ

It is not unusual for teens to alter their eating habits. Eating more because a growth spurt or eating less because they are busy or stressed is normal at this age. Some teens may try a new trendy diet they saw on TikTok or one their friends swears by and they may even occasionally skip a meal.

Often, these changes will pass, and your teen will go back to their usual eating habits. As a parent, be aware of your teen’s eating patterns and habits, so you recognize if things start to change.

Typically eating disorders are not about food. They are an unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening way to cope with emotional issues. Eating disorders can take over a person’s life and may be difficult to overcome.

The three most common eating disorders for teens are binge eating disorder, bulimia and anorexia.

A binge eater regularly consumes substantial amounts of food in a short timeframe. With binge eating disorder, the teen will feel like they can’t control food quantity and often won’t even be aware of how much they eat. As a result, teens may become overweight or obese. Teens with binge eating disorder often hide food for binges and binge in private.

Typical symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Eating even when not hungry
  • Sneaking and hiding food
  • Eating normally during mealtimes, then eating large amounts of food when others aren’t looking
  • Feeling guilty after binging

Similar to binge eating disorder, teens who have bulimia eat a lot of food at once. They then throw up, excessively exercise or use laxatives to remove the food from their body. This is called purging. People who have bulimia may also use water pills, laxatives or diet pills to try and “cancel out” the food they have consumed.

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Sneaking food
  • Hiding empty food containers
  • Avoiding eating around others
  • Vomiting or exercising after eating
  • Using laxatives or other supplements to purge

People who experience anorexia are often obsessed with looking very thin. They are often hungry but deny themselves food. Teens with anorexia may also obsess about calories and will only eat certain types of food they consider “safe.” In addition to restricting calories, they may exercise excessively or take diet pills, laxatives, or water pills. People with anorexia typically have an illogical view of their own bodies, referred to as body dysmorphia, and think they are overweight despite their actual size.

Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Fearing gaining weight
  • Constantly counting calories
  • Exercising excessively
  • Using diet pills, water pills, or laxatives or other supplements to control weight
  • Missing periods or having irregular periods
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss

It is not easy to talk about eating disorders, especially with someone you love. But, when it comes to addressing eating disorders, it is important to learn everything you can about the issue beforehand. Start with open-ended questions and try to keep the conversation about feelings instead of food.

Eating disorders are often driven by emotions, so ask questions about how your child feels and what is going on in their life. You may discover your child is feeling sad, out of control or overwhelmed. Based on what you learn, you can guide and support your child. Avoid being confrontational or judgmental and try to talk about the patterns of behavior you have noticed.

If your teen continues to display troubling behaviors, it is best to seek professional help from a provider who specializes in teen eating disorders.

Michael Klinkner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. He is also certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Klinkner provides individual, group and family therapy to children, adolescents and adults in Central Phoenix and Gilbert, Ariz. Klinkner focuses on treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma and ADHD. For more information, visit or

More from Michael Klinkner on AZParenting:

Implementing A Digital Detox at Home

Tackling Talks About Mental Health

The Attitude of Gratitude




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