Adolescent girls

Adolescent girls are suffering during this pandemic. As a result, eating disorders in adolescents are on the rise.

Before the pandemic, 5% of adolescent girls showed signs of an eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia). While, recent reports suggest the number is much higher. The mean age of onset is a young 12.5 years old.

Girls today have been raised in a culture that defines beauty as thinness. Recent troubles began during the pandemic when schools were locked down & activities were suspended. The changes in routine, lack of social connections, heightened anxiety & increase use of social media – their only outside connection were detrimental.

During the pandemic, more time on social media & the Internet allowed adolescent girls to compare their body image to thin peers & influencers online. They began to rely on superficial means of building self-esteem, such as “likes” and/or “comments” on a post.

Eating Disorders helpline

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline has seen a 40% jump in overall calls since March 2020. Thirty-five percent of these calls were from teens 13 to 17 years old. The NEDA helpline is available Monday – Thursday, 9am – 9pm or Friday 9am – 5pm ET at 800-931-2237 or

Girls with eating disorders tend to be anxious & stress sensitive to begin with. They don’t do well with uncertainty. You may have recognized that your daughter is like this.

Some teenagers discover control of eating as a way to deal with stress. When the pandemic created a huge lack of control, girls with anorexia began to control (or limit) their food intake. Girls with binge eating did the opposite & ate in a way that lacked control. Availability of food while confined at home may have promoted relief-eating to combat boredom or stress.

Without the structure of school during the pandemic, high achieving adolescents may have turned their attention to physical health & appearance as a way to cope.  Remember that eating disorders are influenced by several factors: genetic, psychological, social, & environmental changes.

There are early signs to look out for in your tween or teen:

  • any sudden loss of weight (10 to 20 pounds)
  • pretending to eat, by pushing food around on their plate
  • skipping family meals, “I’m not hungry.”
  • refusing to eat food from certain categories (like carbs)
  • a new fixation on carefully counting calories
  • a new obsession with exercising
  • hoarding food (may be a sign of a binge eating)
  • outwardly stating dissatisfaction with her body image or weight
  • self-induced vomiting, or laxative use
  • eating past fullness

Dealing with an eating disorder

If you are seeing disordered behaviors & your child is adopting a defensive stance when you bring up those concerns, your child may be dealing with an eating disorder. There is much more info for parents at

New guidance for pediatricians on diagnosis & treatment was published recently by the AAP.

Early identification & intervention play a crucial role in successful treatment of eating disorders. When caught early there is a greater chance of recovery with treatment. Please talk to your pediatrician or family doctor.

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