Eating Disorder Symptoms Comparison With Younger Ages

Woman recovering from eating disorder due to meaning

There are several different types of eating disorders. Professionals determine what type of eating disorder someone is struggling with based on what disordered behaviors and thoughts someone is struggling with.

Anorexia Nervosa

One eating disorder diagnosis is anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight. This fear leads to restricting food intake. Sometimes people struggling with anorexia also use other disordered behaviors to try and lose weight. This could be purging or abusive exercise.

Anorexia is one of the most deadly mental illnesses because of its impact on someone’s physical health [1]. Anorexia is most common in girls and women [2]. While anorexia can impact anyone at any age, younger people are more likely to die from this mental illness [2].

This is concerning because the rates of young people developing anorexia are increasing [1]. Not only are more younger people starting to struggle with this disorder, but the age of onset is occurring at younger ages [1]. The typical age of onset since the 1970s is sometime between 15 and 19 years old [1]. However, in the last 20 years, the numbers of children under age 14 struggling with disordered eating have increased [1].

Research is showing that symptoms of anorexia can look different depending on how old someone is when the eating disorder begins [1]. In individuals with early-onset, which is before age 14, there is a greater chance that their eating disorder symptoms will be more severe. Also, this population is more likely to struggle with body dysmorphia [1].

How the Eating Disorder Anorexia can Coincide with Body Dysmorphia

Person struggling with the eating disorder anorexia and body dysmorphiaBody dysmorphia is when someone obsesses about an aspect of their appearance that they believe is flawed. The perceived flaw can be minor or imagined. In individuals with anorexia, this dysmorphia is likely to be about body size and shape. This is why a lot of people with anorexia think they are in a bigger body when they may actually be underweight.

This population is also more likely to struggle with rigid thinking patterns [1]. This means that they may have a more difficult time changing the way they think. This can make the recovery process more difficult because eating disorder treatment often involves confronting distorted or false beliefs about food and body image.

Decisions in Treatment and Prevention

This information can be helpful for treatment professionals as they develop treatment plans for young people struggling with anorexia. Being able to develop treatment approaches that are specific for certain age groups could improve how effective treatment is.

This is not to say that current treatment programs are not effective for younger people. Treatment for anorexia usually includes support from a mental health professional, a dietitian, doctors, and a psychiatrist.

Treatment will look different depending on how severe the disorder is. No matter if someone is recommended for 24-hour daycare or is able to improve with weekly appointments with a professional, treatment is crucial.

This information can also help shape intervention and prevention programs for younger populations [1]. Prevention programs are ways that people can help change the conditions that contribute to eating disorders. For example, body positive programs are a way to challenge the insecurity that often results from comparing ourselves to what we see in the media.

Being aware that younger populations are also at risk for developing anorexia, prevention programs could be implemented in schools. Prevention could also look like pediatricians implementing universal screening tools for disordered eating.

There are numerous ways to support this population. Continuing to understand younger populations’ unique needs is potentially life-saving.


[1] Jenkins, Z.M., Chait, L.M., Cistullo, L., Castle, D.J. (2020). A comparison of eating disorder symptomatology, psychological distress and psychosocial function between early, typical and later onset anorexia nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders, 8(56), 1-8.

[2] National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Statistics and research on eating disorders.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published December 31, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on December 31, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC