What to Know About Eating Disorders in Teens


Kendall Kleinman

A student holding carrots. Meant to signify the literacy of healthy eating, Dr. Anne Becker recommends eating healthy foods. “Schools should start as early as elementary school implementing and teaching health literacy to children,” Dr. Becker said.

Kendall Kleinman, Staff Writer

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 11% of people are diagnosed with eating disorders. Of the 11% who have been diagnosed, most of them go undiagnosed through most of high school. Eating disorders are a mental health problem, but they are often stigmatized and regarded as not as important. In an interview with Dr. Anne Becker, a professor and psychiatrist at Harvard who specializes specifically in eating disorders, discussed what schools can do to prevent eating disorders and how students can look out for each other.

“Schools can have strong anti-bullying policies,” Dr. Becker said. “For eating disorders in particular though, is encouraging mental health literacy.” 

At State High there are programs like “Safe2Say” and mandated reporters around the school, providing some prevention for eating disorders. In order to really prevent eating disorders, students must learn mental health literacy and the ability to distinguish the difference between healthy and unhealthy body types in elementary school. 

“We talk about eating disorders a little, in health we’ll talk about diets a lot and how to eat,” senior Logan Lieb said.

“In our health classes we don’t talk about them a lot though, we talk more about eating habits and not about the diseases specifically and like what goes behind them,” senior Holden Burkett said.

The key to approaching someone with an eating disorder, according to Dr. Becker, is to begin by acknowledging that they might have a problem. A lot of times people know they have a problem, and they’re just looking for someone to notice. If you notice signs of an eating disorder, the best thing to do is say: “I have noticed a change, or that you haven’t been eating as much, are you okay? I just want to let you know that I care for you.”

It’s important to keep from sounding accusatory and remain supportive throughout the interaction. Do not feel awkward and be afraid to ask, some people might know but do not go in for help, 

“We would do these volunteered screenings and at these screenings, we would ask ‘Have you told anyone about your eating disorders prior to this?’ and they told friends, siblings or parents,” Dr. Becker said. “Most of them never told their doctors, but when we asked why most of the times their doctors never asked.”

“If your doctor have asked you, would you have said anything? [The] majority of people who had not said anything to a doctor, would have told, they would not have volunteered it, but they would when they had been asked,” Becker said 

That’s where students must overcome the barrier of confrontation and step up and ask their peers if they are okay. Look around you and be aware of what your classmates might be going through and don’t be afraid to ask questions.