Location: Bradley Hospital

Dangerous Eating Behaviors

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The teenage years are difficult ones. The pressure to fit in is intense and the desire to be popular is often overwhelming. For some teens, this pressure includes attempting to conform to an unrealistic body image standard to the point where their preoccupation with self-image becomes something more serious.

It is normal for teens to feel self-conscious in the teen years and to worry about how other teens perceive them. However, an intense focus on one's self can render teens, more than at other times in their lives, vulnerable to developing more serious body image preoccupations and disorders.

Experts say that research conducted with patients at Bradley Hospital has shown the severe effects that body image concerns can have, at least among adolescent psychiatric patients.

Adolescent psychiatric patients with severe body image preoccupations have higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts than other patients without these problems. There are some teens who have made suicide attempts and report that the reason they wanted to kill themselves was because of their distress around their perceived appearance defects (when in fact most were not overweight and were normal in appearance).

Though the study related to teens already receiving psychiatric treatment, ot is not healthy for any teen to have a predominantly negative view of themselves and be unable to identify aspects of themselves that they value, nor is it healthy for teens to become preoccupied, distressed and impaired by their negative preoccupations.

Sometimes, severe preoccupations with one's body image can result in serious issues such as eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia, or body dysmorphic disorder.


  • Anorexia is purposeful starvation or a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight. The exact cause of anorexia is not known, but social attitudes towards body appearance and family factors are believed to play a role in its development. Some professionals believe it may also be related to gaining a sense of control.

The risks: Starving one's self can cause a number of severe medical problems, including but not limited to, electrolyte imbalances, nutritional deficits, bone density loss, dental problems and over time, major organ failure.


  • Bulimia is characterized by binging and purging. Individuals with bulimia often significantly overeat and then cause self-induced vomiting (or use laxatives) in order to rid their bodies of the food they have consumed. Individuals with bulimia are often at a normal weight but perceive themselves as being overweight. Many more women than men have bulimia, and the disorder is most common in adolescent girls.

The risks: The medical risks include all those associated with anorexia. In addition, there seem to be associations among bulimia and risk behaviors such as substance-use and self-harming behaviors like cutting. For anorexia, this association is less pronounced.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a preoccupation with an imagined physical defect in appearance or a vastly exaggerated concern about a minimal defect. Individuals with BDD may engage in repetitive, compulsive behaviors such as skin-picking, mirror checking or attempts to camouflage the perceived defect. Weight-related BDD is classified as distressing and impairing preoccupations with aspects of one's shape and weight, in the absence of an eating disorder.

The risks: For teens with BDD, there is a risk of having a very poor quality of life. The time spent being preoccupied with appearance concerns often takes away from other activities, and teens with BDD may also avoid social and academic activities due to their intense feelings of ugliness and/or belief that others see them the same way. Truancy, academic and social problems become a real risk when this avoidance is extreme. There is also a high risk for developing co-occurring depression which may include suicidal thoughts and actions.