Acid Reflux Teens: Normal Acid Reflux or Eating Disorder?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Being a teenager with acid reflux disease can be brutal.  Acid reflux disease can cause classic heartburn pain, nausea, vomiting weight loss and other unpleasant symptoms.  People with acid reflux disease often have to make alterations to the foods that they can eat, chew more thoroughly and avoid some foods all together.

Unfortunately these acid reflux associated food behaviors can unintentionally lead people to misdiagnose the teen with an eating disorder.  During my time working with teens with acid reflux disease I have seen this mistake happen more often than you would think.  It can be quite frustrating for the teens, parents and health care providers.

Eating disorders are nothing to take lightly.  The most commonly known eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder but there are several other categories as well.   According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)'s most recent study it is estimated that half a million teenagers suffer from an eating disorder.

Some of the symptoms of an eating disorder are:

  • Inadequate food intake.
  • Fear of gaining weight or obsession with loosing weight.
  • Self-esteem overly associated with body image.
  • Over eating followed by self induced vomiting.
  • Overuse of laxatives or other methods to prevent weight gain.
  • Feeling out of control of food intake.
  • Shame or hiding food behaviors.

While this list is not exhaustive it gives you some idea how a teen with acid reflux could be mistakenly thought to have an eating disorder.

If you or your child are dealing with acid reflux disease and your health care provider insists that they have an eating disorder it can be hard not to get defensive.  The best way to deal with the situation is to get a second opinion and if warranted, allow an evaluation to be done.  Once they determine that an eating disorder is not playing a role in the medical issues of your teenager then they can move on to address the acid reflux more aggressively.

Should an eating disorder specialist diagnose your teen with an eating disorder it is important to take that diagnosis seriously.  Eating disorders are the most deadly of mental illnesses and they will not go away on their own!  Diagnosis is just the first step—months or sometimes years of treatment are needed to properly deal with an eating disorder.  Treatment options will be tailored to what works best for your teen.

If you or someone you love might have an eating disorder you can contact NEDA's helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for immediate assistance.  There is also a useful online screening tool available on their site.

See more helpful articles:

Allergy, Intolerance or Acid Reflux?
Acid Reflux and MSPI
Infant Acid Reflux: At a glance