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Sumati Gupta, PhD

Dr. Gupta is a licensed psychologist and professor at Barnard College, Columbia University. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and eating/weight issues at Tribeca Psychology in NYC

Top Eating Disorders Treatment Information


When puberty is (and isn't) related to bulimia 

Children today are experiencing puberty at earlier ages than ever before. A recent NY Times article prompted much discussion over girls beginning puberty as young as 6-years-old. Could the timing of puberty be related to eating disorder symptoms? A study released online this month suggests this is true for both girls and boys. 

The study, to be published in European Eating Disorders Review, surveyed about 3,000 Irish adolescents regarding eating disorder symptoms and puberty characteristics. The researchers found that simply going through puberty, regardless of timing, was a risk factor for eating disorder symptoms in girls. Specifically, as girls became more mature, they expressed more eating concerns, greater dissatisfaction with their bodies, and a greater desire to be thin.

This wasn’t the case for boys. In fact boys who were more mature were more likely to be satisfied with their bodies. The researchers suggest this may be because puberty brings boys closer to the media’s portrayal of the “ideal” male body type.

However, the timing of puberty made a difference for both boys and girls. Girls who felt they developed much earlier than their peers exhibited the most bulimic symptoms, were the most dissatisfied with their bodies, and had the greatest desire to be thin. For boys, maturing late was the problem. Boys who felt they developed much later than their peers exhibited the most bulimic symptoms and dissatisfaction with their bodies.

The timing of puberty, versus the experience of puberty, is the important piece that researchers found to be related to bulimia symptoms. In other words, simply going through puberty was unrelated to bulimic symptoms, but feeling like you’ve started puberty much earlier (for girls) or later (for boys) than your friends is related to increased bulimia symptoms. 

If you’re an adult suffering from bulimic symptoms, can you relate to this study? Did you go through puberty earlier than your friends (girls) or later than them (boys)?

Given that girls are maturing at younger ages today and are especially at risk for eating disorder symptoms during that time, it’s important that we talk about this issue with kids at a younger age.


Photo credit: Jodi Sware

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