5 Signs That Your Child May Have an Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are serious mental illnesses often initiated in adolescent years, according to research available at the National Eating Disorder Association. Education is vital in preventing the development of an eating disorder. Parents who pay attention to warning signs and learn about eating disorders can be more prepared to approach the onset of their child’s potentially destructive eating habits.  If you believe your child has an eating disorder, seek eating disorder treatment from a professional.

5 Signs That Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder
1. Your child is being bullied or abused.

Children who are bullied or teased about their weight may develop anxiety and experiment with dangerous eating habits like starvation or self-induced vomiting. Beyond bullying, children victimized by sexual or physical abuse lose self-esteem and hide their hurt by turning to food. Some gorge themselves on thousands of calories at a time, unable to express their internal pain.  Others see food as their only control and opt to skip meals, feeling empowered with every missed bite. Talk with your child if you suspect they are being bullied or abused.  Come up with a plan together to overcome the bullying or abuse and its impact. If you notice friends or family teasing your child about their weight, ask them to please stop and explain the negative outcomes as a result their teasing.

2. Your child exercises all the time.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day for children ages 6-18.  Of course, a child who participates in soccer and swimming in the same season might be able to balance that amount of physical activity when combined with nutritious eating habits.  But, if your child is sneaking in sprints at daybreak, skipping social activities to exercise solo, and constantly concerned with cardio fitness, your child may have an unhealthy obsession to be thin.

3. Your child hides food.

Children with bulimia or binge eating disorder often hide food.  In an effort to mask their habit of downing a day’s worth of food in just one sitting from family and friends, children who binge eat usually do so in solitude.  They even sneak empty containers and food wrappers out of the house to avoid attention drawn toward their tendencies.  In cases of bulimia, where the cycle of binging and purging takes over, laxatives may also be discovered hidden away.

4. Your child has a poor body image.

If you hear your child complaining, more often than not, that they are fat and need to lose weight, a poor image of their body puts them at risk of developing an eating disorder.  Children feel pressured to have long, lean legs, and flat stomachs.  Arguments blame media, as extremely skinny supermodels flaunt the covers of magazines and actresses receive backlash for cellulite revealed on their thighs. However, parents’ outlook on physical appearance may impact their child’s body image more than they realize.  Have you influenced your child’s attitude toward their body by focusing on their flaws?  Perhaps your child has picked up your ongoing complaints about feeling fat.  Encourage your child to pursue their strengths and interests as a way to build confidence and boost their body image.

5.Your child doesn’t join you for meals.

Sure, an active social schedule occasionally keeps children from enjoying meals with their families.  But when occasional turns habitual, it is time to investigate.  Children with eating disorders often make up nightly excuses as to why they can’t eat dinner.  An anorexic child may avoid eating by saying they aren’t hungry or their stomach hurts. For a child with an eating disorder, eating in the presence of others creates anxiety symptoms like nervousness and panic.  If your child stops participating at family meals and displays anxiety about eating in a social setting, your child may have an eating disorder.

If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, seek professional treatment.  Early detection and intervention may prevent a life long struggle with an eating disorder and help you and your child lead a healthy life.

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Jesse Viner, Executive Medical Director of Yellowbrick , is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder, Dr. Viner has three decades of experience applying the knowledge of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the challenge of creating meaningful and pragmatically effective treatment programs. Dr. Viner has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. He is on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Viner is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.