How to Recognize if Your Child Has an Eating Disorder

How to Recognize if Your Child Has an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are common in the United States affecting around 30 million people.

These conditions are serious, and can lead to severe life-long problems, and even death.

Do you worry that your child may have an eating disorder? If you are curious about eating disorders in children, here is a guide for you to learn more.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are conditions that people develop when they have eating habits that are unhealthy, disrupted, and/or unsafe.

An eating disorder is more than just changing your diet or trying to eat less to lose a few pounds. Instead, an eating disorder is a mental illness that will have a hugely detrimental impact on a person’s life.

Eating disorders are most common in teenage girls, but any person (no matter their age, gender, or background) can develop these conditions.

In general, people that suffer from eating disorders will obsess about the way they look, their weight, and their body. They will try to restrict their food intake, which leads to unhealthy decisions that impact their health.

A combination of unhealthy behaviors over a period of time can lead to serious psychological and physical ailments. In the most severe cases, eating disorders and the behaviors associated with them can be deadly.

Types of Eating Disorders 

The four eating disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) are:

  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge-Eating Disorder
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Bulimia Nervosa

This is an eating disorder that is characterized by eating an excessive amount of food (overeating) and then purging (vomiting) the food right after to get rid of the calories.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating an excessive amount of food in a very short amount of time to the point of pain. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that results in extreme weight loss and thinness. If someone is suffering from anorexia nervosa, they starve themselves to lose weight in response to the fear of gaining weight, becoming fatter, or not achieving a certain body type.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

This is a new diagnosis in the DSM-5 and used to be called Selective Eating Disorder.

This eating disorder is similar to anorexia nervosa in that they both involve food limitations, but ARFID is not related to distress about the way the body looks or fatness.

Eating Disorders in Children

The signs of an eating disorder will be different from each person, and they will also depend on which type of eating disorder the person is experiencing.

Eating disorders in boys and girls can happen even when a child is young, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms.

If you notice a combination of these signs in your child, it might be an indication that they are starting to develop or have developed an eating disorder and need support.

Physical Symptoms

Physical signs and symptoms to be aware of include:

  • No weight gain or loss long term (children typically gain weight as they grow)
  • Abnormal weight
  • Stomach pain
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth infections

Psychological Symptoms

Some of the psychological signs and symptoms are:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Obsession with their appearance
  • Obsession with others’ perceptions of them
  • Stress about food and meals
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings and intense anger
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Non-suicidal or suicidal self-harm
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks

Behavior Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms and signs to look for include:

  • Wanting to eat alone
  • Wearing excessive or baggy clothing
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Vomiting or going to the bathroom immediately after each meal
  • Abnormal behavior around food
  • Wanting to cook, but not eat the food they make
  • Eating a lot of food and not gaining weight
  • Weighing themselves over and over
  • Isolating from others
  • Being “scared” of certain foods
  • Wanting to follow a fad diet
  • Hiding food in their rooms or around the house

Want to Learn More About Childhood Eating Disorders?

Now that you’ve learned a bit more about eating disorders in children, you are better equipped to see if your child might be suffering from one.

If you’d like to get some more information or want to get help for your child, contact us today. We offer services that your family can benefit from.