Feb 22, 2017, 2:21:36 PM CST Aug 22, 2019, 9:49:20 AM CDT

6 Signs your child may have an eating disorder

See common signs of eating disorders in children and what you can do as a parent to help

Teenage girl looking at herself in the mirror Teenage girl looking at herself in the mirror

Eating disorders are characterized by unhealthy approaches to eating, weight and exercise. But they are more than a refusal to eat healthy; eating disorders are complex psychiatric disorders. If your child has an eating disorder, he or she also might have problems with self-image, anxiety and even depression. As many as 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder. The causes of eating disorders continue to be researched. Biological, sociological, psychological and cultural factors can all play a part in the development of an eating disorder.

Signs of an eating disorder

Kids may struggle with eating disorders for some time before anyone notices. Here are six signs that may indicate your child has a problem:

  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Unusual rituals or rules around food or eating
  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height, body type, age, and activity level
  • Repeated episodes of bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Purging after a binge, by self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise

What to do if you think your child has an eating disorder

If you suspect your child might be struggling with an eating disorder, consider seeing your pediatrician or a mental health provider who specializes in the treatment of eating problems right away. The sooner you seek help, the better the prognosis. Ignoring the warning signs could potentially compromise your child’s health. Anorexia can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, while bulimia increases the risk for heart and esophagus issues. Normal adolescent growth and development can be affected. Girls with eating disorders throughout their adolescence can experience compromised estrogen production and bone density. Production of testosterone and other hormones can be delayed in boys. All children can experience delays in their physical, mental, and emotional development as a result of an eating disorder. Treatment is available, and can include medical treatment, nutritional counseling, and individual, group and family therapy.


Learn more

The Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children’s Health℠ is the only pediatric eating disorders program in the country with disease-specific certification from the Joint Commission. Our team focuses on treating children and teens with a multidisciplinary approach. Learn more about our program and services

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anorexia, bulimia, behavior, determinants of health, diet, eating disorder, eating habits, mental health, National Eating Disorders Association, psychology

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