Feb 22, 2017, 2:21:36 PM CST Oct 15, 2020, 10:45:25 AM CDT

Common warning signs of eating disorders in kids

Know the symptoms of an eating disorder in a child and what you can do as a parent to help

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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.

6 warning signs of an eating disorder in kids

Kids may struggle with eating disorders for some time before anyone notices. Here are six signs that may help you tell if your child has an eating disorder.

  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • 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 should I do if I think my 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.

Don’t ignore eating disorder warning signs in kids

Ignoring the warning signs of childhood eating disorders could potentially compromise your child's health. Some risks can include:

  • 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 for eating disorders is available, and can include medical treatment, nutritional counseling, and individual, group and family therapy.

Learn more about eating disorder treatment

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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