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How Parents Can Spot an Eating Disorder in Their Child

Caroline Rudnick, MD | Family Medicine Physician, McCallum Place

Early Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder in Your Child or Adolescent

Our culture and media spend a lot of time thinking, talking, blogging and watching videos about dieting, food choice, weight loss, and exercise. Amid this wave of information, our children can get caught up in information that is misleading, misinformed or simply harmful. Combined with the stresses of childhood, this focus on food, appearance, and exercise can contribute to some children and adolescents developing disordered eating behaviors or fully diagnosable eating disorders.

Sometimes these disorders go unrecognized for a period of time, and a child may lose a substantial amount of weight or suffer other medical effects. Because early detection of an eating disorder improves the chances of recovery it is important for parents to know the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other disordered eating behaviors.

Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder in Your Child or Adolescent

We often see kids skipping meals, wanting to prepare their own meals, eating alone, avoiding whole groups of foods, counting calories, grams of fats or carbohydrates, or being very picky about food. Sometimes kids will be overly concerned about the nutritional value of food and spend a lot of time reading, thinking and researching food, calories, and diet choices.

Other Signs that Should be Noticed by Attentive Parents

Children spending a lot of time in the bathroom after meals may be an indication that purging is occurring. Binge eating is often discovered when food is suddenly missing from the household supply. Children or teens who are obsessively exercising or secretively exercising are likely struggling with body image distress and concern about weight, size, and shape.  Of course, noticing weight loss or sudden weight change is important as these can indicate an eating disorder or another medical issue which would merit the attention of a physician.

Finally, a child’s appearance can offer clues to health concerns or disordered eating behaviors. Kids with eating disorders will often appear pale and withdrawn. Their clothes may no longer fit or they may begin wearing baggy clothes or out-of-season winter clothes to hide their appearance.

Seek Professional Help for Your Child or Teen

If you notice any of these things in your child, please seek medical attention for the possibility of an eating disorder or another medical problem. Your first appointment should be with a medical professional who is confident and educated on the symptoms of an eating disorder. Your doctor may also recommend working with a licensed therapist or a registered dietitian. To find resources in your area or to have a free assessment completed by an eating disorder professional contact McCallum Place at (314) 968-1900.