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Signs of Eating Disorders in Children

Eating Disorders and ChildrenYou love your child, and you want to protect them from any and all dangers. You’ve tried to teach your kids right. You tell them not to talk to strangers and not to go down dark alleys. You may also avoid words like diet or exercise to avoid body image problems. Yet, something has you worried. Could your child still have an eating disorder after all the care you’ve taken?

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are not one-size-fits-all disorders. The causes of them really depend on the person.

Common causes of eating disorders can include:

  • Stress (i.e. school, bullies, death in the family, etc.)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body image issues, including being afraid of gaining weight or being too fat
  • Depression
  • Cultural/societal pressures
  • Anxiety

The most common eating disorder among children and teens is anorexia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in every 25 females will suffer from anorexia. But this isn’t strictly a female disorder. Males are also affected; nearly 1 in 10 of eating disorder cases are males.

Signs of Eating Disorders in Children and Teenagers

If your child has an eating disorder, the person is not going to admit it. There are, however, signs that can help you determine if your child is suffering from one.

Common Signs include:

  • Distorted body image: All parents have heard their daughters complain about not being pretty enough or being too fat. While you should always try to show your children how beautiful they are no matter size or shape, some parents may notice that no matter what they say the body image issues have become nearly an obsession. Disparaging body remarks and mirror checks become nearly all consuming.
  • Change in eating habits: Children may on occasion skip a meal or two. If this becomes a regular issue, then your child or teenager may have an eating disorder. Do they never eat their favorite foods anymore, or cut their food into mini-bites? Do they regularly “forget” their lunch at home? Do you find food hidden in the child’s room? These are all signs of an eating disorder.
  • Drastic weight loss: Children’s weight shouldn’t fluctuate too much. If it does, including rapid weight loss, then it’s time to pay attention.
  • Exercising too much:  Teenagers and tweens may especially take to exercising to try and lose weight. If this exercising takes on an obsessive quality (including exercising when it’s cold or raining, or when they’re hurt), then they may be suffering from compulsive exercising.

While these are not all the signs of eating disorders among children and teens, these are common ones. Pay attention to your child, share your observations and concerns with your child in a gentle and caring way and get them help if you suspect they’re suffering from these disorders.

Rachel Levi, LMFT, CEDS, F- IAEDPFounder/Clinical Director
Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment
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