Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

Eating disorders are a scary topic for parents. It is critical to be aware of signs that your child may be at risk for developing an eating eating disorderdisorder. The earlier you can get professional intervention, the better outcomes your child will have. You may be able to prevent the eating disorder from taking over your child’s life and causing serious health affects. The longer a child struggles with an eating disorder, the more difficult it can be for him or her to overcome it. The eating disorder becomes a coping mechanism they rely on to feel in control, and is something to focus on to avoid other issues. Eating disorders are mental health diagnoses, and involve disordered thinking, beliefs, and behaviors around food and body image. They should be treated and managed by a team including at minimum, a physician, a mental health counselor, and a registered dietitian.

Warning signs your child may have or be developing an eating disorder:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Eating the same things every day, often in very controlled amounts
  • Self- imposed rules around eating
  • Tracking or recording food intake and calories
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Thinning hair
  • Fatigue, mood swings, irritability
  • Going to the bathroom or disappearing after meals
  • Evidence of binging on large amounts of food (wrappers, receipts, bags, etc), which is often done in private
  • Loss of menstrual period

Characteristics and contributing factors that correlate with eating disorders:

  • Perfectionist, high achieving
  • Likes control, structure, order, routine. Does not like deviating from these.
  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues
  • History of abuse, and/or bullying or teasing, esp with regards to weight
  • Involved in sports, especially those where body image or weight is a factor such as dance, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, track, tennis, volleyball, cheerleading.

What to do if you are concerned your child has signs of an eating disorder:

  1. Contact your child’s pediatrician.
  2. Seek a referral for a social worker or counselor and a dietitian.
  3. If your child’s health is in immediate danger, take him or her to the nearest hospital. Examples of immediate health dangers are dehydration, fainting, refusal to eat.

For further information about eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/. To make an appointment with one of our registered dietitians and/or licensed social workers, click here.

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