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How To Spot An Eating Disorder In A Child

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How To Spot The Signs And Symptoms Of Substance Abuse In Children

How Can I Tell if My Child Has an Eating Disorder?

When we think of substance abuse, we often think of adults. But children are just as susceptible to the reality of addiction as adultsand potentially more so, because their minds and bodies are still developing.

When a child ventures into the territory of substance abuse, they may be doing so for a number of reasons. A chaotic home life, trouble in school, difficulty making or keeping friends, mental illness, and other factors can all contribute to substance abuse in children. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, struggling in school or having poor social skills can be major risk factors for using drugs or becoming addicted to them.

And if a child uses such substances, their ever-changing brain is highly prone to addiction because its still so malleable.;Research suggests that the human brain is still maturing in significant ways during childhood.

Young brains are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drugs, and drug use during adolescence can significantly increase a childs risk for developing a substance use disorder later in life. The earlier a person uses drugs, the higher the chances are that theyll form an addiction.

If youre concerned that your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, consider the signs and symptoms below.

Although Its Important That Parents Know The Warning Signs To Look For Its Equally Important That Parents Know The Difference Between Red Flags And Red Herrings For Example Picky Eating Is One Behavior That Isnt Typically Considered To Be A Red Flag Kids Go Through Stages With Foods And If You Have A Picky Eater On Your Hands You Dont Usually Need To Be Concerned Many Kids For Example Refuse To Eat Vegetables For A While Thats Really Common And Doesnt Typically Present A Problem Says Dr Dooley Explains

If youre concerned that your child may have an eating disorder, heres a list of things that you should do to address the situation as well as a list of things that you shouldnt:

How to Handle the Situation: Dos

  • Do trust your instincts if you think something is wrong.
  • Do gather facts about your childs exercise and eating habits to present to your pediatrician.
  • Do consult with a medical professional who has a background in eating disorders.
  • Do recognize that eating disorders often run in families.
  • Do try to figure out what is causing your childs anxiety about eating.
  • Do provide your child with lots of affirmations about themselves that include their body, brain, personality, and talents.
  • Do let your child know that you love them, no matter what their weight is.
  • Do serve healthy meals at home that are filled with lots of vegetables, fruits, fiber, grains, and healthy proteins.
  • Do pay attention to the level of exposure your child has to models in magazines, very thin characters in animated films, and real-life actors and actresses. Try to balance this out by exposing them to high-profile individuals in many fields who have typical and realistic body weights.
  • Do let your child know that there are many types of bodies, and that beauty and skinniness do not always go together.

How to Handle the Situation: Donts

How To Spot An Eating Disorder

May 1, 2000 — Five million Americans suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Most of them are young women and teenage girls, although about 5% are male. Eating disorders can have devastating effects on health. As many as 1,000 girls and women die each year from the complications of anorexia.

“When it comes to adolescent eating disorders, it is usually the parents’ responsibility to seek help. The girl with the eating disorder is often the last to know she is ill,” says Amy Baker Dennis, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of training and education for the Academy for Eating Disorders.

Don’t wait until the eating disorder is out of control before you seek help. Research shows that the sooner an eating disorder is diagnosed, the more effectively it can be treated. If you suspect a problem, arrange for an evaluation by a therapist trained and experienced in treating eating disorders. Dennis suggests you watch for these distinct warning signs of the two most common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is a highly restrictive eating pattern that results in gradual starvation. Teens developing anorexia will often:

  • cut out all sweets and snack foods, eliminate fat and meat from their diet, and begin cutting their food into small bits
  • eat in private or refuse to join the family for meals
  • obsessively count calories
  • check their weight on the scale repeatedly
  • frequently claim to be “fat”
  • exercise obsessively

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Eating Disorders In Young Men: Symptoms And Risk Factors

American society puts an outsized value on peoples appearance. Though we come in all shapes and sizes, our favorite movies and TV shows generally depict attractive people as successful, and equate physical beauty with thinness. The desire to fit in may give rise to a mindset and behaviors associated with eating disorders, even in young men.

What Are The Causes Of Eating Disorders In Younger Children

How to tell if your child has an eating disorder ...

Many parents wonder, Why is my child not eating? or Why cant my child eat normally? The answer is usually not simple.

Its important to realize that the causes are different for every child, and that parents are never the cause. But parents can be part of the solution.

Here are some things that can make a child more likely to have an eating disorder:

  • Some kind of trauma related to eating
  • Bullying at school
  • A family history of eating disorders
  • History of feeding struggles

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Identifying Eating Disorders In Children And Teens

Regular doctor visits are essential to a childs and teenagers overall health. These routine checkups are an opportunity to not only chart growth and development, but also to screen for a range of physical and mental health conditions, including eating disorders.

In fact, pediatricians and other primary care providers are often our first line of defense against eating disorders. Well-positioned to monitor ongoing health at well-child visits and other physicals, providers have a unique role in detecting and addressing any issues with food and body. Early identification of eating disorder symptoms can help prevent and interrupt the development of these serious disorders.

A Message From Verywell

Eating disorders most commonly develop during the adolescent years but have been documented in children as young as seven. Weight loss in a growing child is unusual and even if the child started out overweight, should be met with caution.;

If you are concerned that your child is struggling with eating and/or showing any of the above signs, speak to your pediatrician. If your pediatrician does not seem to take your concerns seriously, trust your parental instinct, seek additional consultation, and learn more about eating disorders.;

You need to act. Your child’s fate is in your hands. Parents are not to blame and can play an important role in helping a child with an eating disorder to recover.;

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What Causes Binge Eating

The exact cause of binge eating disorder isn’t known. But it’s likely due to a combination of things, including genetics, family eating habits, emotions, and eating behavior, like skipping meals. Some people use food as a way to soothe themselves or to cope with difficult feelings.

People with binge eating disorder are more likely to have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder , and ADHD.

It’s hard to know how many teens may binge eat. Because people often feel guilty or embarrassed about out-of-control eating, many don’t talk about it or get help.

Questions For Your Doctor

How do I tell if I have an eating disorder?
  • What should I do if I suspect my teen has an eating disorder?
  • My teen doesnt like to eat in front of anyone. Should I worry?
  • My teen is always dieting, and Im concerned. What can I do?
  • How can I tell if my teen is at a healthy weight?
  • What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
  • Will vitamins help fill the nutrition gap for my teen?

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The Importance Of Early Screening And Intervention

Eating disorder screening and intervention is particularly important for children and teens, as onset of these disorders often occurs in adolescence and young adulthood. The physical, emotional, and social changes that accompany this pubescent period can interact with other risk factors to cause an eating disorder in those susceptible.

Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, and roughly 3% of adolescents ages 13-18 are diagnosed with one. Though these illnesses affect people across the lifespan, research suggests that the vast majority originate in younger years. A ten-year study conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders showed that 86% of those with an eating disorder reported onset before the age of 20. Of that 86%:

  • 10% reported onset at 10 years old or younger
  • 33% reported onset between the ages of 11 and 15
  • 43% reported onset between the ages of 16 and 20

Symptoms often worsen as eating disorders take root, leading to significant, potentially life-threatening consequences. According to research, people with anorexia between the ages of 15 and 24 are 10 times more likely to die than their peers.

Eating disorders are treatable, howeverat any age. And the earlier the treatment, the better the outcome. Early detection in children and teenagers can reduce the severity of symptoms and promote normal growth and development.

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Diagnosed

If a doctor thinks a child or teen might have a binge eating disorder, they’ll ask lots of questions about their medical history and dietary habits. The doctor will also ask about the family history, family eating patterns, and emotional issues.

After an exam, the doctor may order lab tests to check for health problems related to weight gain, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea, and diabetes.

To diagnose binge eating disorder, doctors and mental health professionals look for signs such as:

  • eating more food than most people eat in a set period of time
  • a sense of lack of control over eating
  • binge eating, on average, at least once a week for at least 3 months
  • binge eating associated with:
  • eating faster than most people
  • eating until uncomfortably full

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What Are The Different Types Of Eating Disorder

There are a number of different types of eating disorder, each with their own unique features.


People with anorexia are obsessed with being thin, have an irrational fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image . People with anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible and often achieve this by starving themselves and engaging in ‘purging’ behaviours where they try to remove calories from their body.


People with bulimia tend to binge and then make themselves sick, abuse laxatives or exercise excessively to try and get rid of the calories consumed . These binge-purge cycles are driven by an obsessive need to control food intake, and can be triggered by stress, anxiety or hunger. Bulimia can be harder to spot than anorexia because often, someone with bulimia stays a ‘normal’ weight.

Binge eating disorder

People with binge eating disorder binge eat on a regular basis, often eating huge amounts of unhealthy food, even when they are not hungry. However, people with BED dont show any purging behaviours, which means that they are likely to become obese.

Eating disorders not otherwise specified

Eating disorders not otherwise specified , also referred to as atypical eating disorders, can resemble other forms of eating disorder but do not meet the exact requirements in order to receive a formal diagnosis.

What Are The Different Types Of Eating Disorders

Picky Eating Vs. Eating Disorders In Kids, According To ...

While there are only five clinically recognized eating disorders ;anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, muscle dysmorphia, binge eating disorder , and other specified feeding and eating disorder ;there are numerous unofficial conditions. Compulsive overeating, for example, is a term used to describe those who eat large quantities of food all day long. Orthorexia nervosa is a term used to describe someone who becomes so obsessed with planning the perfect diet that it disrupts their life, and pregorexia describes pregnancy-induced food restriction and/or starvation.

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What Are Typical Presentations Of Eating Disorders In Young Children

Most children with eating disorders have more atypical eating disorder symptoms. Presentations are often complex and patterns of food restriction are usually different from older patients. Common reasons for food refusal in children include:

  • Fear of getting fat related to seeing other peers teased at school
  • Fear of getting stomach aches or vomiting, choking
  • Aversion to tastes, smells and textures

Many children have pre-morbid anxiety symptoms which further impact their fears and disordered eating, while others may develop OCD-like behaviors which coincide with restriction and malnutrition. Children often present in behaviorally regressed states, displaying:

  • Severe tantrums
  • Excess movement

Symptoms Of Inattention In Children

Your child may:

  • Have trouble staying focused; be easily distracted or get bored with a task before its completed.
  • Appear not to listen when spoken to.
  • Have difficulty remembering things and following instructions; not pay attention to details or makes careless mistakes.
  • Have trouble staying organized, planning ahead, and finishing projects.
  • Frequently lose or misplace homework, books, toys, or other items.

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What Is An Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are complex conditions that cause people to develop severely disrupted eating habits. This isn’t just about diet changes or trying to lose a small amount of weight eating disorders are mental illnesses that can take over someone’s life and the lives of the people who are closest to them. Whilst it is true that eating disorders are most common amongst teenage girls, anyone of any gender, age or background can develop an eating disorder.

People suffering from an eating disorder usually have an obsession about their appearance, weight and body shape. This causes them to control or restrict their food intake, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food. These unhealthy behaviours can cause a whole host of long-term psychological and physical problems, and can even be fatal.

How Is Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosed

Five signs your child may have an eating disorder

When you have anorexia, you may try to hide your problem from others. Over time, family members, teachers, and coaches may start to worry about your weight and behavior. Early treatment can help prevent serious health problems.;Your healthcare provider;will ask you about your medical history. He or she will give you a physical exam. Your healthcare provider may advise psychological testing. Talking with family members and other concerned adults can also help.

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Concerned About Eating Disorders

Take one of our 2-minute eating disorder quizzes to see if you or a loved one could benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Common Types of Eating Disorders in Children

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is a common eating disorder experienced by young children. Children with this disorder experience a disturbance in their eating which can include a lack of interest in food or a sensory aversion to certain foods. For example, a child might be averse to swallowing or the texture of foods they once enjoyed. They might also fear getting stomach aches or vomiting if they became sick because of a certain food. These aversions and restrictions can lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiency among young children.

Pica is a type of condition where a child might eat non-food or non-nutritional substances persistently. To be diagnosed with pica, the behavior must fall outside of the childs expected developmental level . These substances often include dirt, soap, chalk, sand, ice, and hair.

Anorexia nervosa can affect both young girls and boys. Children with anorexia think they are overweight when they seem very underweight to other people. Children might obsess about their food intake and with how to control their weight. They might exercise intensively or binge and then purge. Anorexia can cause significant damage to physical health and growth, so it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible for a child.

Why Do Eating Disorders Occur

Anyone can develop an eating disorder, but young adults of any gender identity can be especially susceptible to this problem, due to hormonal changes during puberty and peer pressure to have a specific body type. Its normal to experience these ups and downs, and your child may only occasionally practice unhealthy eating habits.

However, if your son begins to fixate on weight, appearance or food, or regularly under- or overeats, he may be at risk for having an eating disorder. Noticeable weight fluctuations may also be a sign of this issue, especially if your young adult son also tends to make disparaging comments about his body.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Anorexia

Tess Holliday has revealed that she is recovering from anorexia

People with atypical anorexia won’t display the same drastic weight loss as those with anorexia nervosa.

People with;atypical anorexia nervosa;usually maintain a medically acceptable BMI and may sometimes be overweight.

Here are some other key signs:

  • missing meals, eating very little or avoiding eating any foods you see as fattening
  • believing you are fat when you are a healthy weight or underweight
  • taking medication to reduce your hunger
  • your periods stopping or not starting
  • physical problems, such as feeling dizzy, dry skin and hair loss

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