Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that should not be downplayed or minimized. The majority of patients suffering from an eating disorder do not seek treatment.
As parents, you can help your child or teen receive the help they need by becoming aware of the types of common eating disorders and what signs and symptoms to watch out for.
Types of Eating Disorders in Children
- Anorexia – With anorexia, individuals typically have an obsession with diet and exercise that presents in an unhealthy amount of weight loss.
- Bulimia – Bulimia consists of regular binge eating or overeating episodes, followed by inducing vomiting or abusing laxatives in order to prevent weight gain.
- Binge eating disorder – Binge eating is defined as eating a large amount of food in a short period of time while feeling an inability to control the amount of food being consumed.
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) – Common in young children, this disorder presents as a disturbance in eating habits which could include a lack of interest in or an aversion to eating certain foods and textures. Children may also avoid eating due to a fear of getting sick. These issues can cause weight loss and deficiencies in kids.
- Pica – Pica commonly occurs in children who have experienced trauma or malnourishment, although this is not always the case. Pica consists of the consumption of non-food items like chalk, sand, soap, or dirt long after a child is developmentally aware of what is appropriate to eat.
- Eating disorder not otherwise specified (ED NOS) – Other issues that do not fit clinically into one of the other diagnoses above will often receive a diagnosis of ED NOS.
Signs of Eating Disorders in Children
While eating disorders present most commonly in girls and women, an alarming number of teen boys and men struggle with these disorders as well. Eating disorders also commonly present with body dysmorphia, in which an individual’s perception of their body and their weight does not match reality.
Below are some of the most common signs of eating disorders in children, which may begin as early as age 5:
- Refusal to eat
- Fear of eating or getting sick
- Aversion to certain foods or textures
- Abnormal bowel movements
- Issues with digestion and constipation
- Worry about weight and body image
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood swings
- Reducing food portions
- Hiding food
- Sudden weight loss or lack of growth
- Delayed puberty
- Thinning hair
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Excessive exercise or weighing themselves on the scale
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during and after meals
Diagnosis of Eating Disorders in Children
Eating disorders are typically diagnosed by your child’s pediatrician, oftentimes in conjunction with a certified mental health professional. Diagnosis is made based on medical history, symptoms, thoughts and behaviors, and an exam.
Treatment of Eating Disorders in Children
It is important that your child receive the love and support of the entire family, as well as from their teachers, church leaders, and friends wherever possible. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), talk therapy, and some medications can be very effective for the treatment and management of eating disorders in children. In some cases, a dietitian or specialized food therapist may be brought on board your child’s treatment team as well.