No parent wants to face the question “Does my child have an eating disorder,” but it is always better to ask the question and begin taking proactive steps rather than be forced to make up for lost time later on down the road. If you’re wondering whether or not your child might be struggling with an eating disorder, there are signs you can begin to look for and steps you can take to get your child the help they need as soon as possible.
Contact someone who knows
It might be difficult to tell the difference between a picky eater and a teen struggling with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It might be confusing to determine whether or not your teen is slender because of excessive growth spurts or the habit of skipping meals. But how can you know for sure?
Eating disorders are best diagnosed under the supervision of mental health professionals. If you recognize signs of an ED, it’s vital to get in contact with a certified treatment center or ED therapist right away.
Understand where eating disorders may come from
Eating disorders can be confusing because of their lack of consistency – men, women, boys and girls can struggle with them. They might occur in someone who’s never struggled with mental health before, or other conditions like depression or trauma could play a role in the development.
While many factors could be a cause of the eating disorder, they typically root from either a mental health condition, an issue with body image or both.
- Mental health risks – Depression, anxiety, peer pressure or bullying, self-esteem issues, perfectionism and trauma like physical, sexual or emotional abuse can play a role in an eating disorder development.
- Body image risks – Experiencing overall dissatisfaction with one’s physique, having an obsession with thinness or being the victim of teasing or negative criticism regarding one’s weight/physical appearance can contribute to an eating disorder’s development as well.
Just because an individual struggle with one or more of the above does not immediately mean they’re destined to have an eating disorder. What it means for you as a parent is that if you’re aware of your child’s experiences with any of the above, and recognize outward eating disorder signs, your child might be struggling with an ED.
Look for signs and symptoms
A number of eating disorders are currently recognized by psychologists, with the three most common being anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge-eating. They manifest in different ways, meaning their signs are also different from each other.
- Signs of anorexia nervosa
- Severely below a healthy weight without believing themselves to be underweight
- Habits like calorie counting, highly restrictive/limited food intake, induced vomiting after eating, laxative or diuretic abuse or excessive exercise
- Body image is determined by one’s shape and weight
- An obsession with being thin and losing weight even if they’re already below a healthy weight
- Signs of bulimia
- Recurring binging episodes where one feels little control/unable to stop eating until painfully full, followed by unhealthy purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
- Fear of gaining weight
- Self-esteem is dependent on body image
- Signs of binge eating disorder
- Eating large amounts of food (typically in private) until painfully full, regardless of actual hunger
- Lacking control over binging, but feeling corresponding guilt, shame or disgust in regards to the behavior of binge eating
- Not following the act of binge eating with some form of purging behavior, thereby leading to obesity
There are other signs as well, such as not being present for meals, disappearing to the restroom post meals, showing signs of dramatic weight loss/gain, which might have drawn your attention to your child. Again, while not every sign means they have an eating disorder, it’s better to be on alert and proactive when it comes to the health and safety of your child.
If your son or daughter is diagnosed with an eating disorder
Hope is not lost! While a child will not grow out of an eating disorder and must undergo treatment in order to have a successful recovery, many can and do recover from eating disorders. The best thing to do is be proactive when you notice the signs – reach out to your child’s physician to rule out other medical conditions keeping them from getting the proper nutrition and contact a trusted treatment center for the best advice on the next steps for your teen.
While recovery from an eating disorder is a long road, it’s one full of hope and the promise of total healing and recovery. It’s one that not only offers your teen a new perspective on life but gives them the tools they need to make healthy choices for the rest of their life.
If you have concerns regarding your child’s eating habits, don’t hesitate to reach out to Seeds of Hope at 610-644-6464. Our staff of mental health professionals will offer assistance and guidance for both you and your child and make sure to attend to everyone’s needs no matter what.