Recognizing Signs of An Eating Disorder
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
This post was originally published by Teen Line in January 206. You can find the original post here.
This time we are honored to have Dr. Lauren Muhlheim as a guest blogger to talk about "How to recognize signs of an eating disorder in your child/adolescent and what to do if you do"
Because eating disorders are often portrayed in the media in a stereotyped and inaccurate way, and because a number of the symptoms so resemble culturally valued “virtues”, they can be difficult for parents and professionals alike to spot. Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other specified eating disorder, have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Those who receive early treatment have the best chance of a full recovery. Thus, early identification is of great benefit.
Parents should be alert to any of the following signs:
Weight loss or lack of weight gain in a growing child (even if that child was previously overweight)
Rejection of foods previously enjoyed (often with no explanation as to why)
Dieting, talk about dieting or preoccupation with weight loss
Disparaging comments about their body shape
Anxiety around meals, claims they have already eaten and/or excuses to avoid meals
Hyperactivity or excessive exercise (there may be no express linkage to attempts at weight loss)
Preoccupation with cooking, watching cooking shows, reading recipes, and/or cooking for others and refusing to eat what they have made
Large quantities of food missing (could indicate binge eating)
Going to the bathroom and/or showering after meals
These symptoms may or may not be signs of an eating disorder, but if you notice them, you should pay close attention.
If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, please understand that it is not something you have caused. Eating disorders have a strong genetic and biological basis and parents are not to blame. It is important to get help promptly. A good place to start is at your child’s pediatrician’s office. Contrary to many parents’ fears, you will not make an eating disorder worse or will it into being by having your child assessed. It is much better to err on the side of caution – eating disorders can progress really rapidly and have the potential for serious medical complications. It is also important to recognize that it is common for children and adolescents with eating disorders to deny that they have an eating disorder. Do not let their denial of the problem dissuade you from pursuing treatment on their behalf.
Resources for Parents:
Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (FEAST). FEAST is an international nonprofit organization of and for parents and caregivers to help loved ones recover from eating disorders.
Around the Dinner Table is an online support forum for parents and caregivers of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorder patients.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is the leading advocacy organization in the US for individuals and families affected by eating disorders.
Lauren Muhlheim is a psychologist and certified eating disorder specialist who directs an eating disorder specialty practice, Eating Disorder Therapy LA. She is the Eating Disorders Expert for About.Com and also writes regularly for her own blog.
At Teen Line we work to provide personal teen-to-teen education and support before problems become a crisis, using our national hotline and community outreach. Visit our Parents & Caregivers page for more resources and information to help you understand and support teens’ mental health as well as promote overall well being.