Signs Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder

There are different types of eating disorders which present in both girls and boys, although more commonly in girls. Anorexia nervosa involves restricting eating to induce weight loss. Bulimia nervosa involves purging, which can be in the form of vomiting and/or excessive exercising. anorexia scaleAnother eating disorder is binge eating without purging, which often results in weight gain. Sometimes, there is a combination of these behaviors occurring.

Eating disorders often develop in response to stress in one’s life. In other words, the child may use the eating disorder as a coping mechanism. In other cases, the child develops an eating disorder when they are striving for an extreme body image. In my experience, people with eating disorders are also usually depressed, using the eating disorder to deal with (or distract themselves from) much bigger problems in their lives. They have a very difficult time coming to terms with and truly letting go of the eating disorder behaviors. For these reasons, eating disorders should be treated by a multidisciplinary team to address the medical, nutritional, and psychological/behavioral issues. This approach promotes health and recovery more effectively than any of these treatments alone.

Here are some signs to look for that may indicate your child is struggling with an eating disorder:

  • Rigid rules about foods your child will or will not eat
  • Unwillingness to eat around others
  • Leaving after meals and going to the bathroom
  • Excuses about not wanting to eat
  • Fatigue, irritability, mood swings, and depression
  • Wearing baggy clothing to conceal weight loss
  • Hair starts thinning and becoming brittle
  • Callouses or scabs on the fingers/knuckles from inducing vomiting by sticking fingers down the throat
  • Finding laxatives in their possession that have not been prescribed for a reason
  • Moving food around the plate, cutting it, playing with it, but not actually eating much of it
  • Excuses about not wanting to eat in your presence (other plans, not feeling well, already ate, etc)
  • Making food for others but not eating any of it themselves
  • A covering of fine, short hair over neck and body
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Drastic weight loss or gain
  • Hiding food
  • Missing periods
  • Eating in the middle of the night
  • Judgments of self, others, or of certain foods as good or bad in terms of eating, weight or body image.
  • Eating large amounts of food but not gaining weight.

Be aware that people with eating disorders usually do not want anyone to know that they are engaging in these behaviors. This is because they may be ashamed and/or not want to give up this coping mechanism. In this way, I have seen eating disorders become almost addictive to those really struggling with recovery. Discuss eating disorder concerns with your child’s pediatrician or schedule a meeting with a professional right away. For more information, refer to the National Eating Disorders Association website: or, the Eating Disorders Resource Center website:

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