9 Signs Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder

Eileen Bailey | Mar 6th 2015 Sep 18th 2017

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Addressing eating problems early can help prevent an eating disorder from developing .As a parent, what signs should you be on the lookout for in your child?

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Weight changes

Growing children, including preteens and adolescents should be regularly gaining weight. If you notice your child is no longer gaining weight or is losing weight, this could be a sign that they are intentionally trying to keep the weight off. In the preteen years, this can cause problems by delaying puberty.

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Anxiety and stress

If your child’s stress levels seem high, or have increased, especially when combined with weight loss or not gaining weight, this can be a sign of an eating disorder, as they are closely associated with anxiety. 

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Obsession with weight and size

Children and teens with eating disorders are often obsessed with their weight and size. They might weigh themselves several times a day or worry obsessively about fitting into the “right” size clothes. They might develop a fear of becoming fat. 

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Obsession with food and portion sizes

If your child starts to limit certain foods or reduce calorie intake it could be an early sign of an eating disorder. Some of the ways children hide reducing food intake is by covering food with condiments and eating mostly the condiments, cutting food into very small pieces, replacing solid foods with beverages, eliminating types of foods, such as starches. Becoming vegetarian to avoid eating meats.

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Obsession with exercise

In addition to reducing the amount of food that is eaten, those with eating disorders sometimes increase their exercise levels, to offset calorie intake. If your child becomes fixated on exercise, is inflexible about deviating from exercise schedules or if the time spent on exercise seems high or continues to increase it could be a sign that your child is trying to compensate for calorie consumption.

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Avoid mealtimes

Children and adolescents with eating disorders might avoid family meals because they don’t want anyone to notice how little they are eating. They might continually make excuses, such as “I have a school project to complete” or indicate they will make their own meal later.

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Disappearing after mealtime

Those with bulimia will eat a complete meal, and then go to the bathroom to vomit in order to purge themselves of the food. Pay attention if your child sits down to eat and then suddenly disappears. 

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Physical symptoms

Eating too little or purging foods can cause physical symptoms as well as weight loss. Your child might feel cold all the time, have stomach pains, dizziness, dry skin, thinning of hair, yellow skin, cold hands, muscle weakness and, for girls, missed or irregular periods.

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The takeaway

If you notice some of these signs in your child or teen, set up an appointment with your child’s doctor. Finding and treating disordered eating may help to prevent it developing into an eating disorder, which can can health problems - both physical and emotional.