Eating Disorders

Children with eating disorders will have unusual or abnormal eating behavior. Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder that causes a person to restrict their eating to the point where weight drops more than 15 percent of what is considered normal. Bulimia is a disorder where a person binges by consuming large amounts of food, then purges by forcing herself to vomit or by taking laxatives.

Eating disorders usually start in puberty or adolescence, when other body changes begin happening. Some cases of eating disorders have been noted in children as young as 9 years of age. They more commonly affect girls, but about 5 percent of these children disorders are boys. The family may be unaware that their child has an eating disorder because these children are experts at hiding their disorders. Left untreated, these disorders can have serious consequences on a child’s health. In rare instances, people have died from eating disorders to develop.

Eating disorders happen for a variety of reasons. Usually, the child has an unrealistic body image. She believes she is fat when she really isn’t. Some believe that children with eating disorders feel like they have no control over their lives, so their food intake represents one way to have control in their life. Other effects may be present in a child with and eating disorder such as depression, peer pressure, abuse, and media pressure to be thin.

Because children with eating disorders are experts at hiding their disorders, you need to trust your own instincts. There are certain behaviors to be aware of. Be aware if your child constantly complains about being fat, avoids meals, or makes excuses about why she has lost a great deal of weight. Also, be aware if your child spends long periods of time in the bathroom right after a meal. Coaches who constantly criticize your child’s weight can also encourage an eating disorder.

Tips For Parents

  • If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, have her evaluated by a mental health professional. While eating disorders can be serious, they also are very treatable.

  • Don’t force your child to eat. You won’t win this battle. Your child believes that food is the one thing she can control in her life, and she won’t give up this control easily.

  • Treatment for eating disorders takes time, so be patient. Treatment involves dealing with feelings and changing behavior. Your child will be working to change behavior that has taken time to develop in the first place.