signs of eating disorders in children

The last week of February is recognized as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 8% of the U.S. population suffers from an eating disorder. With outside influences, such as social media, they are becoming increasingly more common among the youth population. It’s crucial as parents to be educated on common types of eating disorders as well as recognize the signs of eating disorders in children. 

At HealthPark Pediatrics, our comprehensive healthcare approach includes medical, psychosocial, environmental, and community influences. Not only do eating disorders coincide with mental health issues, but they can lead to more severe medical problems. An eating disorder is defined as a “range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop.” To increase eating disorder awareness, learn what to look for if your child is dealing with an eating disorder. 

Common Types of Eating Disorders in Children

Not all eating disorders look the same, and they’re all not so apparent to the naked eye. Many types of eating disorders exist, but some are more common than others in children. Among the most common are: 

  • Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder where people focus on maintaining a low, unhealthy weight. Children with anorexia often fear food and may view themselves as “fat” even if they are underweight. 
  • Binge Eating Disorder is when one consumes a large amount of food at once, typically in secret or hidden from others. It’s an extreme form of overeating that tends to result in feelings of guilt or embarrassment. 
  • Bulimia Nervosa involves binge eating, but after the binge, they attempt to eliminate the calories after the fact by purging or self-inflicted vomiting. 
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Disorder takes being a picky eater to an extreme level. It is when one refuses or avoids food based on texture, color, smell, or temperature, commonly seen in children.

Signs of Eating Disorders in Children

There are both behavioral and physical signs that someone is dealing with an eating disorder. Some of the behavioral signs of eating disorders in children are: 

  1. Concerned with eating food in public or avoiding mealtime

If you notice that your child is coming home from school with a barely touched lunchbox or barely touching their plate out at a restaurant, it could be a sign that they are restricting themselves foodwise, especially in public. Avoiding meals or denying hunger is one of the more apparent signs of an eating disorder in children, and it should not be ignored. Next time you sit down for a family meal, pay attention to how much your child is eating or if their habits have changed. 

  1. Obsessive with weight or calorie intake

This behavioral sign is more prevalent with preteens or teenagers, as young children tend not to be as familiar with what calories are or have the ability to track them. Being obsessed with one’s weight and calorie intake can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and unhealthy eating habits. If your child weighs themselves daily or multiple times a day, try removing or limiting their access to a scale. 

In addition, diet and fitness culture these days is oversaturated with counting calories, which can be dangerous for those struggling with an eating disorder. Be aware of whether your child is tracking their food or calories, whether it’s written in a journal or logged in a mobile app. 

  1. Excessive exercise

Staying active is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, a child exhibiting excessive exercise is most likely attempting to burn off an unhealthy amount of calories. A healthy amount of activity is typically 30 minutes to an hour daily. If you notice your child is over-exercising, especially without fueling their bodies with the appropriate amount of calories, suggest new hobbies to take up as a family. 

  1. Dressing in excess layers of clothing 

These eating disorders can result in drastic changes in body weight, whether losing or gaining weight. Many children or teens will dress in excess layers of clothing in an attempt to hide their changing bodies while simultaneously hiding their disorder. 

  1. Missing menstrual cycles

This sign of eating disorders in children only pertains to females who have started menstruating. Amenorrhea occurs when you start missing your monthly periods. Some of the most common causes are anorexia nervosa, obesity, excessive exercise, malnutrition, or extreme weight loss. If your daughter regularly misses her period, consult your doctor for help.

Get in Touch With Us

In addition to learning the signs of eating disorders, knowing how to approach the conversation with your child is equally important. Due to how many of them are connected to mental health issues, focusing on mental health treatment can positively affect treating an eating disorder. If you’re still struggling to get your child the help they need, our providers at HealthPark Pediatrics are there to support and guide your children in the right direction. Contact us at  919-896-7066 to learn more about recognizing signs of an eating disorder in children.