Eating disorders are behaviors that can lead to serious health problems. When discovered early, eating disorders are treatable.
Eating disorders are conditions that can have a serious effect on health. They are serious behaviors that affect every aspect of the child’s life. Eating disorders are not identified based on weight changes as much as behaviors and attitudes. Signs of eating disorders may differ between males and females and in different age groups. Often, a young person may not recognize the signs that they might have an eating disorder. Parents/guardians and family members are in a position to notice behaviors that cause concern. It is important that a child with an eating disorder be treated early by someone who understands this type of care.
Key things to look for around food:
- Eating a lot of food that seems out of control (large amounts of food may disappear, you find a lot of empty wrappers hidden)
- Develops food rules—may eat only a particular food or food group, cuts food into very small pieces, or spreads food out on the plate
- Talks a lot about, or focuses often, on weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
- Often says that they are not hungry
- Skips meals or takes small portions of food at regular meals
- Cooks meals or treats for others but won’t eat them
- Avoids mealtimes or situations involving food
- Goes to the bathroom after meals often
- Uses a lot of mouthwash, mints, and/or gum
- Starts cutting out foods that he or she used to enjoy
Key things to look for around activity:
- Exercises all the time, more than what is healthy or recommended – despite weather, lack of energy, illness, or injury
- Stops doing their regular activities, spends more time alone (can be spending more time exercising)
Physical Risk Factors:
- Feels cold all the time or complains of being tired all the time. Likely to become more irritable and/or nervous.
- Any vomiting after eating (or see signs in the bathroom of vomiting – smell, clogged shower drain)
- Any use of laxatives or diuretics (or you find empty packages)
Other Risk Factors:
- Believes that they are too big or too fat (regardless of reality)
- Asks often to be reassured about how they look
- Stops hanging out with their friends
- Not able to talk about how they are feeling
- Reports others are newly judgmental or “not connecting”
How to Communicate with Your Child
- Understand that eating disorder sufferers often deny that there is a problem.
- Educate yourself on eating disorders
- Ask what you can do to help
- Listen openly and be nonjudgmental
- Talk with your child in a kind way when you are calm and not angry, frustrated, or upset
- Let him/her know you only want the best for him/her
- Remind your child that he/she has people who care and support him/her
- Be flexible and open with your support
- Be honest
- Show care, concern, and understanding
- Ask how he/she is feeling
- Try to be a good role model - don't engage in 'fat talk' about yourself
- Understand that your child is not looking for attention or pity
- Seek professional help on behalf of your child if you have ANY concerns
If Your Child Shows Signs of a Possible Eating Disorder
If you think your child may be showing signs of a possible eating disorder, please contact your doctor, school nurse, or one of the resources listed below. A child with an eating disorder should be seen by someone who understands the treatment of eating disorders. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.
- Academy for Eating Disorders (AED)
- Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T.)
- National Eating Disorders Association, Toll free, confidential Helpline, 1-800-931-2237
In 2013, Virginia passed a law requiring every school system provide information to parents annually about eating disorders. This information is given to parents of students in the fifth through twelfth grades. Please contact your school principal for more information.