Recognizing eating disorders in children
Eating disorders can be a challenging topic to discuss, especially if it involves your children. “We often think about eating disorders affecting adults and older teenagers, but it can affect preteens and younger kids as well,” said Michael Guyton-Nunley, MD.
He shared information about eating disorders, how you can address the topic with your children and what warning signs to watch for.
What is an eating disorder?
There are several different types of eating disorders, but these are two well-known ones:
- Anorexia nervosa. This is where an individual has an imbalance between how much energy they are giving their body (through food) and how much energy their body is spending. This leads to low body weight. It also comes with an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. These individuals often see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.
- Bulimia nervosa. This is where an individual has a pattern of binge eating with a compensating behavior after the binge, such as intentional vomiting, use of laxatives or over-exercise to avoid gaining weight from the binge. The binge eating is associated with immense feelings of guilt. There are a lot of emotional components to this eating disorder.
“Eating disorders are not the fault of any one individual. It is important to remember that when dealing with an eating disorder. It isn’t the parent’s fault or the child’s fault. It is the eating disorder’s fault,” said Dr. Guyton-Nunley.
Eating disorders can be caused by:
- Biological changes
- Adopted food behavior from others
What are the warning signs of an eating disorder?
Dr. Guyton-Nunley said eating disorders can fly under the radar. They aren’t always presented as a very thin person clearly suffering. He shared these warning signs:
- Dramatic change in dietary lifestyle. If your child who normally eats everything suddenly wants to become vegan or vegetarian. If they begin skipping meals or want to eat in private.
- Focus on numbers. If your child begins to be consumed with counting calories or weighing themselves.
“If your child is struggling with an eating disorder or you think they are, talk to them. Talk to their doctor and talk to your doctor. Use online resources to help you. Mostly just make sure they feel your love and support,” said Dr. Guyton-Nunley. “If you or someone you love is suffering, there is hope. All you have to do is ask for help.”
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