Nutrition • Aug 18, 2016

How Can I Tell If My Child Has an Eating Disorder?

Dr. Sarah Garwood, a Washington University Pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, discusses the questions, “How can I tell if my child has an eating disorder?” as well as “What puts kids at risk for eating disorders?”

While doctors don’t know exactly what causes an eating disorder, different genetic and environmental factors contribute to an increased risk. Adolescence is the peak time for the development of eating disorders, but younger children even display concerns with their appearance and body size and shape.

Some of the signs that your child is developing an eating disorder include:

  • A sudden change in eating habits: One example of this is if your child used to eat hamburgers for every meal but is now suddenly a vegetarian.
  • Eliminating entire food groups: This might look like your child is choosing not to eat red meat, desserts, or eliminating carbohydrates completely from their diet.
  • Not meeting growth expectations. This is especially a common sign of an eating disorder in younger children, who are typically expected to exhibit certain gains in height and weight relative to their age. In these circumstances, a possible sign of an eating disorder would be completely stunted growth.
  • Obsession with food. Some adolescents will follow rigid rules around eating, preparing large meals and not engaging in those meals themselves.

How can you prevent your child from having an eating disorder? While there is no clear strategy for preventing eating disorders, as a parent you can try your best to encourage a healthy environment in your home. One way you can do this is trying to avoid talking about your weight in front of your kids. If you are constantly talking about being on a diet, it may make your children concerned about their size as well. A second way to prevent eating disorders in your children is to encourage them to be healthy and strong. Help them to be proud of what their bodies can do instead of constantly focusing on how they look.

If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, learn more about the signs and symptoms and seek help early. Early intervention helps kids have a better prognosis than if you let the symptoms of an eating disorder continue. Contact the Family Resource Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital at 314.454.2350 or ask your pediatrician for more advice.