Eating Disorders: What Every Parent Should Know

Even though the child may be a healthy weight, thin, or even extremely underweight, a child with anorexia sees herself as overweight. Because eating disorders involve high levels of control on the child's part, confrontation may increase the inappropriate eating patterns.

What are some warning signs of anorexia nervosa?

A child with anorexia nervosa will purposely decrease her food intake to lose weight. Because eating disorders involve high levels of control on the child's part, confrontation may increase the inappropriate eating patterns. You may want to call your pediatrician before consulting your child to discuss the best way to approach your child if you suspect an eating disorder. Here are some signs that may indicate an eating disorder. Consult your pediatrician if you feel your child shows any of these signs.

  • Loss of menstrual cycle or failure of periods to begin.
  • Chooses repetitive foods. Child eats the same foods over and over.
  • Eats only low-calorie, low-fat foods such as rice cakes or celery.
  • Eats very small portions.
  • Cuts food into small bits and chews more than necessary.
  • May enjoy preparing food for others, but will not eat the food herself.
  • Over-exercises.
  • Hides food.
  • Prefers loose and baggy clothing.
  • May use laxatives, water pills, or diet pills.

What can we do to prevent eating disorders?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to help prevent eating disorders from developing, families should educate their children about proper nutrition and physical activity, and avoid an unhealthy emphasis on weight and dieting. Parents can increase a child's risk of developing an eating disorder if they are overly concerned about their child's looks or if they aren't comfortable with their own bodies.

While there are no proven eating disorder prevention programs that work for all children, there are some things we can do that may decrease our children's chances of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Here are some ideas:

  • Try to spend more time with your child and involve her in activities she enjoys.
  • Avoid talking about dieting and being thin or fat and instead try to talk about maintaining a healthy weight and eating more healthful foods.
  • Explain to your child that people have different body types.
  • Ask your pediatrician about the normal changes that a teen's body goes through during puberty, which may include a widening of the hips and gaining some weight, and explain these to your child.
  • Talk to your child about how to be healthy, including eating nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Encourage your child (and family) to become more physically active. Physical activity is often more important than weight for overall health.
  • See your pediatrician each year to help monitor your child's growth and development and to talk about nutrition.
  • Request your pediatrician to ask your child screening questions that might reveal whether your child has an eating disorder.

How are eating disorders treated?

The earlier the disorder is diagnosed and treatment is started, the better. Treatment includes three steps:

  • Medical help by a pediatrician to detect and treat physical complications.
  • Therapy by a counselor experienced in eating disorders.
  • Input from a registered dietician to improve nutrition.

Helping our children to avoid or overcome eating disorders requires us to educate our children about healthy body image and proper nutrition. It also requires us to pay attention to behavior that seems unusual, and consult our pediatrician for advice and possible diagnosis and treatment.

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Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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