Photo by: Angelsk

14 Signs that Your Child or Teen May Have an Eating Disorder

by Dr. Robyn Silverman
Photo by: Angelsk

After speaking with hundreds of girls about body image issues, eating disorders, and the intense pressure to lose weight, it’s vital that we know the signs of full blown, life-threatening eating disorders. Actually, one of the number one questions I’m asked when presenting to parents is, “How do I really know if my child or teen has an actual eating disorder?”

Many don’t though, and I understand the problem. From what eating disorders survivors have told me, they’re very good at hiding it, some parents and loved ones are part of the problem, and unfortunately, so many people are having issues with food and weight these days, it’s hard to know when the problem has gotten to “full blown” status. Studies repeatedly show that while it’s a minority of people that have diagnosed eating disorders, many do engage in disordered eating behavior such as fasting, dieting, laxative use, smoking – and worse – in an attempt to control weight. It’s actually more normal than not for women and girls to be dissatisfied with their bodies and more normal than not for women and girls to be dieting in some way.

While eating disorders have no age, ethnic, or gender bounds, 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12-26, and as many as 10 million women/girls and 1 million men/boys have eating disorders. Many don’t get help. Many are never diagnosed.

How do you know if your child may have an eating disorder?

(From Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It- Dr. Robyn Silverman)

  • Signs that Your Daughter May Have an Eating Disorder*
  • Erratic food habits: Eating large amounts of food and then disappearing from the table
  • Playing with food.
  • Restricting food intake.
  • Major changes in weight in a short amount of time: Considering teen bodies are changing and getting heavier, dramatic weight loss for age and height can be a warning sign.
  • Hiding her body even after weight loss: May be an indication that your daughter believes her body is very large even when it is not.
  • Hiding food: Finding large amounts of food stashed in her bedroom, hidden under her bed or in closet, disappearance of food from the refrigerator or pantry.
  • Refusal to eat when others are present: You’ll hear things like “I’ve already eaten” or “I have a stomach ache” simply to avoid eating.
  • Compulsive exercising: Exercising to take off as many calories that were consumed. Exercising several times daily or exercising until she can’t exercise anymore. Hyper-focus on how many calories burned, weight, inches, etc.
  • Skipping meals consistently.
  • Measuring self-worth based on weight: Calling oneself “good” for not eating and “bad” for giving in to eating. Bashing self for eating more than the allotted calories.
  • Complaining about being “overweight” and “fat” when they are clearly underweight.
  • Missing several periods in a row. Periods can stop when girls lose too much weight.
  • Overall poor body image: Poor attitude when it comes to weight and appearance.
  • Spending a lot of time in the bathroom: Could be sign of purging or laxative use.

If you believe someone you love may have an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association Info Line at (800) 931-2237.

Dr. Robyn Silverman, child development specialist, body image expert, sought-after speaker and award-winning writer, is known for her no-nonsense yet positive approach to helping young people and their families thrive. Her ground-breaking research at Tufts University on young women and plus-sized models is the foundation for her book, ‘Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It’ from Harlequin Books as part of their Fall non-fiction adult line. Visit Dr. Robyn to learn more.

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