America is a very food-centered culture. We eat in both good and bad times. We eat as a coping mechanism. We eat to have fun. We eat in contests, for money, or for no reason. Because of the constancy of our eating habits, we may not notice what habits we are reinforcing in our children. This and a number of other societal factors can contribute to a child developing an eating disorder.
When people think of “eating disorders”, the most common disorders that come to mind are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Both of these disorders involve dramatic weight loss either by very sparse caloric intake (anorexia) or patterns of binge eating and purging, fasting, or forced vomiting (bulimia). However, binge eating disorder is very common, characterized by extensively overeating.
In children, there are certain warning signs that parents should watch for as they may be indicative of an eating disorder.
- Odd dinner table habits. These require very close attention, because older children can be good at masking when something’s wrong. A child with a weight-loss eating disorder will eat very little, if anything, and perhaps moving food around their plate to make it seem as if they are eating normally. In a weight-gain eating disorder, the child will eat far more than is necessary or typical of their age.
- Severe weight loss/gain. This is the easiest way to tell if a child has an eating disorder, but simultaneously one of the more difficult. If the child is not within the normal range of weight for their age, and the weight is not due to a separate medical issue, it could be because of an eating disorder. The difficulty comes in the fact that people don’t weigh their children very often unless they are at the doctor, so by the time they get there, their weight may already be in a dangerous zone.
- Changes in behavior. The child begins to talk more about weight, calories, and eating in general. They may say things like “I’m so fat” or exhibit self-reflected revulsion. They might appear secretive and nervous or depressed. Finally, the child might eat more often in secret.
If your child is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, or you have any questions regarding changes in behavior, contact us today.