Children are very rarely going to bring it up themselves. An eating disorder is usually a way for them to gain control – a physical manifestation of an emotional disorder. They typically don’t want help, probably don’t know they need it and certainly don’t want to ask for it.
That’s why it’s up to parents to monitor their children’s eating habits and behaviors to look for signs of a problem.
What to Look For
Dr. John La Count, a Pediatrician with St. Elizabeth Physicians’ Florence office, said parents should keep an eye out for obsessive attitudes toward food.
“Calorie counting, excessively reading labels, that’s when it becomes a concern,” he said.
Similarly, La Count said, parents should be concerned if their child develops anemia, severe constipation, low blood pressure, brittle hair and nails, a loss of menstruation (in girls) or drops in weight.
Children should be in the normal weight range, not significantly off the chart either way, he said. But all too often, parents are patting their children on the backs for being underweight.
Although the importance of healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight should, of course, be emphasized, “Parents can trigger eating disorders to start in their children when they focus on them too much,” La Count said.
What to Ask
Here are some questions you can ask your child to determine if he or she has an eating disorder:
- Do you overeat until you feel sick?
- Do you feel guilt or remorse when you eat?
- Are you afraid of being overweight?
- Do you feel like food controls your life?
- Do you isolate yourself so you can eat?
- Do you have a history of dieting?
- Do you avoid eating when you’re hungry?
- Do you weigh yourself once a day?
- Do you eat large amounts of food in a brief amount of time?
- Do other people say you’re thin but you think you’re fat?
- Do you make yourself vomit?
- Do you take laxatives or diuretics to lose weight?
- Do you exercise no matter how tired or sick you feel and get upset if you miss a day?
- Do you go to the gym or exercise more than once a day?
- Do you take longer than other people to eat a meal or do you usually finish before everyone else?
- Are you preoccupied with food or your body size most days?
- Do you hide food?
- Do you cook for others but never eat what you’ve made?
- Do you not eat things in public?
- Do you eat or refuse to eat when you’re tense, anxious or disappointed?
- Do you feel exhilarated or in control when you don’t eat?
- Have you taken drugs to curb your appetite?
- Do you exercise instead of eating?
- Do you count calories or fat?
- Do you make unfulfilled promises to yourself about what you will or will not eat?
- Do you feel defeated or hopeless about food or your body size?
- Have you kept any of these things a secret?
If your child answers “yes” to any of these questions, call his or her pediatrician.
For more information or additional resources, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org.