A Quick Guide to Eating Disorders in Children

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, even though many people only think they occur in adults and teenagers. As babies start eating solids, they will become very clear about what foods they like and which foods they don’t. This process is an entirely normal stage of development, but if you notice that your kids are avoiding eating altogether, then it may be worth talking to the doctor.

Early detection and treatment will help to minimize the risks to their long-term health and development. This short guide will introduce the tell-tale signs and what to do if you think your child has an eating disorder.

A Quick Guide to Eating Disorders in Children

What Is an Eating Disorder?

Fussiness at the dinner table is all part and parcel of a child’s development and usually nothing to worry about. However, if your child eats too much or too little, they may have an eating disorder. There are many different kinds of eating disorders, but they all have negative effects on a child’s overall mood, health, and relationships.

What Are the Different Kinds of Eating Disorders?

There are many kinds of eating disorders, which can affect children of any age. The most common types are:

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Binge-eating
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

These disorders present themselves in different ways, but they all have a negative effect on your child’s health and development—both in the short term and the long term. Typically, eating disorders lead to:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Negative thoughts such as wanting to hurt themselves
  • Being very sensitive

What Are the Differences between Eating Disorders?

Anorexia—People with anorexia will eat very little and will usually weigh very little. One of the tell-tale signs of anorexia is if the child is obsessed with their body weight and is scared of getting fat. They may even exercise excessively or take diet pills.

Bulimia—People with bulimia will usually binge-eat and have little or no control over how much they eat. After this, they will tend to feel guilty and then try and ‘purge’ themselves by making themselves sick or taking laxatives. Like people with anorexia, they will be obsessed with their weight and general appearance.

Binge-eating—People who binge-eat will usually have little or no control over how they eat, which can lead to them rapidly gaining weight. Binge-eating can lead to childhood obesity and other health problems.

ARFID—People with ARFID will usually avoid certain foods, but they don’t have the symptoms of other eating disorders. For example, some people may be scared that they will choke or be sick if they eat.

What are the Causes of Eating Disorders?

There are many factors which can lead to children developing eating disorders. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Poor body image
  • Dieting at a young age
  • Family members with eating disorders
  • Stressful situations at home or school
  • Mental health problems

What Should I Do If I Think My Child Has an Eating Disorder?

Remember that all kids will become fussy about food at some point, but they tend to grow out of it. If you have concerns, you should raise them with your pediatrician during your regular child wellness examinations, as children develop at different rates. Your doctor will check your child’s body mass and provide any necessary tips regarding their nutrition.

If your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, your doctor will usually work alongside a nutritionist and a therapist to find the best approach to help your child.

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