Does My Child Have an Eating Disorder?
Whether your child is 11 years-old or 17 years-old, watching as she sits at the dinner table and refuses to eat what used to be her favorite foods, hearing him throwing up in the bathroom after meals, witnessing as he or she transforms from a robust thriving young person into an increasingly empty shell … these are some of the scariest things that can happen for a parent. The dread. The fear. The panic. Oh no, it’s happening.
I think my child might have an eating disorder.
If you are worried that your child might have an eating disorder, here are the six most important steps to take as you decide whether to seek treatment for your child and enter into the process of recovery.
- Know the signs.
Sometimes the signs of an eating disorder are obvious. If you know your child is forcing herself or himself to vomit after eating or if he or she is completely refusing to eat, then there is clearly a problem. But other times, the eating disordered behaviors are hidden from you by your child or seem like “normal” adolescent or young adult behaviors.
Even a healthy body size or evidence that your female child still has her period or normal routine blood work and physical exams are not reliable ways to judge if there is an eating disorder. Many people with eating disorders are never clinically underweight, many continue to get regular periods and the physical destruction from the eating disorder can take many years to show up in lab results.
So how can you tell? What you should look for is increased restrictive behaviors with food, anxiety around eating and rigidity with eating and exercise. Is your child eating fewer and fewer foods? Are there seemingly more and more rules around eating like no sugar or no meat? Is he or she becoming increasingly rigid and compulsive about exercise? Does he or she seem secretive about eating? Is your child finding reasons to avoid eating with the family even if you make plans to include his or her friend(s)? Is your child weighing herself or himself every day or more than once a day?
If so, it is worth taking your child to get full assessment from a professional.
- Take swift and comprehensive action.
Once your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, the best approach is to take strong action. Recovery rates are best when there is early intervention and an opportunity for the young person to stop all exercise and rapidly restore any deficit in nourishment. Parents are often reluctant to do this because their child says it’s not such a big deal and/or is so intensely resistant to treatment that the parents fear getting into a control battle with their child and making things worse.