How do I know if my child has an eating disorder?

Eating disorders commonly develop from the age of 14. This is a time when young people are becoming more independent and parents often have less control over the food they eat.

It can also be a time when your relationship with your child goes through many changes, often resulting in difficult conflicts. Equally, your child may become more distant from you.

It can be difficult to know whether changes in your child’s behaviour are the result of normal teenage development, or whether they are signs of an eating disorder.

“My daughter has lost over a stone and become very distant and moody. But my friend says she is just a normal teenage girl.”

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is not primarily about food and weight. Eating disorders develop when a person becomes dependent upon food to cope with difficult feelings and emotions.

“I felt I had lost all control in my life. My friends had moved on and I wasn’t doing well at school. Losing weight was the one thing I could do – food became the one thing I could control.”

There are two main different types of eating disorder:

Anorexia involves severely restricting what you eat in order to lose weight. Sufferers lose a large amount of weight but believe themselves to be fat and have a great fear of putting on weight. The intensity of this fear is profound and usually described as a phobia of normal body weight ie an irrational fear, not of being fat, but of being a normal weight.

People with anorexia can either be restrictive – they restrict their calorie intake and engage in excessive exercise or bulimic, eating a large amount of food at once then inducing vomiting.

Bulimia involves eating large amounts of food, then making yourself sick so your body does not absorb the food. Bulimia involves binge eating but at normal body weight. It occurs at an average age of 18.

All eating disorders are likely to change the way you live your life. Your child is likely to become more withdrawn, secretive and have sudden mood swings.

What are the signs that my child has an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex problems which are expressed in behaviour, emotions and have a physical impact upon the sufferer’s body. Signs will vary for each type of disorder and every individual is different. However, if your child displays a large proportion of the physical, behavioural and psychological signs, he or she may have an eating disorder.

For more advice, see: My child has an eating disorder – how do I get help? | Video

 

Anorexia

Physical signs Behavioural signs Psychological signs
Sudden/severe weight loss Secretive and distant Intense fear of gaining weightie a phobia of being a normal weight
Periods stop Wearing baggy clothes Frequent references to “being fat”
Difficulty sleeping Over-exercising Depression
Dizziness Lying about eating meals Mood swings and emotional
Stomach pain Difficulty concentrating Diet obsession
Feeling cold
Constipation

Bulimia

Physical signs Behavioural signs Psychological signs
Sore throat Eating large quantities without gaining weight Depression, anxiety and anger
Stomach pain Vomiting after eating/going to the toilet immediately after eating Guilt
Irregular periods Being secretive Mood swings
Difficulty sleeping Feelings of loss of control which extend to other parts of life
Mouth infections
Sensitive or damaged teeth