Dieting is something that can be observed in teens and preteens alike and while safe dieting should be alright in cases were weight has to be controlled, it can also be the onset of eating disorders in certain cases. While you may think as a parent that eating disorders in children this young are relatively uncommon, it would be shocking to know that anorexia nervosa has been studied in children as young as seven years of age. Eating disorders in teens and preteens are different what it looks like in adults which is a good reason why you should be able to identify it.
Differences in eating disorders between children and teens
Preteens are less likely to have any disturbances in body image, which is usually a trademark of an eating disorder. Therefore parents whose child might show weight loss and decreased appetite but does not express a fear of gaining weight may not be able to admit that they have an eating disorder. Young patients with eating disorders are also likely to be male than in the case of teens. Younger children may also less likely to show signs of bingeing and purging and they also have less access to laxatives and diuretics. Eating disorders are serious and can cause potentially dangerous medical issues. a child who suffers from anorexia or bulimia nervosa or any other type of eating disorder may suffer from malnutrition, internal damage to organs, embarrassment, depression, damage to teeth, esophagus, gums and more. Death is often also a possibility.
Symptoms of an eating disorder
- Weight loss or lack of weight gain in a growing child (even if that child was previously in a larger body)
- Refusal to eat foods previously enjoyed (often with no explanation as to why)
- Dieting, talk about dieting or preoccupation with losing weight
- Negative comments about their body shape or associated behaviors such as wearing loose clothing
- Increased anxiety at mealtimes, claiming they have already eaten, and/or making excuses to avoid meals
- Hyperactivity or excessive exercise (there may be no obvious connection to attempts at weight loss)
- Preoccupation with cooking, watching cooking shows, reading recipes, and/or cooking for others and refusing to eat what they have made
- Large quantities of food missing (could indicate binge eating)
- Going to the bathroom and/or showering after meals (could indicate purging)
- Other less specific symptoms sometimes noticed by parents before their children were diagnosed include anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, social withdrawal, mood swings, depression, angry outbursts, irritability, and physical symptoms (such as dizziness or stomach pain).
Taking action against eating disorders
If you are worried that your child or teen may be suffering from any of the above symptoms, first discuss your concerns with them, but keep in mind that if they actually do have a problem, they will not admit to it most of the time. Consider consulting a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders for advice and support. If they are diagnosed with an eating disorder there are many different types of treatment that is possible. Do not try to force feed them at home. Your mental health professional will take you through these. Research them carefully. Early treatment and diagnosis is the best chance for complete recovery, for that reason avoid relying on your family doctor or pediatrician alone. They may not be able to figure out without doubt whether or not your child has an eating disorder.