Beyond Weight Loss: Often-Overlooked Signs of Eating Disorders in Children

Eating disorders are complex physical and mental disorders that can manifest in a multitude of ways. Although most eating disorders share some common characteristics, every case is a little different. Parents often assume that if their children are not underweight, they must not have an eating disorder. But some kids with eating disorders are not underweight. Here are some other signs of eating disorders you should look out for.

Avoiding meals

Does your child suddenly seem to be making excuses not to attend family meals? Maybe they insist they ate earlier with a friend, or perhaps they always seem to schedule activities at dinnertime. If this happens more often than not, your child could be trying to hide symptoms of an eating disorder. They may not be eating at all or they may be developing some disordered eating habits that they are trying to hide from you out of shame.

Restricting certain foods

Eating disorders sometimes start when kids start severely restricting certain food groups. Maybe your child has suddenly stopped eating dairy, or maybe they don't want to eat grains anymore. Talk to your child about why they have stopped eating these foods. If they have done so for ethical reasons, such as if they no longer want to eat dairy to be more vegan, that may not be anything to worry about. But if they don't want to explain to you why they're avoiding the foods, or if they say they're doing it to lose weight, that could be suspicious.

Disappearing to the bathroom after meals.

Bulimia is an eating disorder that often goes unrecognized for a while. That's because kids with this eating disorder do eat meals, and they don't always get thin very quickly. However, they are purging—vomiting up—their food after some or all meals. If your child frequently disappears to the bathroom after meals, this could be what's going on. Listen through the door, and see if their eyes are bloodshot when they emerge from the bathroom. 

Increased physical activity.

Some kids with eating disorders try to purge by performing excessive exercise. If your child has suddenly begun working out to a level that is excessive, this is cause for concern. For example, if they're running 12 miles a day, spending three hours in the gym every afternoon, or insisting on walking everywhere, that could be a bad sign.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it may be a good idea to talk to their doctor. They might not have an eating disorder, but since eating disorders are so serious, it's worth a look to be sure. If your doctor suspects that they do in fact have an eating disorder, reach out to local anorexia treatment centers to know how to help your child in the long term.

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