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Signs of Eating Disorders in Your Children

Parents, we understand that it is exceptionally difficult to monitor what your children are eating, especially when they are at school, friend’s houses, and on trips. However, we feel that good nutrition should start now, before your children grow up, move out, and have to figure it out on their own. Here are some red flags to pay attention to if you feel like your child has some abnormal eating habits:



• Weight Loss-Often in a short period of time. At least 15% of original weight

• Cessation of menstruation

• Paleness

• Complaints of feeling cold / low body temperature

• Dizziness and fainting spells / low blood pressure

• Bone mineral loss, leading to osteoporosis

• Loss of muscle and body fat

• Hair Loss

• Dry skin


• Restricted eating, sever diets, fasting, “vegetarianism”

• Odd food rituals, food combinations

• Avoidance of social situations where food may be present

• Compulsive exercise

• Dressing in layers to hide weight loss, or keep warm

• Bingeing (may be secretive or infrequent)

• Distortion of body image (seeing self as fat even when emaciated)

• Intense Fear of becoming fat, regardless of low weight

• Use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics

• Interest in cooking and feeding others

Attitude Shifts

• Mood shifts / depression / anxiety

• Perfectionistic attitude

• Insecurities about capabilities regardless of actual performance

• Self-worth is determined by food intake

• Social isolation



• Person may be under-, over-, or normal weight

• Swollen glands, puffiness in the cheeks, or broken vessels under the eyes

• Sore throat

• Fatigue and muscle ache

• Unexplained tooth decay

• Frequent weight fluctuations

• Electrolyte imbalance which can lead to irregular heartbeat, and in some cases, cardiac arrest.


• Secretive eating (missing food)

• Avoidance of restaurants, planned meals or social events if food is present

• Self-disgust when too much has been eaten

• Bathroom visits after meals

• The use of diet pills

• Rigid and harsh exercise regimes

• Fear of being fat, regardless of weight

• Bingeing that may alternate with fasting

• Preoccupation / constant talk about food or weight

• Vomiting and laxative use

• Shoplifting (sometimes food or laxatives)

Attitude Shifts

• Mood shifts including depression, sadness, guilt, and self-hate

• Severe self-criticism

• The need for approval

• Self-worth determined by weight

• Feeling out of control



• Weight-related hypertension or fatigue

• Weight gain

• High cholesterol

• Diabetes

• Heart Disease


• Bingeing

• Restriction of activities because of embarrassment about weight

• Going from one diet to the next

• Eating small amounts in public while maintaining a high weight

Attitude Shifts

• Feeling about self based on weight and control of eating

• Fantasizing about being thin

• Depression

• Guilt / shame

Eating disorders are not associated with an “adolescent stage” in life or something that will merely fade away. Once a parent suspects a child or adolescent has an eating disorder, they should talk with the child about visiting a doctor or a dietitian. A medical professional can help the child with an eating disorder to take steps toward healthier eating and nutrition.

The focus of treatment is helping children and teens cope with emotional problems which are the cause of their disordered eating behaviors.

From Surviving an Eating Disorder. Siegel. M. et al (1988). Harper and Row and from American Anorexia Bulimia Association, Facts on Eating Disorders. and healthyplace.com

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