How You Can Help A Child With an Eating Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post contains information about eating disorders and anxiety. Please read at your own discretion.**

Kids can be incredibly picky eaters, starting as soon as they start on solids. Two of my three kids are. The other will eat almost anything I cook, and someone will appreciate that one day.

There are differences, however, between being picky, having sensory issues and having an eating disorder. The last example can lead to life long health issues and even death if not treated. A child as young as 7 can be diagnosed with an eating disorder but can be overlooked for many reasons.

Four Kinds of Disordered Eating

Anorexia

  • Eating very little on purpose.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight- there is a fear of looking fat.
  • Distorted body image
  • May use laxatives, diuretics or even enemas to lose weight

Bulimia

  • Overeat and feel out of control to stop doing so
  • Do things purposefully to make up for it, as in throwing up- called purging. To prevent weight gain, they may also use laxatives, diuretics, and enemas along with exercise.
  • Judge themselves on body shape and weight

Binge Eating

  • Overeat and feel out of control
  • Eat large amounts even when not hungry
  • May feel upset/guilty after a binge
  • Often gain weight and become very overweight
  • Usually eat alone so that others do not realize what is going on

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

  • Afraid of choking/vomiting
  • No other medical issues that would explain behaviors
  • Do not like smell, taste, texture or color of food
  • Lose or don’t gain expected weight
  • No body image issues

How Does an Eating Disorder Begin?

There are signs and symptoms to watch out for, as in with other disorders, but in this case, it can be seen as a way for a child to exert control over the one thing that nobody else can- their food intake. (This list is meant to use to watch for signs, not diagnose. Please consult a pediatrician or other specialist if you are concerned about your child’s well-being.) This information is from Mirror Mirror

  • Refusing to eat
  • Smaller portions
  • Worried about body image
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hiding/Hoarding food
  • Lack of growth
  • Angry when food is offered
  • Menstruation issues
  • Personality changes (irritability, depression, etc)

Did I cause my child to have an eating disorder?

There is not a single cause for eating disorders. There are events that contribute to them, like environment, stressful events, and genes. Some examples are:

  • Poor body image
  • Over-focus on looks/weight
  • Playing sports that focus on weight
  • Mental health issues
  • A family member with an eating disorder

Sad

What are the Effects of an Eating Disorder on My Child’s Body?

The effects on a child’s body can be devastating. Girls can have irregular, if not stopped periods. Children of both sexes can have issues with:

  • low blood pressure
  • constipation and bloating
  • fatigue, weakness and dizzy (from lack of nutrients)
  • delayed puberty, slow/no growth
  • emotional issues- depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts
  • tooth erosion and cavities

What can I do to help my child?

  • Trust your instinct. If you know something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.
  • Find a treatment provider, either in/outpatient
  • DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF
  • Educate yourself- read everything you can and attend therapy with your child.
  • Do not shame your child for their eating disorder. This can make things worse.

Above information from Kids Health

Some children will need hospitalization due to extreme weight loss and/or medical complications. Some will need medications to help with mental health concerns. Treatment includes counseling (sometimes for the family) and medical care.

A medical professional will complete an exam to assess your child and diagnose an eating disorder if needed.

Being there for your child throughout the process is what they need most. They will need your love, patience, and care while they work on what they need to be a happy, healthy child again.

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