Eating Disorder

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Nowadays, a lot of children under 12 are developing eating disorders. Many children have poor nutritional habits and often give in to food fads. Two most common psychological disorders found among children are anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Anorexia nervosa is more common in adolescent girls (affecting almost 1% of adolescent females), but it is also found in boys.

Someone suffering from anorexia nervosa has a constant fear of becoming fat. They restrict their food intake and often indulge in binge and purge cycles. There is a noticeable and unhealthy loss of weight. In bulimia nervosa, a person binges on unhealthy food (often in secret) and suffers from guilt or shame on account of it. Binging is followed by over-exercising, vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics.

If you worry that your child has an eating disorder, look out for the any of the following symptoms:

  • Unreasonable fear of gaining weight
  • Refusal to eat or eating tiny portions
  • Claim to be full or not hungry
  • Restrictive eating patters; avoiding certain food groups completely like meat and dairy
  • Obsessively exercising
  • Purging behavior (vomiting, diuretics, laxatives)
  • Eating in secret
  • Social withdrawal and irritability
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Sleep irregularities
  • Major fluctuations in body weight, often extreme weight gain or weight loss

Children being great imitators, parents, teachers and other adults can play an important role to help prevent eating disorders and promote positive body image. With comprehensive treatment, most teenagers can be relieved of the symptoms or helped to control eating disorders. Treatment for eating disorders usually requires a team approach; including individual therapy, family therapy, working with a primary care physician, working with a nutritionist, and medication.

Children are at a risk of developing an eating disorder if the parents themselves are too preoccupied with appearance and weight. If parents constantly diet and express dislike towards their own bodies, the child would receive the message that appearance is vital. Do not make negative comment about your child's body. Children who are compulsive eaters are usually using food to help them deal with feelings of anger, sadness, hurt, loneliness, abandonment, fear and pain. If children are not allowed to express their emotions, they may become emotional eaters. Communicate with your children and assure them that you are always there for them.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,