Does my child have an Eating Disorder?
This is a question that most parents don’t usually ever have to ask themselves, yet it is also a question most parents don’t know they might need to ask themselves. The question being, does my child have an eating disorder? Are these behaviours that I’m seeing, average behaviours for my child, in this situation?
In this article I will highlight some common signs and symptoms parents may notice if their child has developed or is developing an eating disorder. The symptoms of an Eating Disorder (ED) can go easily unnoticed and can lead to the disorder spiralling out of control. So let’s separate the fact from fiction and promote greater knowledge in this subject. Hopefully this will make it easier for many parents to spot the signs earlier on.
An eating disorder according to the NHS is “A mental health condition where you use the control of food to cope with feelings and other negative life events”. Within the ICD 10, which is the diagnostic manual that healthcare professionals use, there are several recognised types of Eating Disorder; Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder.
For your clarity, here is a brief description of these disorders:
- Anorexia would typically present as a person trying to loose weight dramatically by either not eating enough or exercising too much.
- Bulimia is losing control over how much you eat and then taking action to avoid weight gain, most commonly through purging, which is healthcare jargon for deliberate vomiting.
- Binge Eating Disorder is similar to Bulimia but without the purging after, just a sense of shame or guilt.
- Finally, the category of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder covers Eating Disorders which overlap symptoms is where a person could feature symptoms of all of the above disorders.
The Symptoms of ED are wide spread, pervasive and can differ heavily between diagnoses. However, a few red flags can be noticeable to those close to individuals who might be struggling with an eating disorder.
Symptoms are commonly split into categories which help with diagnoses for clinicians. These categories are; Behavioural, Physical and Psychological.
Behavioural symptoms focus on the child’s outward behaviour, behaviours you will notice that may differ from previously. Primarily, over-exercising or compulsion to exercise is one of the largest symptoms evident in specific Eating Disorders. Secondly, vomiting after eating, or going to the toilet immediately after eating is also a consistent symptom for certain kinds of ED.
However, many other behavioural symptoms can be present that aren’t commonly linked with Eating disorders. For example, having a sudden interest in cooking, wanting to eat alone, wearing baggy clothes and repeatedly weighting themselves are regularly seen in young people with an eating disorder.
Physical Symptoms are focused on the health problems that often come hand in hand with an Eating Disorder. The most common physical health symptoms would be abnormally low or high weight, exhaustion, dizziness and stomach pains. The physical symptoms of ED can be more difficult to see as they can coincide with other illnesses and they can be easily hidden by individuals who are not yet ready to seek help.
There are in fact many slightly less obvious physical health symptoms that can allude to disordered eating. As an example, long term weight stagnation in children would be a red flag. This is because children generally grow quite rapidly and therefore their weight should increase with their growth. Further symptoms would be always feeling cold, mouth infections, sensitive teeth and bad breath from forcing themselves to be sick.
Psychological symptoms focus on the individual’s internal perception of themselves and how they portray themselves to others. One symptom often spoken about within Psychological symptoms is Body Dysmorphia. Body Dysmorphia is a disorder where people focus obsessively on their perceived flaws and often actually see a different version of themselves when looking at their reflection.
Body Dysmorphia definitely isn’t the only psychological symptom. Others, such as feeling guilty after eating, having low self-esteem, depression, insomnia, panic attacks, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts and impulses are all commonly seen in individuals presenting with an Eating Disorder.
Whilst gathering information on this subject in order to help your child is a great first step to combat Eating Disorders, nothing can substitute professional help. If you believe your child is having any problems that have been highlighted above, it is important you contact your GP as soon as possible.
Further help can be gathered from the Beat Eating Disorder UK website at Beating Disorders. They have chat rooms, helplines and further resources to provide you with as much information as you can take.
Finally, if you would like to talk to a professional about any problems you may be having you can make an appointment with the My Family Psychologist team for a confidential chat.