How to Detect if Your Child Is Struggling with an Eating Disorder

We live in an age where mental and physical health disorders and illnesses are rising quickly. Often, these issues go undiagnosed or noticed until there is a very needed reaction to help, which can especially be true for children and teens. Over the past fifty years, studies have shown that eating disorders especially have increased. The question begs, what are signs of an eating disorder in your child that you need to be aware of before it becomes detrimental?

Physical Signs

When noticing signs or habits of an eating disorder, one of the first is typically a physical change or indicator. This can manifest in noticing your child losing weight, especially rapidly. Childhood growth and development typically is one where they grow taller and fill out weight-wise as they are moving into their teen years, but if the child is losing weight in a way that appears questionable, you may want to keep an eye on them. Other physical signs are disinterest in food, refusal to eat, or vomiting purposefully after meals. All children, at some point, will refuse food for one reason or another, so use good discernment between a picky eater and an actual disorder. Usually, parental intuition will help indicate if something bigger is at play. Also, keep in mind that anxiety can cause nausea and vomiting after meals, so before jumping to the conclusion of an eating disorder, see if the cause of lack of interest in food or upset stomach is a sign of something going on that would invoke anxiety, nervousness, or fear. Physical signs are some of the first signs of a deeper issue.

Teen in front of mirror negative body image weight eating disorder

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Zinkevych

Emotional Signs

Emotional signs are another key factor in eating disorders. Eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating are symptoms of something more significant going on. No one knows your child better than you do; from their attitude to their quirks, you will be able to feel out if something seems a little off or different with them. Pay attention to those shifts and, using wisdom, act accordingly. Keep in mind, too, that often, the Enemy will start to attempt to trigger something in a child, but with proper action done correctly, they can be spared from a long and difficult journey with an eating disorder. Watch their behaviors and keep tabs on if they are going through a phase that requires help; more than likely, they will not come to you for help. Also, notice how they speak to themselves and about others. If they ask if they look like they’ve gained weight in a worrisome way or seem overly concerned with weight in themselves or others, there may be something more going on in their heads. Emotional signs can tell what their bodies may not show.

Taking Action

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

The best approach to helping your child if you believe they have or are starting to lean toward having an eating disorder is to be in a safe place for them. This does not mean that you enable the illness, but it does mean that they know they can come to you with any and all problems, issues, or anxieties they will ever have without fear of being judged or condemned. It also means they know they can trust you with their vulnerable hearts and changing lives. This is where good communication is vital with a child early on so that they know they can share the behind-the-scenes of their lives at school and socially with you, and they know you genuinely care about what is happening in their lives. The next step in action, if you do believe there is something beyond just teenage hormones and attitudes happening, is to seek medical help in the right way. This typically can come from a therapist or dietitian that can help your child navigate correctly. In most scenarios and cases, eating disorders are less about the desire to be thin and more about the desire to have a sense of control in one’s life. Friends, dating, opinions of others, and life, in general, are things your child cannot control, but they may find solace in controlling diet, calorie intake, and type of food they consume. With the help of therapy and other treatments, they can learn how to feel peace when they are not in control without the need to control food. Taking action may just save your child’s life.

Personal Testimony

I have battled an eating disorder since I was fifteen (I am thirty now, for reference). Anorexia and Bulimia were the two disorders that have been the main struggle in my own life, but they no longer rule my life. It came on in my teen years in a multifold way; a mix of wanting to control something in my unstable world and the desire to no longer be bullied for my weight as a teen. The result of years of abuse to myself in these ways put me in places where I was doing lasting damage to my body. Healing came for me in a few different ways. The first way was admitting that I had an eating disorder and I was not just part of the diet-crazed world we live in, and the next step was inviting God and those close to me into my healing. Feeling their support, love, and encouragement helped me to know that my worth is not rooted in my appearance but in who God made me to be. Therapy also became an excellent tool in helping me dig up and uncover places where fear had sought to control me, and as a result, the need for control became an idol I refused to let go of in life. Having a Christian counselor helped me to know how to face life ahead without abusing my body through an eating disorder. That is not to say that when storms in life come, the Enemy does not pull out an old, familiar attack, but it does help me become aware and know when to ask for help. There is hope and recovery on the other side.

A Challenge to Parents

The rise of eating disorders in children and teens continues to rise; National Eating shares, “At any given point in time, between 0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will suffer from anorexia nervosa. At any given point in time, 1.0% of young women and 0.1% of young men will meet diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa.”

We can help combat these rising numbers and help our children and young people to avoid falling into the deep trap the Enemy has set for them of these illnesses and disorders. This is not to say that if your child develops one that you have somehow failed, but there is a path that can be taken that can help them feel seen, supported, and secure. Trust your gut as a parent and connect with your child. Ask them about life with friends, things at school, and be aware of how they may need more support than they are sharing. Also, keep in mind that bringing in others to help will be a gift to your child; it really does take a village. There is hope for our young people; eating disorders will not have the final word.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Motortion

Cally Logan is an author and US History teacher from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, she enjoys mentoring youth and spending time in nature. She is the author of Hang on in There, Girl! and Dear Future Husband: A Love Letter Journey While Waiting for God's Best. Check her out on Instagram and Twitter, @CallyLogan and TikTok Cally_Logan. 

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