Eating disorders are a complex mental issue which also impact physical health. They can develop at any age, but most commonly begin during adolescence. While eating disorders are more common in girls, boys can develop them too and they often take longer to be diagnosed.
There are many types of eating disorder including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Some children and teens may have disordered eating which doesn’t fit any of these diagnoses, but this can still be serious and needs treatment or it may develop into an eating disorder.
While eating disorders are serious at any age, in young children, they can have long-term impacts on growth and development. They can also be a sign that a child is experiencing issues such as depression, teasing, bullying, or abuse. The eating disorder can be a way for a child to feel more in control of what is happening in their life.
Signs that your child might have an eating disorder include:
- preparing food for others, but not eating it themselves
- eating in private and avoiding eating with other people
- restricting food intake, including reducing portion sizes and cutting down on certain foods or excluding major food groups
- changes in clothing style (e.g. wearing baggy clothes)
- fluctuations in weight
- mood changes, including appearing anxious or irritable, especially around mealtimes
- avoiding social activities, particularly if they involve food
- going to the bathroom straight after meals
- overexercising, including while alone in their bedroom
- lacking energy or being tired all the time
- complaining about being cold, even in warmer weather
- irregular or absent periods in your daughter
- fainting or dizziness
- being sensitive to comments about body image, weight, eating and exercise habits
If you are worried about your child’s eating habits, take them to see a GP or mental health professional as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and intervention increases the chance of successful and complete recovery. As a parent, it is also important to model healthy and balanced attitudes towards food, exercise, and body image.
For more information about support and treatment services for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673 or by visiting Butterfly