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Eating Disorders in Kids: Signs to Look Out For

There’s a lot going on with children in their early adolescence and teens, which can make spotting potential problems difficult. This is especially true of an eating disorder, which is where we can help.

Kimberly Krueger, MSW, LCSW, and our team of mental health experts at Southlake Counseling understand the many issues that adolescents face as they make their first tentative steps toward adulthood. From ever-changing bodies to roller-coaster emotions, spotting a more serious problem can be tough, but not impossible, if you know what to look for.

And one of the more serious issues to monitor for are eating disorders, which can have a major impact on their mental and physical health.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the more common signs that an eating disorder may be developing or has taken hold.

Where’s the weight?

As your child heads toward, and through, puberty, their body undergoes significant growth, which includes weight gain. While there’s no exact template, and children develop at different rates, as parents you should have some idea of what to expect as you can compare your child’s development to your own. Not to mention, your pediatrician can also give you some good rules of thumb based on your child’s skeletal size.

If your child is failing to gain weight or experiencing delayed development, this is one of the outward signs that an eating disorder may be developing. Of course, there are many other reasons why your child may not be gaining weight or growing, so be sure to rule out other possibilities before assuming there’s an eating disorder.

Odd food behavior

If your child begins to play with their food or douse it in condiments, they may be hiding the fact that they’re not eating. Behaviors like cutting their food into very small pieces or moving it around the plate without eating are good examples. It’s important to note that your child may do this on occasion if they’re troubled, which is perfectly natural. If you see a trend in this behavior, however, it’s worth investigating further.

Focusing on cooking, not eating

Another common way kids mask an eating disorder is focusing on the preparation of the food, rather than the consumption. If your child develops an intense interest in shopping and preparing food, but you don’t see them enjoying their final product, this could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food.

Cutting out whole food groups

Many kids might go through a phase where they embrace vegetarianism or some other popular approach to eating. If, however, your child begins to cut out whole food groups, it could be indicative of a larger problem with food, in general.

Obsession with body image

It’s hard in this day and age of selfies that celebrate bodies to figure out whether your child’s concern over their body is “normal” or whether it may lead to a problem. If your child continually puts their body down and refers to themself as “fat,” and you begin to notice out-of-the-ordinary eating patterns, this is a warning flag. And out-of-the-ordinary could mean incessant dieting or binging on junk food.

Ultimately, it’s terribly difficult to spot an eating disorder in children as they navigate their tween and teen years. If you’re concerned, we invite you to contact one of our two offices in Charlotte or Davidson, North Carolina, to speak to one of our mental health care professionals for guidance.

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