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Help: I think my child has an eating disorder!

How do you know if your child is just a fussy eater, or if your child could have a potentially life-threatening eating disorder?

Did you know that eating disorders in children have become more prevalent in recent years? Sadly, doctors and psychologists are finding a wide range of causes for these disorders, which are beginning to show up at alarmingly early ages. Eating disorders can cause serious problems for children. They begin with small changes in eating habits that quickly become larger and have severe health consequences. Over time, major health problems occur which can even be life threatening.

In this article, we highlight the three main types of eating disorders, and the possible signs and symptoms your child may need professional help.


Anorexia essentially is when a child refuses to eat for fear of becoming fat. This fear is often intense and irrational. Even when weight loss occurs, the child will continue to limit their eating, for fear of gaining weight back. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one out of every 25 girls and women will have anorexia in their lifetime. Most will deny that they have an eating disorder.


Bulimia is a condition in which a child will binge, or overeat, then purge the food by vomiting. Laxatives may also be used in order to prevent any weight gain from occurring.

Binge eating

Binge eating is when a child binges rapidly on food, but does not purge his or her stomach contents.

Eating disorders affect both genders

While it is more prevalent in girls, boys can show signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Knowing what to look for will help you find the problems early on. The sooner an eating disorder is diagnosed, the easier it is to begin both the physical and psychological treatment that will help the child return to a normal lifestyle. Some children may even have eating disorders that overlap. An example of this would be a child who shows signs of anorexia, but then become bulimic, continuing to alternate between the two. While these eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood, they are not unheard of during childhood. Eating disorders can be caused by a combination of biological, behavioural and social factors, though there is no exact known cause. Peer pressure is thought to play an important role in some of these causes. Children are often influenced by each other and by what they feel is expected of them in society. Self-image also plays an important role in the cause of eating disorders. If a child believes she is supposed to look a certain way, she may feel unable to live up to the expectations of those around her.

Possible signs and symptoms of an eating disorder

There are several symptoms to look for if you fear your child may be suffering from one or more eating disorders. They include: distress, constant fear of becoming overweight, low self-esteem and ongoing anxiety and depression. Also look out for strange eating habits – avoiding meals, eating in secret, monitoring the number of chews or amount of time it takes to eat something, or hiding food that hasn’t been eaten.

How to help your child

If you feel your child is over eating or not eating enough, it may be time to seek professional advice and treatment. Though eating disorders are very serious and can be deadly if undiagnosed, they are treatable. Your child will need love and support, but with proper intervention, can lead a happy and healthy life.  


I'm an experienced writer, sub-editor, and media & public relations specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the media industry – across digital, print, TV, and radio. I earned a diploma in Journalism and Print Media from leading institution, Damelin College, with distinctions (Journalism And Print Media, Media Studies, Technical English And Communications, South African Studies, African & International Studies, Technology in Journalism, Journalism II & Practical Journalism). I also hold a qualification in Investigative Journalism from Print Media SA, First Aid Training from St John’s Ambulance, as well as certificates in Learning to Write Marketing Copy, Planning a Career in User Experience, and Writing a Compelling Blog Post.
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