Recognising compulsive eating disorders in children

Children must eat well to aid their growing bodies, although sometimes, as a parent, it can be difficult to make them do so. Differentiating between normal childhood pickiness in what they eat and a potential eating disorder can be very tough.Compulsive Eating disorders in children are particularly dangerous because the child is still growing, and while the body is still physically maturing it needs quality nutrition as fuel. Also, the longer abnormal habits are allowed carry on in childhood, the harder it is to break them at a later time, so it is essential the disorder is detected and the child is helped to deal with the issue.


Are you concerned about your child’s physical weight?

If you are concerned about your Childs weight in the first instance, you can ask your doctor to check their weight against the BMI (body mass index). But it is important not to make too big an issue about this in front of your child as too much focus on a normal weight can have an adverse effect and lead to him/her becoming obsessed with their diet.

What behaviours suggest an eating disorder?

First of all, most children will go through a period when they are picky with their food or restricting their food for a short period of time – this certainly does not mean they have a compulsive eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Behaviours which suggest a compulsive eating disorder are more likely to be in the extreme. So the fear of being fat will be quite intense; there is likely to be a distorted body image – she feels fat where she is clearly thin; hoarding and hiding food obsessively; social withdrawal and disinterest in normal hobbies. Girls may have irregularities in their menstrual cycle, have little concern over huge weight loss and there maybe sleep problems. Signs of bulimia in particular are characterised by discolouration of teeth from vomiting; disappearing to the bathroom after a large meal, or cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints due to fingers being put down the throat to trigger vomiting.

Approaching a child with an Eating disorder

Punishing a child for these behaviours is likely to push them the opposite way. Tell them how concerned you with the behaviours you have noticed. Listen carefully to how they are feeling. Eating disorders are often the symptom of a much deeper emotional concern. It is likely your child will deny it at first and this is understandable but stay with it. As the behaviours continue to appear feedback your concern, and what you are afraid may happen.

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