Children who are still growing and developing need a healthy diet to fuel all of their activities. At times children go through food phases or become picky eaters but these phases are distinct from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Unfortunately, eating disorders are on the increase among older children and teens and most develop these disorders between 11 and 13 years of age. The good news is that there is much that can be done to prevent eating disorders from developing, and many signs that can alert family and friends to the need for professional help.
Preventing Eating Disorders: Very few young children develop eating disorders, but even by the end of primary school children are beginning to become interested in fashion, trends and personal appearance and to drift into puberty when they find their bodies changing very rapidly and without their consent.
At this time many girls begin to develop and as a natural result of this, they retain a little more weight, which can be a danger period if they are determined that they must remain at a certain weight or size of clothing. Family and friends can help prevent eating disorders at these ages by:
- Insisting upon a varied, healthy diet for everyone.
- Encouraging appropriate amounts of exercise for health and fun.
- Listening to children’s thoughts on weight and body image.
- Praising children’s talents and skills.
- Reminding children regularly that they are loved and valued.
Signs of Eating Disorders: Many children are able to hide the signs and symptoms of eating disorders for months or even years, which can put their health at great risk. There are many behaviors that can signal an eating disorder, such as:
- Significant weight loss or gain.
- Continuous dieting or discussions of dieting.
- Fear of weight gain.
- Persistent preoccupation with food/eating/weight
- Hidden food or laxatives.
- Vomiting – or regularly retiring to the bathroom – after meals.
- Swollen cheeks and/or bad breath (from vomiting).
Getting Help for Suspected Eating Disorders
Children with eating disorders will rarely acknowledge their behaviors and ask for help on their own. Instead, it is usually up to family and friends to interpret the signs and insist upon professional help. With eating disorders, the earlier the help is sought and treatment implemented the less the damage to a child’s long-term health.
Rather than soliciting professional help in secret, however, it is advisable that the situation is discussed with the child in question. Explaining why it is believed that help is needed, and what will be required of the child, will help keep everyone on the same page.