In This Series:
Lately, your 14-year-old son has been disappearing into the bathroom after dinner. He’s also completely obsessed with his weight. It seems like all he does is count calories and work out. At first you chalked it up to “normal teenage stuff,” but now you’re not so sure. You’re worried that he may have an eating disorder, but you don’t want to blow things out of proportion. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you’re not alone. Reading the warning signs of eating disorders requires your attention, care, and love.
Behind the Scenes
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), eating disorders affect around 9% of the U.S. population. In other metrics, over 28 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.
The chance for recovery from an eating disorder directly correlates with how early it is discovered and addressed. Depending on the type of eating disorder, these signs and symptoms may vary. Remember that you know your child the best. Observe their eating, sleeping, and daily patterns. Make note of any unhealthy behaviors that unexpectedly become more routine in your teen’s life.
Warning Signs of Eating Disorders
Early detection of an eating disorder better equips your child or teen to properly approach their eating disorder. Prioritize a positive approach in any conversation about the warning signs of eating disorders with your children. Take a moment and think about your teenager’s behavior and the following warning signs of a possible eating disorder.
The following list is not intended as a checklist. A child or teen who struggles with an eating disorder probably will not have all of these warning signs. In some cases, there might only be one behavior that signals something is wrong.
Physical Warning Signs
- Exercise is an excessive, rigid activity despite fatigue, illness, injury or weather
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories and dieting
- Unnatural facial hair growth in girls due to malnutrition
- Evidence of self-induced vomiting
- Messes and smells in the bathroom
- Swelling of the glands near the ear which creates a “chipmunk” appearance (caused by inflammation of the saliva glands)
- Cessation or erratic menstrual cycles
- Fainting, lightheadedness or dizziness not explained by any other medical problem
Emotional Warning Signs
- Frequent comparison of body image/diet with others
- Anxiety about being fat which does not diminish with weight loss
- Obsession with appearance as a definition of self which is often accompanied by perfectionist thinking
- Unusual redness and puffiness around the eyes caused by purging, binge eating and overeating
- Poor dental hygiene, bad breath, dryness of the mouth area and cracked lips, caused by purging and dehydration
Behavioral Warning Signs
- Constant complaints about being fat in spite of normal or thin appearance
- Withdrawal from activities because of weight and shape concerns
- Disappearing to the bathroom after meals
- Evidence of the use of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, enemas (such as: wrappers, coupons or advertisements)
- Consumption of large amounts of food inconsistent with the person’s weight
- Hoarding or stealing food
- Alternating periods of restrictive dieting and overeating sometimes accompanied by dramatic weight gain or loss
- Abnormal sleeping patterns
- Refusal to eat meals with family
- Food rituals (such as eating food in rigid sequence, foods cannot touch each other, eating a very limited variety of foods, cutting food into small pieces, blotting foods with napkins to remove fat)
Final Thoughts on Warning Signs of Eating Disorders
If you suspect your teen is showing signs of an eating disorder, don’t delay. Consult with a qualified professional and get your teen the help he or she needs for the diagnostic and recovery process.
Remember that your situation contains its own unique aspects and nuances. Reinforce your love and care for your child to set them up for success and recovery. Don’t neglect your own spirit and mentality as a parent either.
Focus on the Family has licensed and pastoral counselors to listen and provide initial guidance and resources including an offer to pray with you. Arrange for a free one-time consultation with a member of our Counseling Department staff by completing this form or by calling 1-855-771-HELP (4357).