Location SpotlightEating disorders in children are a serious concern, as they can cause lifelong physical and mental health issues. Children with eating disorders can struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with food, leading to potentially dangerous behaviors such as severe restriction or compulsive overeating. These disorders can devastate the physical and emotional health of the patient, affecting their daily lives and sometimes even leading to life-threatening medical problems.

Any child exhibiting signs of an eating disorder must receive prompt intervention and treatment. That's why we have outlined everything you need to know about spotting eating disorders in children.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are mental health conditions that involve a distorted attitude towards food and one's body weight and shape. They can come in different forms, such as:

  • Anorexia nervosa - Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and extreme restriction of food intake
  • Bulimia nervosa - Bulimia nervosa involves binging on large amounts of food followed by behavior to prevent weight gain such as purging.
  • Binge eating disorder - Binge eating disorder typically involves consuming very large amounts of food in a short period without purging afterward.
  • ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) - ARFID is characterized by a significant decrease in the variety and quantity of food consumed, often leading to nutritional deficiencies
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) - OSFED is a general term for other less common types of eating disorders.

People struggling with certain eating disorders can have a range of physical and emotional symptoms such as changes in weight and body composition, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and more.

What Are The Signs Of An Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are complex mental health issues that can often go undetected in young children, as it is not always easy to spot the signs. However, there are certain warning signs parents and teachers can look out for which could indicate a child may be struggling with an eating disorder. These signs typically fall into three main categories:

  • Physical - Physical signs that may indicate an eating disorder include dramatic or sudden weight changes, changes in body shape or size, fatigue and weakness, dry skin and hair, and dizziness or fainting spells. They may also experience digestive problems or show abnormal lab results.
  • Psychological - Psychological symptoms can include a strong focus on body image and self-esteem issues, perfectionism to an extreme degree, low moods or depression as well as anxiety.
  • Behavioral - Concerning eating disorder behaviors towards food may include avoidance of social situations involving food, poor appetite and lack of interest in food/ meals, exercising excessively after meals to compensate for the calories consumed, or binging on large amounts of food followed by purging behaviors such as vomiting.

If any of these warning signs are observed it is essential to seek help immediately from a medical professional. If you have any concerns that your child is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to your child's doctor for guidance as soon as possible. Your child's pediatrician can advise your family on a treatment route that fits your needs.

What Can I Do If My Child Has An Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder can be a threat to one's mental and physical health, so early intervention is imperative. If you think your child is struggling with an eating disorder, try your best to talk to them about it and listen to what they have to say. Your family should also seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional or physician who specializes in eating disorder treatment and diagnosis. If you cannot reach your primary care provider, your family is encouraged to use the Eating Disorders Helpline for any support or information you need.

Eating disorders in children can be difficult to diagnose but are typically identified through a combination of physical exams and psychological evaluations. Your pediatrician will assess the child’s physical condition and measure any weight changes that have occurred to ascertain whether an eating disorder is present or not. Blood tests may also be conducted to rule out any other underlying medical conditions. In addition, physicians will check for behavioral signs indicative of an eating disorder.

Treatment for eating disorders in children involves a multidisciplinary approach that can include mental health counseling, nutritional counseling, family counseling, medications, and more. At Capital Area Pediatrics, we provide evaluations, medications, and support for those struggling with an eating disorder. If further treatment is required, our physicians are happy to coordinate your care by referring you to a specialist. You can reach out to Capital Area Pediatrics for a variety of services or referrals, such as:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy) - A type of therapy used to treat mental health issues, psychotherapy (also known as “talk therapy”) can help children address their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about themselves and food. It can also provide them with coping skills to help manage their emotions and behaviors associated with their eating disorder. Your CAP pediatrician can refer your family to a qualified therapist for any counseling services you may need.
  • Medications - Medications can be prescribed to help with the symptoms of an eating disorder, such as depression and anxiety. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the severity of the condition, so it is important to talk to your CAP pediatrician about the best course of action for your child.
  • Family counseling - Family counseling can help families understand the needs of their children and provide support to both the child and parents. By understanding the underlying causes of the eating disorder, it can be easier for family members to better support the child through treatment.
  • Nutritional counseling - Nutritional counseling can help children and their families learn how to make healthy food choices, plan meals and stick to a balanced diet. This type of counseling can also help your child become more aware of their own body’s needs and cues related to hunger and fullness. At Capital Area Pediatrics, we can refer your family to a specialist who can assist your child with their nutritional needs.
  • Support for parents - CAP pediatricians understand that parents and caregivers need help during this difficult time as well. Our team will work with you to provide tools and resources, such as therapy referrals, workshops, and online support communities.

If your child has developed an eating disorder, don't hesitate to contact your pediatrician at Capital Area Pediatrics. Our physicians and specialists are experienced in treating eating disorders and their underlying causes. We will work with you and your child to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your child's individual needs. With the right tools, support, and understanding, eating disorder recovery is possible.

Your CAP pediatrician is here to help if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s eating disorder. Our expert staff is dedicated to helping children and their families achieve long-term recovery and good health. Schedule an appointment today to get your child on the path to a healthy, happy life.

If your child needs pediatric care, Capital Area Pediatrics offers top-tier pediatric care to families at five surrounding locations throughout Northern Virginia. Our dedicated team is committed to providing everything from newborn care to mental health services for your child. All of our providers are accepting new patients and would be happy to reconnect with our existing families. Request an appointment online, or find a location near you today.