Many teenagers are concerned about the way they look. Their bodies are beginning to change at the time as they are facing increased social and peer pressure to look a certain way. So how can parents distinguish eating disorder symptoms from normal concerns about appearance?
Recognizing Signs of Eating Disorders
At first, eating disorder signs may be difficult to detect. Sufferers are often secretive about their habits; if your child has an eating disorder, she’ll most likely try to hide it from you. As the disorder progresses, however, the signs of eating disorders may become more obvious.
Some key warnings signs of eating disorders are:
- A preoccupation with body, calories, food and weight
- Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) or menstrual irregularities
- Avoiding previously enjoyed foods
- Eating alone
- Eating only certain low-calorie foods
- Frequent, rigorous exercising
- Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after meals
- Hoarding food
- Low self-esteem
- Making excuses to avoid eating meals
- Persistent dieting (even when thin)
- Poor body image
- Rapid, inexplicable weight gain, weight loss or weight fluctuations
- Signs of diet pill or laxative use
- Skipping meals
- Social isolation (to avoid social eating)
- Spending a lot of time in front of the mirror examining her body.
Your child may exhibit additional eating disorder symptoms, depending on the nature of her disorder.
Eating Disorder Signs: Anorexia Nervosa
If your child has anorexia, she believes she’s fat even if she’s dangerously underweight. Individuals with anorexia have an intense fear of weight gain and starve themselves to lose weight. Starvation produces a number of noticeable eating disorder symptoms.
Her skin may become very dry and turn a yellowish color, and her hair and nails may become brittle. The hair on her head may grow brittle or fall out, although a soft, downy hair will grow all over her body. She may be dizzy, tired and increasingly sensitive to cold. Her weight will continue to decrease, but she may wear baggy clothes to hide it.
Bingeing Eating Disorder Signs
Bingeing is defined as unrestrained eating of a large amount of food in a short period of time. People who binge usually do so in secret, often late at night. The most obvious signs of binge eating are empty junk food wrappers, missing food and hidden supplies of food. Binge eaters can be overweight or of normal weight. Unlike bulimics, they don’t purge after bingeing.
Purging Eating Disorder Symptoms
Individuals with bulimia binge on large amounts of food and then try to purge these calories by using diuretics or laxatives, or forcing themselves to vomit. Some individuals with anorexia nervosa purge as well. Some common warning signs of purging include:
- Bloating or constipation
- Calluses on knuckles (from putting fingers down the throat to vomit)
- Discolored teeth
- Excessive exercising
- Frequent sore throats
- Frequent use of mouthwash, breath mints, etc. to hide the smell of vomit
- Puffy cheeks.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Eating disorders: Symptoms. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eating-disorders/DS00294/DSECTION=symptoms
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2010). Binge eating disorder. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/
National Eating Disorders Association. (2005). Anorexia nervosa. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/nedaDir/files/documents/handouts/Anorexia.pdf
Nemours Foundation. (n.d.). Eating disorders. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_fit/nutrition/eating_disorders.html#a_Warning Signs
Segal, J. Smith, M. & Barston, S. (n.d.). Helping someone with an eating disorder. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/eating_disorder_treatment.htm#treatments
Smith, M., Jaffe-Gill, E., Segal, R., Segal, J. (n.d.). Anorexia nervosa: Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/anorexia_signs_symptoms_causes_treatment.htm
Smith, M. & Kovatch, S. (n.d.). Bulimia nervosa: Signs, symptoms, treatment, and help. Retrieved August 11, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/bulimia_signs_symptoms_causes_treatment.htm