Eating disorder signs and symptoms

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Warning signs ...

(light dramatic music) – So parents will sometimes ask us how they would tell if their child had an eating disorder. Some of the things that we’ll take people to look for are especially changes in your child, and especially around food or eating or activity. So things that you might be aware of would be a sudden interest in dieting or healthy eating, or considering being a vegan or a vegetarian, beginning to cut out different food groups, or beginning to diet and be more restrictive and extreme with what they’re doing. Something that seems to come out of the blue, and often it comes on fairly intensely.

If you’re seeing your child eating less and less with the family. They might be telling you that they’re eating at a friend’s house, or they’re eating out with friends when they’re out at an event and you begin to realize that you’re really not seeing them eating meals or snacks, and it may be a series of excuses of not eating. They may become more irritable. You may start to find that you’re having more conflict with them, or arguing more.

They often can become just more irritable in general. It could be something like quick mood shifts that occur. So they seem fine, and all the sudden a comment is made and they’re very upset and it feels like it comes out of nowhere, or it may be that just in general, they become more and more irritable. When we’re not getting enough food, then our brain’s tend to be a little more agitated, and it makes it more difficult for them to engage in the way that you’re used to having them engage. So other things you may wanna pay attention to are different behaviors your child may be having from what you’ve noticed is normal.

One might be their dress. Sometimes as people are losing weight and wanting to hide that, they will change how they’re dressing and they may wear more baggy clothes, more heavy clothes, things that hide their body and make it less obvious to other people. This is a big paradox into the sense that they are typically feeling fat, but at some level, recognize that their body is changing and is different, and that if that is known to other people, people may begin to interrupt their ability to have an eating disorder.

Additionally, exercise is another thing that you may look at in terms of their behavior, either a sudden and intense onset of exercise that they’ve never really done before or been interested in, maybe as a part of that concept of healthy living, or that kind of thing, or exercise that seems to be getting more intense or more driven. Feel like they have to do it. They maybe thinking about eating to get in every day or wanting to do it after they’ve eaten to keep themselves from feeling like the calories are going to count, in terms of their weight. So they may start doing things like, avoiding going out with their friends or not going to events, because they feel like they haven’t gotten their exercise in or it interferes with getting their exercise in. Potentially, they become less social with their friends.

You see that they’re not going out as much, especially if their friends do a lot of things centered around food. They may be staying home more. They may be less involved with people. You may find that they really start to focus more on more on their homework. It’s possible it’s taking them longer to do their homework, because as food intake decreases, often concentration gets impaired.

5 warning signs for eating disorders

So they may be needing to pull in some from the activities that they’re doing, because they need more time to do their schoolwork, to do well at it. And typically, for kids who are on the side of restricting calories, more with anorexia nervosa, they often tend to be more perfectionistic and wanting to be sure that they’re keeping good grades and doing that. And in order to do that, they may need to back up some from the activities and engage more in the schoolwork.

Other behaviors that you may see in your child are that they’re more cold than most other people that are in the room. They are having difficulty with blood flow if they’re not eating enough. And so, they are more likely to be cold than other individuals around them. Other things that you might notice are a lot of talk about food and exercise. A lot of talking about it, and perhaps, even complaining about being fat when it’s really clear that they are not.

So mostly, I’ve been talking about things that are more related to individuals restricting their food intake, and that’s one form of eating disorder that we would look at along the lines of anorexia nervosa. On the other side of things, is that sometimes people are engaging in binging and in purging activities. So paying attention to other things that might be happening.

If your concerned that your child might be binging, pay attention to whether large amounts of food seem to be missing from the refrigerator, or unexplained food missing, that you can’t really identify that people are eating. If it’s somehow a bag of cookies is gone. So paying attention to how food may be changing in the pantry or it seems to be missing, would be one way to pay attention to that. Also in terms of children deciding to try to get rid of that food.

One of the most common ways they do that is through vomiting. And so, you may need to pay attention to whether you’re seeing vomit in the toilet or you’re seeing remnants or smelling that in places. People that are really trying to hide their vomiting may not just vomit in the bathroom.

They may try to vomit in a trash can or in things that they can put into a bag and carry out or remove from the house. So you may pay attention to whether you feel like things are disrupted in those kinds of ways. It’s important to recognize that in isolation, each of things is not necessarily an eating disorder, you’re more looking for a pattern, a trend, something that you’ve seen over time.

A change that’s pretty significantly different than what you’ve seen your child doing, or again, a change that has been slow in developing and feels like it’s gaining momentum or is getting somewhat out of control. For more information on eating disorders, please visit uofmhealth.org.

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