Eating Disorders in Young Children and Adolescents

As an Eating Disorder (ED) survivor, and a mother, I feel compelled to write about the subject. I won’t waste space going into the details of my own ordeal, but I’d like to stress the importance of parents being aware of what types of ED’s commonly exist, what signs to look out for, and tips to help prevent young, impressionable children and adolescents from going through what I did.

Whilst underlying psychological issues can contribute to the onset of an ED, magazines and television do nothing to help by bombarding us with images of very thin girls and women. Teens and even young children may begin to believe that this body type is normal and even desirable and may resort to excessive dieting. The result can be a body weight that is too low, medical and psychological problems together with a distorted body image.

Some girls (and some boys too) may take dieting to extremes, becoming dangerously thin in the process. Their body perception may become so distorted that no matter how much weight is lost they still view themselves as “fat”. Others may eat too much at one sitting (bingeing) and then attempt to rid themselves of the food by vomiting or taking laxatives (purging).

Body changes in adolescence cause many teens to focus on their weight and shape which, in a sense, is normal. Some may even decide to diet. It’s when dieting results in skipped meals, fasting, or even restricting fluids that there’s a problem. Dieting tends to lead to eating disorders and should be discouraged. Any vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse is another warning sign. Exercise can also become a concern if skipping a session, even for valid reasons, brings on extreme guilt.


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a condition where sufferers refuse to maintain at least a minimally normal body weight, have excessive fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of body size and shape.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or enemas, water pills or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise.

Binge-eating Disorder

People with Binge-eating Disorder engage in bouts of out-of-control eating. They take in excessive amounts of food within short periods of time, even when they don’t feel hungry. They often eat faster than normal, to the point where they feel uncomfortably full. They also experience extreme guilt and distress afterwards which leads to further bingeing.

If your children display any of these behaviours, seek help immediately as ED’s have life-long consequences if left untreated. In some unfortunate cases, these can also be fatal.

Prevention is best. Children and teens should be helped to accept their own body shape and weight. They need to realise that TV or magazine images do not always represent reality. Rather than dieting, they should eat a balanced diet. Food shouldn’t be labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and everything is ok in moderation. Lastly, exercise shouldn’t be a means to change weight and shape, but encouraged as a pleasurable social activity.