Signs Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder

by Kathleen A. Mammel, M.D.

Today, approximately three percent of American teens have an eating disorder. It’s a problem that is far more prevalent than most people think. Almost all young people who have such a disorder exhibit signs that parents can recognize if they just know where to look.

Parent involvement is critical not only in identifying a disorder, but also in helping a teen recover from it. If your child exhibits any combination of the signs below, seek the advice of a medical professional immediately.

Signs your child may have an eating disorder include:

  • weight loss, failure to gain, or marked fluctuations in weight
  • feeling cold when others are not
  • dizziness, “blacking out” of vision, or fainting
  • chest pain or heart palpitations
  • feeling full after little food intake

  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • swollen parotid glands (the same glands involved in mumps)
  • lapse of menstrual periods
  • fatigue, low energy
  • uncharacteristic irritable mood
  • anxiety or depression, obsessive behaviors
  • self-harm behaviors
  • poor sleep
  • development of baby soft hair (lanugo) on the face or body
  • poor wound healing, dry skin
  • edema/swelling of the feet and legs
  • scars or callouses on the backs of the hands or fingers
  • bloodshot eyes or broken blood vessels on the face or upper chest
  • dental caries (tooth decay)

If you are concerned about your son or daughter, approach him/her with love and support to try to understand his/her struggle and let them knowyou will seek help together. Avoid blame or power struggles. View this as you would any health concern that needs prompt attention from a healthcare provider; do not delay and do not be dissuaded by your child. Parents play a vital role in seeking help for their children and adolescents and in the ongoing treatment process for eating disorders. Just as you would assure they receive insulin for diabetes, you need to assure they receive the proper “medicine,” in this case adequate nutrition and professional help.

Beaumont Children’s Hospital Hough Center for Eating Disorders provides outpatient services and inpatient medical care.It now offers the BRIDGE program, featuring partial hospitalization (day treatment) and intensive outpatient treatment options. Parent involvement is key to recovery for adolescents and the Hough Center provides services to assist parents as well as teens in the recovery process.

Dr. Mammel is head of the division of Adolescent Pediatrics at Beaumont Children’s Hospital, associate professor of Pediatrics at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and medical director of the Hough Center for Eating Disorders.

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3 thoughts on “Signs Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder

  1. There are much earlier signs that would make recovery easier if caught before the signs mentioned here. By the time a child is exhibiting the above signs: the battle will be very tough! It usually starts off more subtly as in increasing exercise, eating slowly and eating small portions, changes of food habits such as refusing high calorie snacks etc. and asking if something makes them look fat, regularly. This last one is also asked by healthy people; however, it is a sudden surge of frequency and intensity of this one that should cause concern. Around puberty seems to be a high start time for ED. Notice if your child seems to be suddenly slowing down on their growth. Teach children that our bodies can regulate their proper weight if we are simply moderate. They don’t need to be over- focused on it. And parents, please set a good healthy example of showing your child that you love them as they are and that you love yourself regardless of your own weight. Be kind to your body.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Nan says:


      I couldn’t agree more with you. I am struggling with my 12 year old daughter as puberty has definitely been the catalyst for ED. Very subtle signs that I wish I would have know about to begin recovery sooner.

      And I loved your reminder, show your child you love them, no matter what, is KEY to sharing a healthy life together.

      Our journey is just beginning……

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