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Does my daughter have an eating disorder?

Dr. Tracy Oppenheim  

Tracey Oppenheim is board certified in both adult and child psychiatry and practices at Cardon Children's Medical Center.

Question: My 14-year-old daughter has started to complain about her weight and I’ve noticed her eating less and less at family meals. Is this an eating disorder and what can I do to help if it is?

Answer: It is common for teens to be concerned about how they look and feel self-conscious about their weight. It is when these concerns become obsessions, that it could be an eating disorder. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by an intense fear of weight gain and a distorted view of body size and shape. Anorexics lose an extreme amount of weight through starvation and constantly think about food. Some also may binge and purge. Warning signs include:

  • Restricting food intake by skipping meals or eating sparingly,
  • Avoiding eating in front of others,
  • Eating food ritualistically, such as cutting foods into small pieces or chewing excessively,
  • Counting calories obsessively and
  • Exercising compulsively.

Bulimia involves binging and purging. Warning signs include:

  • Fasting or over-exercising,
  • Hoarding food for binges and
  • Fluctuating weight.

A binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia. Binge eaters consume unusually large amounts of food but do not do anything to compensate for consuming large amounts of calories so they tend to be overweight. With binge eating, a person feels out of control and powerless to stop eating. Warning signs include:

  • Eating quickly,
  • Eating larger than normal portions and
  • Stress or emotional eating.

The most important thing to remember is eating disorders are about control more than they are about weight. The causes of eating disorders aren't entirely clear, though a combination of psychological, genetic, social and family factors are thought to be involved.

Parents can help prevent kids from developing an eating disorder by nurturing their self-esteem, and encouraging healthy attitudes about nutrition and exercise.

If you fear your child has an eating disorder, make an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss your concerns and to determine what type of intervention is needed.   

Page Last Modified: 08/28/2013
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