National Eating Disorders Awareness Week takes place each February to bring greater visibility to the risks and challenges that people coping with an eating disorder face. This year, it will be recognized on the week of February 21-27.
Of course, it goes without saying that eating disorders can be a problem all year long for families who have a child struggling with one. The Eating Disorders Program at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, sees a number of children who are facing these challenging conditions, and have several treatment solutions to help them and their families.
Types of Eating Disorders
The three most common eating disorders that we tend to see among children are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that the problems related to anorexia often stem from an obsession with being thin. Children with anorexia may still feel like they are overweight even when they are quite thin. As it advances, anorexia can become serious and even life-threatening.
Children with bulimia often do not appear as thin as those with anorexia, but it is still a serious medical condition. It’s characterized by episodes of binge eating, followed by a period of purging in which the child will remove the food from their body by throwing up, taking laxatives or other means. It can lead to severe complications, including stomach, heart and kidney problems, and even death.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by the binging (eating large amounts of food) without the purging. Children who binge are often embarrassed about their behavior and find it difficult to stop. Over time, they may develop problems with their weight and related health complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of eating disorders can sometimes be difficult to detect, which is why parents need to remain vigilant if they suspect that their child has a problem. Some signs to look for include:
- Increased anxiety related to food or during mealtimes
- Discomfort eating in a large group
- Eating in private
- Using the bathroom shortly after meals
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Constant worry about their weight
- Use of laxatives or other weight control medications
- Wearing baggy or oversize clothing
- Mood changes such as anxiety or depression
How to Get Help
If you’re concerned that your child has an eating disorder, it’s important to seek out help for them as soon as possible. An eating disorder that is allowed to continue over time can become an ingrained behavior that is harder to stop and more likely to lead to complications.
The Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Program features a multidisciplinary approach that provides individualized treatment for whatever challenges your child might be facing. Our team features doctors, nutritionists, family therapists, nurses, psychologists and other health care professionals that provide comprehensive care for both the child and their family as they navigate the challenges of eating disorders and return to normal, healthy attitudes and outlooks regarding food, their body and their mental health.