What Every Parent Needs to Know about Eating Disorder Symptoms

Picnic plate full of assorted food.

As a parent, do you know the warning signs of eating disorders? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Millions of people in the U.S. are impacted by eating disorders every year.  This includes those suffering from the eating disorder as well as their family members and friends.   Unfortunately, many people who have these disorders do not get the help, support, and treatment they need to be healthy.   Recent research indicates that as many as half a million teenagers may be suffering from an eating disorder but according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) on average only 1 in 10 people with these conditions get treatment.  This means we all need to do a better job of identifying those who are in trouble, preventing disorders from developing, and treating those who are struggling; the consequences of doing any less are simply too high.

Prevention and early detection are critical to minimizing the long term damage suffered by those who are dealing with these potentially life-threatening conditions.  The key to early detection is to know what to look for and what actions to take if you suspect that someone in your life is suffering from an eating disorder.  To help, here are the most common immediate symptoms of the most prevalent eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Unusual eating habits or patterns, may skip meals and/or avoid certain foods
  • Eating only small amounts
  • Weighing and measuring food
  • Obsessive calorie counting
  • Excessive exercise
  • Intense fear of gaining weight

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Bingeing or eating excessive amounts of food in a single sitting
  • Inability to control their bingeing
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Abuse or misuse of laxatives or diuretics
  • Skipping meals
  • Excessive exercise
  • Intense fear of gaining weight

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Bingeing or eating excessive amounts of food in a single sitting
  • Inability to control their bingeing
  • Eating to discomfort and eating when not hungry

These behaviors and symptoms can indicate the presence of an eating disorder and if you are concerned that your teen may be struggling with any of these disorders, you should make an appointment to discuss your concerns with their doctor.

The longer term symptoms and consequences of these eating disorders, which are outlined below, are increasingly more serious which underlines why prevention and early detection is so critical.

Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
  • Constipation, bloating, and diarrhea
  • Dental problems including loss of enamel, gum disease, and cavities
  • Throat and esophageal problems including tears and ruptures
  • Anemia
  • Dry skin
  • Vomiting blood
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart failure

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Heart disease
  • Specific kinds of cancer
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