How Can Parents Identify Early Warning Signs of Eating Disorders, Such As Anorexia Nervosa?

Eating disorders can develop among individuals of all ages, genders and social backgrounds. However, they develop most commonly in early childhood and adolescence. In fact, eating disorders in adolescence are so common as many as three percent of children between the ages of 13 to 18 will develop anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder at some point in their lives.


The early warning signs of eating disorders in children can be difficult to recognize for parents and loved ones. This is because eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, can present differently in children and teens than they do in adults. Additionally, misinformation about eating disorders is still common, even among doctors and other medical professionals. Luckily, there are a few key signs and symptoms of eating disorders that parents can be on the lookout for, along with treatment programs that have been tailored to adolescents, such as at Clementine center for eating disorders and other modern recovery centers across the United States.


What Are Common Warning Signs of Eating Disorders Such As Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa in Teens?

There are a variety of different physical and psychological signs of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, that parents can be aware of when it comes to their teens and young children. Some eating disorders may cause teens to refuse to eat or maintain a nutritious diet, while others may result in binge eating and purging behaviors.

With anorexia nervosa, teens typically view themselves to be overweight, no matter how distorted this perception may be. They may engage in restricting behaviors in an effort to control their weight. With bulimia nervosa, parents may notice their children are less likely to eat around others and tend to hide or hoard food. Additionally, excessive exercise, vomiting and laxative use can be very common in those with bulimia nervosa.


Other common warning signs of eating disorders in adolescence include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Isolating oneself from friends, family, and other social activities
  • Fluctuating weight
  • An obsession with dieting, food, calories and body shape
  • Discolored teeth, hair loss and dull skin
  • Disappearing directly after meals to use the restroom
  • Wearing baggy clothes and/or multiple layers to hide weight and body shape
  • Frequent complaints of an upset stomach, constipation, diarrhea or a sore throat


While these are the most common signs a child may have developed an eating disorder, it is important to keep in mind just as children are all unique, their symptoms can be as well. If a parent or loved one suspect’s something is wrong, they should speak to their child as soon as possible. Early intervention is key to a successful and long-term eating disorder recovery. Many of the symptoms associated with eating disorders can have severe medical and psychological risks.


Treatment and Eating Disorder Counseling for Teens

Eating disorders in adolescence should be taken very seriously. These are not mental health conditions that will simply “go away” with time. Luckily, as the medical and psychiatric worlds learn more about eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, specialized eating disorder counseling programs for teens have been developed.


At the Clementine center for eating disorders, parents can find treatment programs that have been tailored to fit the needs of adolescents in a comfortable, safe and home-like setting. Whether teens need access to residential treatment, where they will receive medical and psychiatric monitoring and empirically validated therapeutic interventions, or a lower level of day treatment care, there are a number of different options for your adolescent to begin on the path to true recovery.


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