Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by extreme food restrictions and an intense fear of becoming overweight. It is estimated that approximately 0.3-0.4% of adolescents worldwide suffer from this disorder, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that anorexia nervosa is the second most common eating disorder in young people between the ages of 10 and 24. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically diagnosable eating disorder at some point in their lives.
The effects of anorexia are wide-reaching and can be both physical and psychological. Physically, individuals with anorexia tend to have light body weight and muscle mass due to severe food restriction, leading to fatigue and other health complications like weakened bones or infertility. Psychologically, those with anorexia often experience intense shame or guilt surrounding their bodies or appearance. This can manifest itself through the development of additional mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
It can be challenging for parents to detect anorexia in their children, as the disorder is not always outwardly visible. However, warning signs may alert parents to the possibility that their child has an eating disorder. Here are the following signs to consider.
Extreme Attention to Weight
Does your child obsessively check their weight or seek reassurance that they are not gaining weight? Do they become anxious when eating, refusing to eat certain foods in fear of gaining weight? Children are not usually into dieting or calorie counting, so this behavior should be a red flag for parents.
As responsible food providers in the family, parents usually prioritize healthy meals on the table, with a few flexible options for snacks or takeout favorites. However, children with anorexia often take this to the extreme and become increasingly picky with their food preferences, refusing entire meals or skipping out on family dinners.
Do you notice that your child is becoming extremely anxious about eating? Do they worry excessively about their food intake and weight gain, to the point of avoiding social situations that involve food or passing up opportunities for enjoyable activities due to associated guilt and fear?
If these behaviors are noticed in conjunction with severe diet restrictions, it is essential to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Exercise is vital for children, especially teenagers, as it helps them become more physically active and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, those with anorexia may become obsessed with exercising to exhaustion or injury. This obsession can be so extreme that they refuse to miss a day or take rest days in fear of gaining weight.
If your child is exhibiting excessive exercise, consider speaking with them about their habits and ensuring they are still taking breaks from physical activity. A balance between training and rest is vital for overall health; if this balance seems off, it’s best to consult a medical professional for further advice.
Sudden Changes in Behavior
Anorexia often affects behavior due to its psychological effects on mental health. Sudden changes such as increased isolation, irritability, or mood swings are warning signs of an underlying health problem. It is important to note that these changes may not always be directly related to anorexia, as other issues, such as stress or trauma, can also lead to behavioral changes.
However, it can be challenging to determine whether the mood shift is because of an eating disorder or another problem. Here are a few different behavior issues for kids with anorexia:
Weight gain is an anorexic’s worst fear, even if it is necessary for their health. Low self-esteem often follows this fear, as individuals are unsatisfied with their bodies due to internal shame and guilt.
Depression or anxiety
Anorexia takes a significant toll on mental health. Changes in behavior may be indications of developing depression or anxiety, which can come as a result of an eating disorder.
Fear of judgment
Children with anorexia may become reclusive due to fear of judgment regarding their eating habits and body image. Often, they will avoid social gatherings that revolve around food or situations where they might feel uncomfortable because of their weight gain concerns (e.g., physical activities).
Discomfort during health talks
If the topic of health and diet arises, children with anorexia may become uncomfortable or defensive. This could signify that they are aware of their disorder and avoiding conversations about it.
Seek Professional Help
Those warning signs can serve as a helpful guide for parents to detect the possibility of anorexia in their children. If you do think your child is suffering from an eating disorder, you must seek professional help as soon as possible. Anorexia can have long-term consequences if left untreated, so early intervention is critical.
Anorexia rehab is an excellent way to begin the treatment process, as the focus is on finding a balance between nutrition, physical activity, and mental health. With the help of a qualified eating disorder specialist, you can ensure that your child receives the care they need to overcome their disorder and make lasting positive changes.
With early detection and proper treatment, children with anorexia can learn how to manage their condition and lead healthy lives.
By understanding common signs of anorexia and intervening swiftly when needed, parents can help protect their children from further harm due to this severe disorder. If you are worried that your child may be suffering from anorexia or any other type of eating disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support.