Eating Disorders and Warning Signs

Warning signs of an eating disorder can generally be divided into two categories: (I) those that can be a sign of any eating disorder; and (ii) those that are specifically related to a particular type of eating disorder.  These broad or general signs include a dramatic difference in a person’s weight to height ratio, something that might only be seen or discoverable by the parents or pediatrician of the teenager.  Signs that are more specific and may be picked up by others include statement that reveal a negative body image, avoiding eating in the presence of others, symptoms of anxiety or depression or any type of extreme behavior related to food, bathroom use or exercise.  In all instances, eating disorders have serious underlying disorders that need to be addressed by professionals.

Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

Teenagers suffering from anorexia nervosa may exhibit unusual eating habits, including secrecy surrounding their eating habits, with obsessive behavior regarding the amount and types of foods consumed.  They will also tend to be overly concerned about their weight and appearance.  Signs of this disorder that are perceptible include marked weight loss, increased irritability and decreased attention, fatigue, hyperactivity and low body temperature.  While there may be scalp hair loss, there also may be an increase in hair on the body and limbs (known as lanugo).

Warning Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Signs of bulimia nervosa involve (I) those connected to food consumption; (ii) those connected to the manner of offsetting the calorie intake; and (iii) those that result from diminished nutrition, even malnutrition.  Teenagers suffering from bulimia nervosa have an uncontrollable urge to eat large amounts of food similar to those teenagers with a binge eating disorder (below).  Teenagers with this condition have an offset mechanism that can include purging or vomiting and/or excessive exercise.  If their offset mechanism is vomiting or purging, they will often have facial swelling, tooth decay and bad breath as well as broken blood vessels in their eyes.  They may also be moody, exhibit signs of fatigue or weakness, bruise easily and, in females, may cease to have regular periods.

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (“BED”) tends to lead to marked weight gain because there is no corresponding offset method as in bulimia nervosa.  A teenager suffering from BED may eat very large quantities of food at a great rate of speed and eat again shortly after finishing the previous meal.  A teenage with BED may also engage in secrecy about eating and resorting to hiding food to make sure it is always available.

Warning Signs of Rumination Disorder

Teenagers with rumination disorder may regurgitate and re-chew food.  Other signs may include indigestion or stomach aches and sings around the mouth including persistent raw or chapped lips, bad breath and tooth decay.

Warning Signs of Pica

Teenagers suffering from the relatively unknown condition of Pica will often be seen eating a substance other than food.  A secondary sign may be a reduced appetite for food at regular meals.  Depending on the substance being ingested there may be other signs such as a nutritional deficiency associated with the lack of nutrition in the substances being ingested.

What should a parent do if he/she is noticing these warning signs?

Seek professional help immediately.  Contact your doctor or mental health professional for assistance.  Havenwood specializes in helping teenagers who have eating disorders.  We would be happy to consult with you to determine how we can help–CALL NOW.