Skip to main content
How Do I Know if My Child Has an Eating Disorder?

You are listening to Healthy Kids Zone:

How Do I Know if My Child Has an Eating Disorder?

May 07, 2018

In the United States, 1 out of 100 teenagers will struggle with an eating disorder. If your child is starting to develop one of these disorders, it’s important to get professional help. Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner explains what exactly an eating disorder is and some of the common signs you should be looking for as a parent.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: Eating disorders are quite common, but they're sort of a taboo subject to talk about with teens. How can parents recognize the signs of an eating disorder in their teen? I'll help you figure that out on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the Healthy Kids Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: First, I need to define just what an eating disorder is. Eating disorders aren't picky eaters or teens trying to change their eating habits or exercise daily to become more healthy. Eating disorders are extremes in how teens think about food, eating, and being active to the point where it becomes all-consuming.

One or 2 out of every 100 teens in America will struggle with an eating disorder. Every year, thousands of teens start down the path of having an eating disorder because of how they perceive their bodies. The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia.

Teens with anorexia have a true fear of weight gain and a distorted view of their body. They think they are overweight, when, in fact, they can be dangerously underweight. They eat very little and exercise excessively. Counting calories becomes almost an obsession as they try to eat as little as possible.

Bulimia is similar to anorexia in that calorie restriction is the main goal. But these teens may eat and eat and then try to compensate by throwing up or exercising all the time to prevent gaining any weight. This is different from having a day where you pig out and then work extra hard at the gym the next day. For someone to be diagnosed with bulimia, they need to be doing this regularly at least once a month.

For several months, bulimics often eat large amounts of food in secret, even taking food out of the trash to eat it. They feel powerless to stop eating until they are so full and then they will go vomit everything back up. Some bulimics use excessive amounts of laxatives to make everything go right through them so the calories don't stick.

Although anorexia and bulimia are very similar, teens with anorexia are usually very thin, but those with bulimia may be normal or even overweight. Teens who have these conditions often have intense fear that they are or will become fat even though they are normal-sized.

There are some signs to look for in someone who has a true eating disorder. Anorexics may look very frail, be obsessed with weight and portion control, and only eat certain foods and not because of a medical issue like a food allergy. They also may exercise excessively. And they may also water load, which is where they drink a lot of water before going to a doctor's appointment so they seem heavier than they are when they're weighed.

Bulimics will make excuses to go to the bathroom right after eating, regularly buy laxatives, only eat diet foods unless they're binging, and spend most of their time working out.

Both anorexics and bulimics often withdraw from social activities which involve food. These are tough diseases to diagnose and treat. If you think your teen may have an eating disorder, talk to your child's pediatrician to investigate further.

Announcer: Have a question about a medical procedure, want to learn more about a health condition, with over 2,000 interviews with our physicians and specialists, there's a pretty good chance you'll find what you want to know. Check it out at