Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

The many faces of eating disorders:

Children, teens and adults with an eating disorder may not necessarily look like they have one.
By Motherpedia
Date: September 06 2013
Editor Rating:

Which one of these people has or knows someone with an eating disorder? 

"I'm so fat."  "I need to lose five pounds."  "I'll never be thin."  "I can't believe my nine year-old thinks she's fat."  "I feel huge."  "This is the last thing I'm eating today."  "My son is constantly exercising."

It's hard to tell. Despite lingering misconceptions, eating disorders affect all kinds of people – children, women, mothers and fathers, boys, men and even the elderly – people who often look and sound just like everyone else. 

People of every age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, shape, size and socio-economic class can suffer from eating disorders, but due to preconceived notions about who is susceptible, a significant number of eating disorder cases – as many as 90% – go undiagnosed and untreated.

"It’s important to acknowledge how widespread eating disorders have become among diverse demographics and across the lifespan," said Dr Harry Brandt, director of The Center for Eating Disorders in Baltimore, USA.

"Eating disorders often go undetected, especially in young children, males and middle-aged adults, because people assume these demographics are not at risk. Most people also believe you can tell by looking at someone's body whether or not they have an eating disorder. In reality, people with eating disorders can be underweight, overweight or of average weight and still be very ill.

"To complicate matters, these illnesses often present initially as seemingly harmless or common behaviours - a sudden interest in physical fitness or ‘healthy’ eating, dieting and concerns about weight, picky or selective eating patterns - but in susceptible individuals mild behaviours like these can escalate into clinically significant eating disorders with dangerous medical consequences.

“Eating disorders can never be identified just by looking at someone and no one is too old or young to suffer from one." 

Eating disorder symptoms in children and teens

  • Weight gain not consistent with the child's existing growth curve
  • Weight loss or weight plateau during times of expected growth
  • Increase in picky eating
  • Erratic or inconsistent eating; periods of restriction followed by overindulgence
  • Attempts to avoid or completely cut out entire food groups
  • Food rules or rituals, eg. cutting foods into small pieces or not letting foods touch
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Elevated worry or preoccupation with food/meals
  • Fear of becoming fat
  • Increased interest in calorie counting or keeping food diaries
  • Frequently weighing oneself
  • Misses family meals and reports he/she has already eaten
  • Difficulty eating in front of others
  • Becomes more isolated, missing out on activities with friends or family to avoid food/eating.

For further information or advice, consult your family medical practitioner.

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