Restoring Hope: How to Tell If Your Child Has an Eating Disorder

anorexia_teensIn today’s world of Photoshop models and visual social media sites, teens face eating disorders and self-image issues more than ever before. More kids are dealing with eating disorders in the United States than anywhere else, and the issue is growing at a much earlier stage, too. According to a study by the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality, children under 12 who were hospitalized for an eating disorder increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. Research also indicates that girls and young women are not the only ones developing eating disorders – A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that 10 to 15 percent of males suffer from eating disorders as well.

Not only are children and teens pressured by impossible beauty standards glorified on social media sites, but they are also faced with new pressures and trends that crush self-image, like the latest “thigh gap” trend obsession that is both harmful and unachievable. While this obsession is not new, it is the most extreme body fixation yet among young women.  Because these fads are not going anywhere, parents are encouraged to recognize behaviors indicating an eating disorder so they can interfere in the right ways.

How do eating disorders start?

Eating disorders form for a variety of reasons, but clinical experts say there are numerous emotional and stressful triggers associated with the start of a new school year or new academic and social expectations that can lead to eating disorders. Your son or daughter may be dealing with a new crowd of peers, teacher expectations or any other figures in their lives that could cause added pressures. An eating disorder is a biogenetically mediated mental illness, and certain behaviors can trigger that genetic predisposition into motion. Behaviors like restricting, binging, purging, excessive exercise and more are commonly associated with eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa ranks as the third most common chronic illness among adolescent U.S. females, and bulimia nervosa affects two to five percent of adolescent girls. One to five percent of the general population struggles with binge-eating disorder, and teenage boys are also prone to developing different eating disorders. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of people with eating disorders are adolescent males, which is why experts urge parents to know the warning signs for both young women and men.

What are the indicators of eating disorders?

  • Change in behavior: When a child or teen suddenly changes in his or her mood or behavior, parents are encouraged to take a closer look in case eating disorders have developed. There is a cause for concern if this change lasts longer than a week or so. There may also be signs of depression and anxiety that are driving the disorder.
  • Change in eating habits or exercise habits: If he or she is skipping meals, making frequent visits to the restroom or consuming only snack foods and sweets, this is cause for alarm. Parents should be on the look-out for changes in how their child interacts with food. He or she may also demonstrate an intense interest in working out, displaying compulsive exercise.

What can I do to help my child?

If you suspect your child may have an eating disorder, opening the doors to communication is the first – and best – thing you can do. Instead of assuming what your child is going through, keep an open mind and talk about it. Counselors and other experts encourage parents to understand that they do not have control over their child’s behavior, and that all they can do is point him or her in the right direction. If you discover that your child does in fact have an eating disorder, seek treatment immediately. Calling in the pros is the best thing you can do for your child’s physical and mental health and for your relationship with him or her.

The counselors at Safe Harbor Christian Counseling understand the complex nature of self-image issues and eating disorders, among many other challenges young people and their families face. Through child and adolescent counseling services and adult counseling services  as well as family therapy and parenting services, children and families can seek hope and treatment that leads to restoration and a renewed sense of self-worth. Safe Harbor is committed to personalized care and getting to the root of the problem, utilizing counseling services through a biblical framework.

For more information on Safe Harbor’s counseling, coaching and therapy services, visit We invite you to join in on the faith-based dialogue found on our Facebook page and to follow Safe Harbor Christian Counseling on Twitter.

About Safe Harbor Christian Counseling

Safe Harbor Christian Counseling serves local communities by providing Christian-based, clinically sound counseling so that people experience the recovery of their hearts. Our unique approach to marriage counseling, family counseling and individual counseling includes offering an inviting atmosphere whereby a healing relationship is experienced in the counseling room. Safe Harbor consists of 7 partners with over 70 counselors trained in the mental health field.
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