Questions & Answers

How do I know if my child has an eating disorder?

You may not realize it right away. It is common for youngsters to hide their weight loss by wearing loose fitting clothes or by engaging in other behaviors to disguise the disorder. Be concerned if your child complains of being fat, avoids meals, or makes excuses for a marked change in weight.

My child spends a lot of time in the bathroom after meals. Should I worry?

Certainly many youngsters, especially teens, seem to spend a lot of time in the bathroom analyzing and adjusting their appearance. However, the child with an eating disorder may go to the bathroom after meals to purge (a term used to describe vomiting) or take laxatives in order to get rid of food.

Should I force my child to eat?

Forcing anyone to do anything is never advisable. An eating disorder is a serious problem, but pressuring a child to eat will not change her behavior, her thinking or her self image. Forcing her can lead to increased tension and guilt, stresses that can exacerbate the problem. It is especially important to avoid power struggles and drama around food.

Isn't there a medication that can help?

There is no quick fix for a person with an eating disorder. There is evidence to suggest that medication can be enormously helpful, due to a possible neurochemical imbalance in the brain or for the accompanying depression.

How do I parent a child with an eating disorder?

Patience is critical. Although it is frightening to see a child physically compromised, intervention should be carefully planned, at times under medical supervision. Treatment can involve both the child and family over a period of time. Even when a child's weight returns to normal, it takes time for new, healthier behaviors and a realistic self-image to be established.

Why do eating disorders usually affect teenagers?

Adolescence, in addition to the individual family and psychological issues, presents a special stress. Entering adolescence is a more complex rite of passage than it has previously been. Adolescents have to accustom themselves to changes in their bodies as well as life changes, such as entering high school or college, beginning sexual relationships and psychologically separating from their parents.