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Eating disorders: warning signs

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Many parents think that eating disorders are something that happens to teenagers or adults. But they may be in for a big surprise: Eating disorders can surface early, sometimes well before children reach their teen years.

The warning signs of an eating disorder may not be dramatic, but they should be apparent over time if you are watching your child closely. Signs of an eating disorder include:

Major weight loss, so that the child is well below average for her height and age, with no other medical explanation;

Lack of interest in eating, or claiming not to be hungry at mealtime;

Obsession with counting calories and/or need to eliminate certain formerly favorite foods because of fat or calories;

Restricting diet to low-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as plain lettuce;

Refusal to eat in public or with family, especially for celebrations or special events that involve food;

Fixation on being “too fat” or spending excessive time looking in the mirror criticizing her own body;

Overexercising;

Signs of hoarding food and/or bingeing and purging;

For girls, delayed menstruation.

If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, help is available, starting with your pediatrician. For additional information and assistance, see the National Eating Disorders Association or Something Fishy.