Your child or teen seems to be eating less, picking over the food you serve.

If you’re worried he or she has an eating disorder, you may have reason to be concerned: According to the National Eating Disorder Association, an estimated 20 million American women and 10 million American men will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

These are serious problems that require treatment — but how can you tell if someone has a true eating disorder or is just a picky eater?

It’s important to see a medical or mental health provider in order to diagnose an eating disorder, though there are a few signs and symptoms to be mindful of if you believe your child may have an issue.

First, What Is an Eating Disorder?

“Eating disorder” is a general term for persistent, abnormal eating habits and behaviors that negatively affect your life and overall health. The most common of these disorders are Binge Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia Nervosa.

These medical conditions differ from more everyday forms of disordered eating, such as crash dieting or stress-eating.

RELATED: Identifying and Treating an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders often develop in teen and young adult years. They can have a dramatic effect on the heart, digestive system, bones, mouth, and more.

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Anorexia Nervosa Warning Signs

This eating disorder is characterized by abnormally low body weight, a fixation on body shape and size, and restrictive eating and it can be life-threatening. Look for other eating disorder risk factors of anorexia such as:

  • Severe fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted perception of body weight or shape
  • Extreme limiting of calories
  • Excessive exercise
  • Use of laxatives or diet aids
  • Vomiting after meals

For referrals and more information, call 412-647-9329 or visit the UPMC Center for Eating Disorders.

Warning Signs for Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a condition that involves episodes of binging and purging. Those who suffer from this disorder may eat an abnormally large amount of food during a short period of time and then purge it by vomiting, taking laxatives, diuretics, or extreme exercising. Bulimia Nervosa also can be life-threatening. Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling lack of control about eating
  • Restricted eating during the day
  • Ridding self of calories in unhealthy ways, including vomiting, excessive exercise, or laxative use
  • Preoccupation with one’s weight and body shape

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

People suffering from Binge Eating Disorder go through recurring episodes of overeating, often consuming large quantities of food over a short period of time. They may feel a loss of control during an eating binge, as well as feelings of shame or distress. Other symptoms may include:

  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating more food than intended
  • Eating when no longer hungry or when uncomfortably full
  • Feelings of guilt, disgust, or shame
  • Eating alone to hide overeating

Seeking Treatment for Eating Disorders

If you believe your child may suffer from an eating disorder or unhealthy eating habits, please schedule an appointment with your doctor or the UPMC Center for Eating Disorders to get an evaluation.

The UPMC Center for Eating Disorders provides comprehensive eating disorder treatment for both children and adults. It is one of the nation’s few eating disorder treatment programs affiliated with a major academic medical center.

About Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital provides high-quality, cutting-edge psychiatric and addiction services. We serve all ages of people at all stages of recovery. We provide diagnostic services and treatment for all types of psychiatric and mental health conditions. We serve more than 25,000 patients each year. Our hospital, in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, has more than 400 inpatient beds. Western Psychiatric partners academically with the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. Together they conduct research and clinical trials.