Post Updated February, 2021
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.
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 412-246-6390 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 or diuretics, or extreme exercising. Bulimia nervosa also can be life-threatening. Symptoms may include:
- Feeling loss of control over 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
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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. During an episode of binge eating, they feel a sense of loss of control over eating, 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 what or how much was eaten
Seeking Treatment for Eating Disorders
If you believe you or your family member 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.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact the UPMC Center for Eating Disorders at 412-246-6390.
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.