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During the pandemic, we have seen many more children and adolescents going to the emergency room with mental health problems. And there has been a noticeable increase in eating disorders, especially among teenage girls. Eating disorders include a range of unhealthy relationships with food and concerns about weight.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are common. In fact, one in seven men and one in five women suffers from an eating disorder at 40and in 95% of these cases, the disease begins around the age of 25. Many types of eating disorders may affect children and adolescents:

  • Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an extreme fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia nervosa often consider themselves overweight when they are a healthy weight, and even when they are very underweight. There are two forms of anorexia nervosa: restrictive Shape is when people drastically limit what they eat and how much they eat in order to control their weight. In the binge-purge type, people limit what and how much they eat, but also binge and purge – that is, they will eat a large amount at once and try to get rid of the extra calories by vomiting , laxatives, diuretics or excessive exercise.
  • Bulimia nervosa involves gorging and purging but without limiting what and how much a person eats.
  • Binge eating disorder it’s when people hustle but don’t purge or restrict. It’s actually the most common eating disorder in the United States.
  • Avoidant restrictive eating disorder is most common in childhood. The person limits the amount or type of food they eat, but not because they are worried about their weight. For example, a person with inflammatory bowel disease may associate eating with pain and discomfort, and therefore may avoid eating. Children with sensory issues may find the smell, texture or taste of certain foods deeply unpleasant and therefore refuse to eat them. It’s more than just “picky eating” and it can lead to malnutrition.

Misunderstandings about eating disorders

When most people think of eating disorders, they think of someone who is too thin. However, you can have an eating disorder and be normal weight or even overweight. The most important thing that many people don’t realize about eating disorders is that it is a serious mental health issue and can be very dangerous. They can affect and damage many parts of the body – and can even be fatal. Of all the types of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa is the most likely to cause death.

What Parents Need to Know: Signs of Eating Disorders

It’s no surprise that eating disorders have increased among children and teens during the pandemic, given the disruption, isolation and stress – and excessive time spent on social media – that this has trained. It’s important for parents to watch for signs that their child or teen may have an eating disorder, including:

  • changes in what, when and how much they eat
  • being restrictive or regimented about their diet
  • unusual weight fluctuations
  • express dissatisfaction with their body or weight
  • exercise a lot more than usual
  • spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

If it occurs to you that your child might have an eating disorder, remember that eating disorders are not about choice. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression play a big role; emotional pain often underlies eating disorders. And research shows that when you eat too much or too little, it affects brain processes that control hunger and food intakereinforcing the eating disorder.

If you have any concerns, talk to your child and talk to your doctor. Even if you get it wrong, it can lead to an important conversation about healthy eating and body image that could help prevent a future eating disorder. And if you’re right, the sooner your child gets help, the better.

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