How to Identify and Treat Preteen Eating Disorders

eating disorder

Eating disorders are extremely dangerous for people of any age. 

However, due to the influence of media and social pressure, they are becoming increasingly common in preteens. 

When the symptoms of eating disorders go unnoticed in children, the results can be catastrophic. Early treatment and intervention are key for the health and development of your child. 

Here’s what parents need to know about eating disorders in preteens. 

Eating Disorder Risk Factors in Kids

10% of adults with eating disorders show symptoms before the age of 10. Eating disorders are skyrocketing among adolescents, with 60% of elementary and middle school teachers reporting that eating disorders are a problem. 

Some kids are more vulnerable to developing eating disorders than others. Some risk factors include:

  • Cultural pressures. Being part of a culture that values thinness and certain body types. 
  • Participation in sports that have a higher emphasis on appearance or weight.
  • Genetic risks.
  • Personality traits associated with perfectionism, anxiety, and depression. 
  • Puberty. Going through puberty triggers rapid changes and weight gain that can lead to bullying or lower confidence. 

Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Kids 

Eating disorders come in several forms, not just anorexia. Kids may also experience binge eating, bulimia, or alternating periods of different forms of disorders. 

Here are major warning signs to look out for:

  • Children exhibiting distress consistently around mealtime. 
  • Low self-esteem, including complaints about appearance. 
  • Skipping meals or eating in private. 
  • Obsessive focus on food. 
  • Excessively eating large amounts of high-fat foods or sweets. 
  • Expressing shame or guilt about eating habits. 
  • Being underweight but very concerned about being fat. 
  • Menstruation disruption. 
  • Rapid weight loss. 
  • Excessive exercise. 

Getting Help 

If you notice any of the signs above and are concerned your child may have an eating disorder, act quickly. The first step is assessment. Speak with your child’s doctor about your concern, as they can provide a referral or recommendation. Following assessment, you’ll have a better idea of what is going on and how to get help. 

Most often, you’ll need the help of an experienced professional to handle eating disorders. A professional therapist can provide you with guidance and advice while also helping your child to work through the underlying issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help address unhealthy behaviors and negative thinking. In some cases, medication and nutrition counseling will also be important. 

Assessment is crucial to getting your child the treatment he or she needs. The sooner eating disorders are identified, the more successful treatment is. 


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