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Bulimia and Anorexia Aren’t (Sadly) Just for Adults

Written by Sadiya Jamal, D.O. on Jun 9, 2018 9:10:00 AM

As the world evolves, we sometimes find that problems our children face are showing up at earlier and earlier ages. For instance, recent studies have shown that children as young as 8 have shown symptoms of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Here’s what concerned parents need to know about these disorders and how they could be silently affecting your child.

Why So Young?

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The world we live in gives us unlimited access to knowledge at the tips of our fingers with the internet, and while this can be an incredible tool, it can also cause a lot of damage. Children are getting online at earlier stages now than ever before. It’s not uncommon to see a 2-year-old swiping through kids’ games on his parents’ phones. And while some of the benefits of this are undisputed, it also means children are exposed to adult situations, ideas, and worries at an earlier age.  Being online or watching television, kids can be constantly bombarded with the barrage of beauty products and opinions on how people are supposed to look. Having social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter also opens children up to online bullying about their looks, clothing choices, personality, and more. All of these situations can create self-doubt in young, not-yet-fully-formed minds. In addition, when self-doubt is tied to an individual’s looks, eating disorders can potentially follow. 

These disorders don’t only come from online or television exposure – it can stem from what kids hear from loved ones. If a daughter hears her mom say she’s upset that she’s gaining weight, or if someone tells her she’ll get fat because of something she’s eating, it may chip away at her self-worth, which is dangerous territory. Psychologists have now recorded anorexia nervosa in children as young as 8 years old. Heartbreaking, isn’t it?

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Signs Aren’t Always Easy to Spot

Eating disorders in teens and adults can be difficult to spot. They can be even more difficult to recognize in children because many parents don’t even realize children can suffer from eating disorders. 

Pay attention to your child’s behavior at and around meal times and make sure you’re communicating with her. Here are the red flags to watch for if you think your child may have an eating disorder. 

  • Sudden, dramatic weight loss
  • Often claiming they’re not hungry
  • Exercising frequently
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Eating to excess at meal times and then disappearing to the restroom after meals
  • Seemingly large appetite with increased food intake without any apparent weight gain
  • Unhealthy looking hair or teeth
  • Sallow looking skin 

If you notice any of these in your child, it’s time to talk about how they’re feeling and get a sense of whether or not she’s eating the way she should.

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How to Help Your Kids

If you think your child has an eating disorder, the first thing you need to do is get him or her professional help immediately. The seeds of eating disorders planted when a child is young can grow into big problems in adolescence and their adult lives. Talk to your pediatrician for recommendations on who can help with underlying mental issues. They might also be able to provide guidance on how to monitor their behavior. 

Of course, the best course of action is to avoid the problem before it starts. Limit screen time, both online and television. If they have social media accounts, make sure to monitor them carefully. Most importantly, be kind to yourself when talking about your appearance. If children hear you say negative things about your own weight or appearance, it’s easy for them to believe that the way you feel about them correlates to their weight or appearance. 


Dr. Sadiya Jamal is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in The Woodlands. Her clinical interests include counseling first-time parents, ADHD, development, and newborn care.



Topics: bulimia in kids and adolescents, eating disorders in kids, signs your child might have an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa in kids


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