Your teen just spent the weekend with you, and you noticed they didn’t eat much. You chalk it up to the end of winter blahs. But then during your next parenting time weekend, and the one after that, the pattern repeats and you see your child visibly losing weight and becoming more and more withdrawn.
Has your teen developed an eating disorder?
The data around teen and adolescent eating disorders is alarming: Over one half of teenage girls and nearly one third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors (i.e., skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, purging). As many as 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight. And 95% — almost all — eating disorders first develop between the ages of 12 and 25.
Researchers have found that divorce, especially when their parents’ split is high conflict, may be a risk factor for some teens and adolescents in developing disordered eating.
How can you tell if your child is at risk? Lean these 5 common warning signs.
5 Red Flags Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder
1. Preoccupation with body appearance or weight. Are they critical of their appearance or spend excessive time on their appearance? Are they heavy users of Instagram and other social media apps? Do they exhibit moodiness and irritability when discussing food or appearance?
2. Changes in eating habits. A child or teen with an eating disorder may make frequent excuses not to eat, or is “always on a diet.” They may overeat (binge) or hoard food. You may notice obsessive rituals, such as drinking only out of a certain cup, or only eating certain foods. They may always use the bathroom after eating (as a sign of purging).
3. Changes in daily habits. Signs of disordered eating can show up in everyday behaviors. These red flags include wearing baggy clothes, or any noticeable change in your teen’s clothing style. Your teen may avoid social situations involving food. Reduced concentration, memory and cognitive ability often accompany disordered eating. Have your child’s grades dropped? Are they more forgetful?
4. Depression or suicidal thoughts. Anxiety may erupt around meal times, but depression and disordered thinking can occur at any time, and can be more tricky to detect. Has your child lost interest in their usual activities? Has their friend group changed, or they have withdrawn socially? Do they talk about suicide? Have there been other incidents of self harm, such as cutting?
5. Physical symptoms. Warning signs of anorexia include dramatic recent weight loss unrelated to an illness. Teen girls may miss their menstrual periods, have no energy, or complain about feeling cold all the time. Dry, lifeless hair, brittle nails, poor skin tone may also be noted as signs of nutritional deficiency. Purging after meals by vomiting may result in weakened tooth enamel and tooth decay, or gastric issues. Other symptoms include feeling light-headed or dizzy, weak and/or lethargic.
Getting your teen help for an eating disorder
If you notice any of these signs in your teen, share your concerns with your teen and start an open dialogue. You may want to explore family therapy as a way to facilitate these discussions.
It’s also important to share your concerns with your ex. If you are the non-custodial parent, or do not share legal custody, you may not do things like coordinate your child’s medical and mental care. You can still let your co-parent know that you are there to provide your child with as much help and support as possible. Taking the first steps towards confronting a child’s eating disorder can feel like a very lonely uphill battle for a parent. Let your co-parent know that you can be united front.
In the event you receive push back or a “there is nothing wrong here, butt out” attitude from your co-parent, you may be able to take your child to a doctor yourself (check your custody agreement for terms on medical care). If not, you can always share your concerns with another trusted adult in your child’s life, such as a teacher or the school guidance counselor. They will know the next steps to take to get your child help.
Want to ensure that you are able to make medical decisions for your child? Have questions about how to make divorce low conflict and child-centered? We can help. To schedule an initial attorney consultation, call us today at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below.