I’ve discovered that people think they know a lot about eating disorders. Ask the average person to describe someone who has an eating disorder, and you’ll probably hear that it’s a young woman who is vainly obsessed with staying thin, so she either doesn’t eat at all, or she forces herself to vomit after every meal.

That description may be common, but it couldn’t be more inaccurate. Eating disorders have nothing to do with vanity and voluntary behavior — they’re mostly about battles that are being fought in the brain. And while they may be common among teenage girls, they can show up at any age in both women and men. There are more kinds of eating disorders than anorexia and bulimia. Nor can you tell whether someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them.

Parents often worry that a child who’s a picky eater may actually have an eating disorder. It’s possible, but some kids are just picky. Eating disorders are more complicated than a refusal to eat vegetables or rejecting anything that isn’t a PBJ. Among children, there are many symptoms of eating disorders, but among the most common are dramatic changes in weight; a preoccupation with weight, dieting, and food; comments about feeling “fat” even after losing weight or while at normal weight; signs of binge eating; skipping meals; and evidence of frequent vomiting.

If you’re concerned that your son or daughter may be struggling with an eating disorder, the first step is to stop guessing. Make an appointment with a professional counselor who has specialized experience with eating disorders. Counselors are trained to recognize the signs of eating disorders, and to ask questions that provide insight into a child’s situation. Kids think they’re good at fooling adults (and they are), but experienced professionals are able to cut through the deceit and get down to the truth. I’ve heard many creative explanations and well-crafted lies over the years.

Don’t try to treat an eating disorder on your own. First, you probably don’t have the knowledge and skills to tackle the challenges. But just as important, your son or daughter will behave differently with a professional counselor than they would with a parent. A key part of treatment is building trust with a child or teen. That’s what helps us find the underlying causes and identify the treatments that will be most effective.

Eating disorders are not some sort of childhood fad. They’re a serious and dangerous medical condition with long-lasting effects. Don’t wait or second-guess your concerns. Call Care to Change today, and we’ll help you and your child find the answers. Learn more at our free workshop on February 27th as well.

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