Knowing The Signs Is The First Step In Diagnosing This Hidden Disorder In Kids

Decades ago, mental health issues – especially in children – were under-researched, misunderstood, or misdiagnosed.

Now, however, it is universally recognized that physical and mental health go hand-in-hand for adults and children alike.

But one mental health disorder is still falling through the cracks when it comes to diagnosing children.

Eating disorders are some of the most serious of all mental health issues, even though they can be completely curable.

This is especially significant when a child has an eating disorder, as many parents and even physicians may attribute warning signs to something else they may label as “normal” in a child or teen.

One of these, Binge Eating Disorder, is increasingly developing in children.  It is now the most common eating disorder in America — and can be deadly.

Binge Eating Disorder involves repeated instances of eating large quantities of food past the point of being full, while feeling a loss of control, shame, or guilt during and after the episode.

Often, children develop BED as a response to a parent who struggles with self-esteem or past weight issues and overly monitors or regulates their child’s food intake and physical activity to avoid the same thing happening to them.

But in doing so, the opposite effect is achieved.   The child can become rebellious and secretive about food in order to counter overbearing control in that area by the parent.

Because of the secretive nature of eating disorders, and the hiding and sneaking of food that is involved, children can become withdrawn, depressed, isolated, and even suicidal.

Alternatively, of children between the ages of 13 and 18 who are given a diagnosis of BED, the majority of them were found to have an underlying mental health issue such as clinical depression.

It’s a vicious cycle, and one that is hard – even for doctors – to discover.  

Many times, a larger than average weight gain or moodiness noticed at routine checkups will be attributed to being a “normal” part of puberty.

Some parents will find empty food wrappers or notice that they are purchasing far more groceries, but even this is often brushed off as a “phase.”

And teens with BED, especially if they work and have a source of income, have little trouble hiding the disorder from their parents.

Binge Eating Disorder, like other eating disorders, also increases a teen’s risk of other addictive behaviors and substance abuse – and many people who abuse drugs or alcohol have been found to also have an eating disorder.  

And in both teens and adults, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.

While that may seem hard to believe, eating disorders can be easily hidden.  Coupled with the fact that there is usually another mental health issue present makes diagnosis and treatment difficult.  

The suicide rate with an eating disorder is higher than that associated with other mental illness, so diagnosing and treating teens and adolescents becomes all the more crucial.

Catching a teen eating disorder early is key, and parents can help by watching for warning signs.  

In the case of Binge Eating Disorder, that may mean the signs mentioned above – empty, hidden food wrappers, food disappearing, and lack of interest in regular meals.

In addition, like other eating disorders and all mental health issues, changes in behavior, loss of interest in activities your child usually loves, weight gain (with BED) or loss – or anything that seems off – warrants a discussion with your child and a visit to a health professional.

Family therapy is recommended, especially if the root lies in a parent who struggled with an eating disorder themselves and recognizes that they may have influenced their child’s behaviors about food.

Parents know their children better than anyone else.  

We know when something is wrong, and while it may be the last thing on our minds, knowing how to recognize the signs of Binge Eating and other eating disorders could save their life.

Do you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder?  Do you have any tips for recognizing the warning signs?  Leave us your comments.

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