Eating disorders are difficult to diagnose and have the highest death rate of all mental disorders.

According to Eating Disorder Hope, eating disorders do not discriminate. These disorders are complex mental afflictions that can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or race.

While this is true, globally there is a high prevalence of eating disorders among young children and teenagers.

We approached clinical psychologist Janet Earl to help us answer common questions about the topic.

1. As a parent, what signs should I be looking out for in my child/teenager?

It is very important for parents to be aware of potential warning signs of an underlying eating disorder because the earlier one intervenes and gets treatment, the better the prognosis. Warning signs include (but are not limited to):

  • Strict dieting, and eating becoming increasingly more restrictive
  • Often refusing to eat certain foods or food groups
  • Excessive amounts of food disappearing (potential bingeing)
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom after meals/eating
  • Social withdrawal (one of the earliest and key warning signs)
  • Avoidance of eating meals with family or friends and of situations where food is present
  • Increased preoccupation with food
  • Exercising excessively and compulsively
  • Mood changes, such as increased irritability
  • Frequent and compulsive weighing, as well as increased preoccupation with weight and body shape
  • Amenorrhoea (loss of menstruation) or menstrual irregularity
  • Increased tiredness

2. I heard that eating disorders are not restricted to anorexia or losing weight. What is your comment on binge eating? How prevalent is it?

The three main types of eating disorders identified in the DSM 5 (diagnostic manual) are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Of the three, binge eating disorder is the most common. It affects a broader range of people than anorexia and bulimia. It is quite common especially among those who are obese and in chronic dieters. The gender distribution is also more even with about a third of cases being male.

The age range is also broader, stretching from teens to middle age. While binge eating disorder is a full-blown eating disorder (i.e. it can be diagnosed), one also sees disordered eating or emotional eating. Binge eating is a common feature of emotional eating.

– Janet Earl

Read more: 6 Things a Psychologist Wants You to Know About Eating Disorders

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