At What Ages Do Eating Disorders Begin?

Discovering that you or someone you may know has developed an eating disorder is difficult for anyone. While many may be aware of certain eating disorders, they know little about the intricacies of such conditions besides “someone eats too much or too little.” So many more factors are at play in an eating disorder, and it’s beneficial for parents, young adults, and  even children to understand them as much as possible.

While eating disorders are more common in young adults and adolescents, there’s the belief that these are the only ages affected. As eating disorders are becoming more prevalent in younger children, we all need to understand the signs to look out for in a child or adolescent that indicate there may be an underlying issue developing.

How Early Can an Eating Disorder Start?

So how early should you be aware of behavior that may indicate an eating disorder? Most parents believe that they don’t have to worry until puberty or around high school, but more recently, eating disorders have been diagnosed in children as young as eight.

Researchers are now telling parents to be aware of children with inadequate nutritional habits around elementary school, as it could be a sign that they need a mental health professional. It’s also common for restrictive eating behaviors to start surfacing before your child hits puberty, so be aware of a young child’s behaviors to keep on top of any mental illnesses.

What Leads to an Eating Disorder?

While the exact reason individuals develop eating disorders are still being researched, plenty of risk factors can lead to an eating disorder, many of which can affect children at young ages. Eating disorders can be genetically connected, as children with a family history of eating disorders are almost 11 times more likely to develop one themselves. Children who suffer from other mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are also more likely to suffer from one of the common eating disorders.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Eating disorder signs range from personality traits to visible physical issues. Certain personality types—such as being eager to please others, difficulty adapting to changes and self-doubting, and sensitivity to criticism—leave individuals more at risk. Early detection of these signs is the best way to prevent an eating disorder, so be mindful of any of these issues when speaking or observing your child or another family member.

  • Avoidance of new tastes and textures
  • Excessive bowel movements
  • Heightened worry about body image
  • Extreme weight loss or fluctuations
  • Lack of growth
  • Delay in puberty
  • Mood swings
  • Hoarding or hiding food

How Puberty Can Influence an Eating Disorder

As a child begins to experience puberty’s hormonal effects, a wide range of events can trigger disordered behaviors. As their body develops and they transition to middle or high school environments, children may wake up each day with a different interpretation of their body image. Under the wrong circumstances, the seeds of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa can be planted as your child begins dieting or binge eating to change their body weight and shape.

Dieting can affect children in puberty, leading to an increased risk of behaviors like purging or binge eating episodes. Factors such as societal standards, media influence, genetics, and traumatic events can all lead children down the wrong path. It’s important to work on appropriate coping skills and have open communication about your child’s feelings to understand how they’re influenced.

Treat Eating Disorders in Adolescents With Toledo Center

Eating disorders are much more common than many may believe, and unfortunately, many people aren’t getting the treatment they deserve. Toledo Center expert and diverse professionals can help adolescents aged 10-17 by providing programs like residential treatment for eating disorders. If you or someone you love is searching for a binging or purging treatment center in Ohio, connect with Toledo Center for Eating Disorders today at 419-885-8800 or complete our contact form.

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