Book an appointment.

What to do if you suspect your child has an eating disorder


What to do if you suspect your child has an eating disorder

Parents are often the first to notice when something’s off about a child’s eating.  Maybe your 10-year-old has suddenly lost interest in a food the child has eaten for years or your teenager has stopped rushing home for an afternoon snack.

Often, these changes are completely normal, but what steps should you take if you think the issue is something more serious such as an eating disorder?

“Eating disorders can be difficult to diagnose,” says Dr. Sean Nguyen, a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health. “Sometimes, it takes detective work.”

What is an eating disorder?

Disordered eating is an umbrella term that incorporates everything from specific diagnoses, such as anorexia and bulimia, to other habits that affect how someone relates to food, such as restricting food intake or binging when they’re stressed.

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders and races. Research shows that young females are most susceptible, but males account for one in three people who will experience an eating disorder.

“Cases may not present until there are consequences, such as dehydration, kidney problems and even arrhythmias in some cases,” says Dr. Nguyen. “In some cases, disordered eating can persist for years.”

Enjoying this story? It’s free to republish. Learn more.

How to tell if something is wrong

The best approach if something feels off, Dr. Nguyen says, is to ask your doctor about any concerns.

Mentioning disordered eating can help your doctor consider symptoms in a new light, and it can lead to testing that could uncover underlying issues, such as a thyroid or metabolic issue resulting in weight changes.

Doctors may ask questions about what a patient regularly eats to determine whether the patient is limiting their diet in some way. They may ask questions about things that could be contributing to a patient’s mental health to see if there have been outside pressures influencing the behavior.

But that’s the tricky thing about this topic: The changes could be nothing to worry about, depending on the patient.

“Sometimes parents can say, ‘My kid’s lost 10 pounds, what’s up with that?’ and it could be completely normal,” Dr. Nguyen says. “But having the concern and engaging with somebody like your doctor can give you an unbiased opinion.”

After a diagnosis

If your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, it can be treated.

The first line of defense is typically behavior modification. Doctors will try to figure out the root cause or trigger. Therapy and diet planning often help, and medication can be effective for some patients.

“It’s all about the context,” Dr. Nguyen says.

If you suspect your child is exhibiting disordered eating symptoms, such as fear of stomach aches, worry about body image, aversion to tastes or textures or excessive bowel movements or constipation, please reach out to your pediatrician or other qualified care provider.

Dr. Sean Nguyen is a family medicine physician practicing at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach.  A native of Myrtle Beach, Dr. Nguyen speaks English and Vietnamese.

Learn More
Sign me up for email updates

Sign up below to receive email updates from

Live Better. Learn More.

Sign up for our e-newsletter.