Does your child have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are often associated with young adults and the “western” community, but recent studies have shown that the prevalence of eating disorders in India is on the rise amongst children starting as young as 13 years old. Eating disorders (ED) are barely spoken of in our society, and as a result, have the tendency to be passed off as a “phase”. If you think your child could be suffering from ED, it’s important to identify the symptoms at the earliest, as it could lead to major health complications in the future. 

Did you know that eating disorders are psychiatric disorders where a person experiences significant disturbances or distress in their eating behaviour? The most common types of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Night Eating Syndrome (NES) and many more.  While many people who suffer from eating disorders also suffer from other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder; it’s important to note that eating disorders can develop completely independent of any mental health condition. 

So what causes eating disorders? A combination of biological predisposition and environmental factors such as family members may be contributing factors to eating disorders. Genetics is thought to be one of them: Patients with close family members suffering from eating disorders seem to be at higher risk for developing one themselves later on. Another possible contributor could be abnormal processing of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine (among others). Disruptions in how these neurotransmitters interact with each other can create changes in appetite regulation, reward processing as well as emotional behavior.

Bulimia nervosa

Characterized by cycles of bingeing and purging, bulimia nervosa is a largely mental illness with physical consequences. If you suspect your teen is suffering from bulimia, seek professional help to identify and treat it. A bulimic individual will purge after a meal in order to compensate for bad behavior. For example, if they ate too much at dinner, they might try to undo it by forcing themselves to vomit afterward or exercise more than usual.

Binge eating disorder

Children with binge eating disorder eat large amounts of food in a short period of time and experience feelings of guilt and disgust after they’ve finished. They may also engage in dangerous weight-control behaviors like self-induced vomiting or using laxatives. Binge eating can lead to extreme obesity, which carries many health risks, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Compulsive overeating

In compulsive overeating, some children simply can’t control their urge to eat large amounts of food in a short time, while others are only able to restrict what they eat. Although we often associate compulsive overeating with bingeing and bulimia, your child can also suffer from it if you notice them frequenting buffet counters or even the kitchen cabinets. Compulsive overeaters develop unusual habits around food which gradually become more and more extreme.

Anorexia nervosa

Signs include appearing very underweight (even though they may feel they are overweight), not wanting to eat at all, vomiting, and obsessing over their weight. Anorexia usually develops in girls ages 13-15 but it can happen at any age. Girls who suffer from anorexia often refuse to eat, even when given large portions of food. They may take appetite suppressants and use laxatives to lose weight.


Eating disorders, especially in children and teenagers, are a cause for concern. Talk to a doctor if you’re concerned that your child has an unhealthy relationship with food or their body. It is important to deal with these issues as early as possible so that they don’t develop into bigger problems in adulthood. Having one of these disorders is no cause for shame; it is actually good to seek help at an early age.