Triggers for disordered eating in kids
If the term eating disorder brings to mind images of extremely thin, privileged, and university-age white women, think again. Eating disorders no longer discriminate in terms of economics, ethnicity, gender, or race.
“I have treated serious eating disorders in boys, kids from low-income families, children who are recent immigrants or who are first-generation. Eating disorders also affect kids of any size, including those with a high or normal BMI,” says Dr Nancy Dodson, adolescent medicine physician.
Young people may be prone to eating disorders because they think in black and white.
“Kids don’t have an ability to take a nuanced approach to healthy eating, so when a doctor or family member sends them the message that their weight or eating is a problem, they tend to be extreme in making changes,” explains Dr Tracy Richmond, director of the Eating Disorder Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, and professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “Some kids start cutting back dramatically on kilojoules, cutting out entire foods groups or start skipping meals, which are very disordered eating behaviours.”
Eating disorder versus disordered eating
It’s important to highlight the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating.
For those with an eating disorder, ranging from anorexia to binge eating disorder, they tend to obsess over food (think kilojoules, food avoidance). This obsession can interfere with the ability to function in daily life, affecting focus, sleep, and other things. Overall, these eating behaviours can threaten their well-being and mental health.
Unlike anorexia or bulimia, disordered eating is not a diagnosis, rather, it’s a “descriptive phrase” used to emphasise irregular eating behaviours that could potentially lead to an eating disorder diagnosis, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Common signs and symptoms of disordered eating include frequent dieting, feelings of guilt and shame associated with food, and a preoccupation with food, weight, and body image.
The key difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is the degree. Those who exhibit disordered eating habits engage in similar behaviours as those with an eating disorder, but it’s done with less frequency and less severity. Nonetheless, it’s still important to monitor these behaviours as they could potentially evolve into an eating disorder if continued over time.