Donna was just eight when she was diagnosed with an eating disorder. And she's just one of countless young girls suffering daily.
According to this new study, parents are urged to start checking for red flags as early as age nine. By the time kids are 12, it may be too late to avoid serious, long-term health consequences.
Many think of eating disorders as being exclusive to teenage girls, but people of all ages and genders can be affected. A new study by Dr. Elizabeth Evans at Newcastle University is urging parents to look for signs in their kids long before they are teens.
Her research shows that kids as young as six worry about their weight. By the time kids are nine, they often begin to show subtle symptoms that hint at a future eating disorder.
Donna was just eight years old when she was diagnosed with anorexia. Through a combination of therapy and calculated meal plans, she's now recovering. While it's shocking to see someone so young struggle with an eating disorder, it's not as uncommon as you might think.
According to Evans, there are five red flags of eating disorders that all parents should be aware of.
She said, "Individually, these thoughts and behaviors may come and go very quickly, but when several crop up at the same time and don't go away, parents shouldn't hesitate to discuss their concerns with a doctor."
1. Attitude toward food.
Donna's mom first knew something was off with her daughter when she refused to eat ice cream on an afternoon outing. However, refusal to eat fatty foods isn't the only warning sign. If you notice your child adding strange rituals to their eating habits, such as cutting or mashing food into tiny bites, using an excess of condiments, or avoiding their school lunches, it may be time to talk to a doctor.
2. Concern with gaining weight.
All kids should be gaining weight regularly. After all, they're growing! Those who are upset by the numbers on the scale or engaging in excessive exercise should be screened for anorexia and/or bulimia.
3. Talk of going on a diet.
Provided that their families supply well-balanced, nutritious meals, the word "diet" shouldn't even be in a kid's vocabulary. While you can certainly encourage your kids to eat well, the goal should be health, not losing weight.
4. Dissatisfaction or shame about appearance.
Sadly, signs of body dysmorphic disorder can present as early as age six. Considering the way that women (and men) are presented in the media, not to mention the negative comments often made by parents about their own bodies, it's not a surprise that young kids feel pressured to look a certain way. Kids who show body dissatisfaction at a young age have a heightened risk for developing eating disorders as teens or adults.
5. Anxiety and stress with no apparent causes.
If your kid is anxious, stressed, and crying "without reason," something is going on. Some of the first things to check for are issues at school, bullying, and possible sexual abuse. If none of that checks out, their anxiety could be related to an eating disorder. Either way, it's a good idea to seek help from a medical professional or counselor.