When kids are little, it's not at all unusual for their eating habits to be erratic. One day may find your toddler gobbling up everything you set in front of her, while the next day she turns her nose up at anything and everything you offer.
This picky eating is completely normal and all part of the regular cycle of childhood.
But when your older child has unusual eating patterns, how can you tell the difference between normal food issues and an eating disorder?
Health experts tell parents to trust their gut, when it comes to spotting eating disorders. In other words, all kids are different and if your child has always been picky about food, it's likely that he is just a picky eater. But if he goes from eating burgers and fries to frantic calorie counting, it may be worth taking a closer look.
Here are some signs and symptoms to look for if you're concerned that your child has an eating disorder:
1. Losing or not gaining weight. Kids' bodies are still growing and developing well into their teenage years, so it's normal for them to gain weight during these years as well. But some kids get fixated on the numbers and can't bear the thought of gaining, even if it means their bodies are just developing normally. No weight gain between annual checkups or a weight loss of even 5 to 10 pounds is enough to cause concern at this age.
2. Obsessive exercise. Exercise is healthy; too much exercise is not. How do you know where to draw the line? Kids who are on sports teams may already be pushing themselves to the limit to excel, but when they seem to go beyond the limit, exercising to the point of muscle failure or fatigue you may need to step in. Talk to your child's health care provider and/or sports coach if you think he might be pushing too hard and to find out what amount of exercise is normal and healthy for your child's age, development and body type.
3. Changes in eating habits. It's not unusual for your daughter to go from loving pizza one week, to hating it the next. But what is unusual is for her to swear off entire food groups, like carbs or dairy, because she is concerned about calories and fat. Health experts also suggest that parents be on the lookout for new and unusal mealtime behavior like cutting food into tiny pieces, endlessly chewing it, or drowning food in salt or pepper to make it "taste better."
4. Poor body image. Does your son constantly criticize his own body? Does your daughter obsessively stare at herself unhappily in the mirror? It's common for kids in their teen and tween years to worry about their looks, but when they worry becomes an obsession, it may be time to step in and help.