Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are eating behaviors that negatively impact health, emotions, and the ability to function in important areas of life. Anyone can have an eating disorder, no matter their age, sex or gender, race or ethnicity, or body shape or size.

Types of eating disorders

There are many types of eating disorders. The most common types include:

Eating disorders are serious mental health problems and can lead to behaviors with major health consequences. Persons with eating disorders can experience negative effects on nearly every organ system in the body, but with early diagnosis and proper treatment, full recovery is possible.

What are early signs of eating disorders?

Eating disorder behaviors can vary from person to person. Common warning signs include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • restricting food intake (type or amount)
  • worries or rules around food and eating
  • excessive exercise
  • consuming food secretly
  • going to the bathroom immediately after meals

What causes eating disorders?

The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. A number of factors may increase a person’s vulnerability for developing an eating disorder. These include:

  • genetics and biology
  • personality traits
  • stressful life events
  • life transitions
  • culture and media
  • high-risk sports
  • pre-existing psychiatric disorders

Is it possible to prevent eating disorders?

Researchers have found that many factors can help prevent the development of eating problems in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Parents can play a positive role in reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors. Emphasizing health rather than weight is key. For instance, encouraging your child to eat fruit and vegetables and exercise regularly as a way to lose weight or change the body can be harmful. However, encouraging these behaviors as a way to be healthy can be very beneficial.

Eating disorder recovery

We expect all of our patients to recover fully from an eating disorder. Early treatment with an experienced team is very important. Treatment may involve medical monitoring along with psychological and nutritional support.

Medical treatment is important to ensure your child’s physical health. It is also important to address the psychological, biological, emotional, and cultural factors that contribute to or maintain the eating disorder.

How we care for eating disorders patients at Boston Children’s Hospital

Boston Children's Hospital’s Eating Disorders Program takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating patients with eating disorders. We are committed to helping our patients and their families at every step of the treatment process, and we provide recommendations with their specific needs and circumstances in mind.

We provide both inpatient medical and outpatient care. If your child is an outpatient, they will be seen by a physician or nurse practitioner from our Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine as well as a dietitian. Your child may also see a psychologist or social worker.

If your child’s vital signs become unstable, they will be admitted to the hospital and treated with guidance from our inpatient clinical pathway. They will meet with medical doctors, behavioral medicine clinicians, and dietitians while participating in a special meal plan with customized goals for gaining weight.