Eating Disorders | Diagnosis & Treatments

How are eating disorders diagnosed?

Parents, teachers, coaches, or instructors may identify signs of a possible eating disorder, but the diagnosis is usually made by experienced clinicians. Early treatment can often prevent future problems. Therefore, if you notice symptoms of an eating disorder in your child, it’s a good idea to seek evaluation and treatment.

To diagnose an eating disorder, your child’s doctor will assess changes in your child’s weight. They will also ask your child about:

  • their eating habits
  • their feelings about their body shape and size
  • their use of laxatives or diet pills to lose weight
  • their exercise habits

They will also ask your child if they have had any symptoms such as:

Your child’s doctor will likely also conduct the following studies:

  • a social history, a review of risk factors at home, school, and outside activities
  • a family history to assess conditions such as eating disorders, obesity, alcoholism, depression, or other mental illness in the family
  • a physical exam, including pulse, temperature, weight and height, skin and hair changes, heart function, and abdomen

How are eating disorders treated?

Complete recovery from an eating disorder is possible. The goal of eating disorder treatment is to treat any immediate medical concerns, work on eliminating disordered behaviors, and treat co-occurring issues like depression and anxiety.

Over time, treatment can help your child replace distorted thinking patterns and develop a positive sense of self so they can return to their appropriate phase of adolescent development.

Eating disorders are usually treated with a combination of therapies:

  • individual therapy (usually including both cognitive and behavioral techniques)
  • family therapy
  • medical care and monitoring
  • nutritional counseling
  • behavior modification
  • medications

While medication, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, may be helpful, family members play a vital role in supporting your child’s recovery.

Many patients with eating disorders receive treatment while living at home. However, if your child’s heart rate, breathing, or pulse become irregular, or if they show other signs of serious medical illness, they may be admitted to the hospital. In the hospital, clinicians will work to stabilize their health and may place them on a special meal plan with customized weight-gain goals. They will continue to meet with therapists in the hospital if their physical health is stable.