"What Does An Eating Disorder Look Like?"


"I'm so fat." "I need to lose five pounds." "I'll never be thin." "I can't believe my nine year-old thinks she's fat." "I feel huge." "This is the last thing I'm eating today." "My son is constantly exercising." Which one of these people has or knows someone with an eating disorder? It's hard to tell. Despite lingering misconceptions, eating disorders affect all kinds of people – children, women, mothers and fathers, boys, men and even the elderly – people who often look and sound just like everyone else. People of every age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, shape, size and socio-economic class can suffer from eating disorders, but due to preconceived notions about who is susceptible, a significant number of eating disorder cases – as many as 90 percent – go undiagnosed and untreated. As a result, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt is on a mission to educate the public about the real faces of eating disorders and the growing number of cases being identified in specific populations, particularly among young children. Consistent with national trends, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt has witnessed an increase in its youngest patients and since 2008, has seen the number of children under the age of 15 presenting for treatment triple. The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt is one of the only treatment centers in the country that treats children as young as eight.

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt has responded to this community need by expanding and further specializing their programming for children and young teens – both girls and boys. The Center opened a separate, fully-renovated unit with expanded services for children 8-15 years old including increased support for their parents and caregivers.  This comes in addition to updates to The Center's general eating disorders unit that will now cater exclusively to the needs of older adolescents and adults throughout every stage of life. The Center is also inviting people to visit WhatDoesAnEatingDisorderLookLike.com and to engage in an interactive exercise to help illustrate the significant impact an eating disorder can have on a person's life and daily functioning.

"The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt believes it's important to acknowledge how widespread eating disorders have become among diverse demographics and across the lifespan," said Dr. Harry Brandt, director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. "Eating disorders often go undetected, especially in young children, males and middle-aged adults, because people assume these demographics are not at risk. Most people also believe you can tell by looking at someone's body whether or not they have an eating disorder. In reality, people with eating disorders can be underweight, overweight or of average weight and still be very ill."  Associate Director, Dr. Steven Crawford adds, "To complicate matters, these illnesses often present initially as seemingly harmless or common behaviors - a sudden interest in physical fitness or "healthy" eating, dieting and concerns about weight, picky or selective eating patterns - but in susceptible individuals mild behaviors like these can escalate into clinically significant eating disorders with dangerous medical consequences. Eating disorders can never be identified just by looking at someone and no one is too old or young to suffer from one. Through the campaign and online interactive tool, we want to help shift society's preconceived notions regarding eating disorders and educate the public on the early warning signs so more individuals and families can be helped." 

Eating Disorder Symptoms in Children and Teens:

>>Weight gain not consistent with the child's existing growth curve

>>Weight loss or weight plateau during times of expected growth

>>Increase in "picky eating"

>>Erratic or inconsistent eating; periods of restriction followed by overindulgence

>>Attempts to avoid or completely cut out entire food groups

>>Food rules or rituals i.e. cutting foods into small pieces or not letting foods touch

>>Hiding or hoarding food

>>Elevated worry or preoccupation with food/meals

>>Fear of becoming fat

>>Increased interest in calorie counting or keeping food diaries

>>Frequently weighing oneself

>>Misses family meals and reports he/she has already eaten

>>Difficulty eating in front of others

>>Becomes more isolated, missing out on activities with friends or family to avoid food/eating

For more eating disorder warning signs and to take the online assessment, go to WhatDoesAnEatingDisorderLookLike.com.