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Diagnosis of an Eating Disorder

“We just knew something was wrong.”

Often, a mother or father is the first to suspect that their child has an eating disorder. At times, the first suspicion of an eating disorder comes from a physician, teacher, coach, or friend. It is important to take all suspicions seriously, and to go for an immediate evaluation by a qualified professional.

Eating disorders are serious mental disorders and need to be treated immediately upon diagnosis. The longer a person waits for treatment, the more entrenched the eating disorder can get, and the more elusive recovery can be. If an eating disorder is suspected, it is critical to seek evidence-based treatment as soon as possible.

Eating disorders are biologically based brain disorders with a genetic component. It is important for parents to know that eating disorders are not a choice, they are an illness.

The good news is that eating disorders are treatable illnesses, and parents can play a key role in helping their child attain full recovery.

Recognizing Symptoms

Eating disorders are very cunning and they like to live in secrecy; therefore, it sometimes takes parents a while to recognize the symptoms or to understand what they are seeing. Click here for warning signs of an eating disorder.

Unfortunately, there are no blood tests or simple diagnostic tools to identify an eating disorder. Further complicating the matter, the symptoms and signs of an eating disorder are rarely clear-cut at early stages, and differ between children and adults, men, and women, and each person’s course of illness will be unique.

Feed Your Instinct is an online interactive tool that can be used by parents of children and young adults to create a document to take to a health care provider.  It was developed by the Center of Excellence in Eating Disorders (CEED) in Australia, but can be used worldwide.

For more diagnostic information on eating disorders, these are 2 helpful resources: 

Also, this is a terrific guide for families:

“Down the Rabbit Hole,” A Family Guide to coming to terms with an Eating Disorder Diagnosis

If you have concerns, follow your instincts and get the advice of an eating disorders specialist – not a general practitioner (who may not have recent training in eating disorders). Eating disorder specialists should be recently trained and engaged in ongoing education in the field.

Most specialists are active members of:

*IAEDP also offers certification for clinicians:

  • Certified Eating Disorders Specialist (CEDS)
  • Registered Dietitian (CEDRD)
  • Registered Nurse (CEDRN)
  • Creative Arts Therapist (CAT)