True or false: You must be underweight to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
False. This is perhaps the most widespread misconception about eating disorders and may be one of the reasons many disordered eating conditions go undiagnosed, according to Dr. Holly Agostino, a specialist in Adolescent Medicine at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
“Children or teens who are overweight or who register at a normal weight are not immune from eating disorders,” she says. In fact, children who are overweight can have a very poor body image and can start dieting, restricting their food allowance and exercising excessively in an effort to drastically lose weight.
“In the past, diagnosing an eating disorder tended to be more focused on a patient’s weight alone,” says Dr. Agostino. “Today, any child or teen who is heavily focused on his or her eating and weight, is extremely concerned and fearful of gaining more weight, and has a poor body image is considered to be suffering from an eating disorder of some kind.”
Early detection of key signs of an eating disorder is therefore extremely important, and requires the support and attention of all family members.
Delayed diagnosis of an eating disorder can be extremely dangerous, as individuals can suffer from very serious health problems as a result of their eating habits. “Patients who don’t seek treatment for an eating disorder can suffer from heart arrhythmias, a tear in their esophagus, reflux, erosion of teeth, weak bones and hair loss, and can have severe heart and blood pressure problems as their bodies slow down due to malnutrition and starvation,” says Dr. Agostino.