As an adolescent medicine physician at UC Davis Children's Hospital, Dr. Laura Kester Prakash diagnoses and treats children and adolescents with eating disorders. She assesses their physical, psychological and nutritional state to provide them with the resources and support needed to ensure a successful recovery.
Dr. Kester Prakash uses a patient-centered, developmentally based approach in her treatment of eating disorders. She identifies risk factors that make patients more susceptible to eating disorders, as well as characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes to empower patients in their recovery.
We asked Dr. Kester Prakash for her advice for families who suspect that their teen has an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening conditions that, if not properly treated, can result in significant short- and long-term complications. They cross over the genetic, physical, mental and psychosocial realms of health.
Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Eating disorders can often be hard for parents to recognize because many teens can have unusual eating patterns. Parents should look for abnormal eating habits, including:
Learn more about eating disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health
The diagnosis of an eating disorder is based on identifying an energy imbalance. When the energy needed for a person's developmental stage and physical activity exceeds the amount consumed, the person experiences energy deficiency.
However, eating disorders can involve more than nutrition. They can also include excessive exercising and inappropriate usage of medications that can influence a person's metabolism. Over time, if these eating disorders persist, they can result in substantial harm to the physical, physiological and social health and functioning of a young person.
Eating disorders exist on a spectrum. This means that a person with one type of eating disorder behavior can evolve or change to other types of eating disorder behaviors over time. Signs and symptoms of an eating disorder include:
Historically, it has been thought that approximately 10 percent of the general population suffers from some type of eating disorder over their lifetime. However, alongside the pandemic, hospitals across the country have seen a substantial uptick in the number of patients presenting with eating disorders.
Teens hospitalized with eating disorders rose during pandemic
In addition, we have seen patients with eating disorder behaviors who have been as young as 12. Unfortunately, only a small number of patients with eating disorders will ever be identified or seek treatment. Untreated children and adolescents with eating disorders can become adults with chronic and disabling eating-related medical problems that can be life-threatening.
Risk factors for eating disorders can exist within an individual or an individual's family. These include:
Cambridge University press – Atypical early-onset eating disorders
Having supportive and close relationships can help prevent eating disorders. However, having overprotective relationships, neglect, family conflict or significant discussions around weight or shape can also be risk factors.
If you are concerned that your child has an eating disorder, talk with them in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Avoid specific questions that introduce ideas or ways to have an eating disorder. Questions that you can ask include:
Eating disorders are best addressed, diagnosed and treated by medical professionals with experience in these conditions. If you have a concern or suspicion that your child has an eating disorder, bring your child to their primary care provider to be evaluated. Specialist doctors can also provide additional evaluation and medical treatment and support.