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Anorexia Nervosa in Children


Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. You weigh much less than your normal body weight should be. You lose weight by eating very little food, or by bingeing and purging. This means eating large amounts quickly and then vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain. You worry about weight gain, and you judge your weight and shape. The weight loss is not related to another medical condition.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • Your child says she or he wants to harm or kill herself or himself.
  • Your child has pain when she or he swallows, or severe chest or abdominal pain.
  • Your child's heart is beating fast or fluttering, or she or he feels dizzy or faint.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child's muscles are weak, and she or he has pain and stiffness.

Call your child's doctor if:

  • Your child has tingling in her or his hands or feet.
  • Your female child's monthly period is light or has stopped completely.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Take your child to therapy as directed:

Your child may feel like it will be hard to get better. She or he may have a lot of feelings about eating and reaching a healthy body weight. Treatment is meant to help your child develop a healthy relationship with food. Treatment may also be needed for health problems caused by anorexia. Even after your child leaves the hospital, it is important that she or he continues with therapy to help control anorexia:

  • Counseling is an important part of treatment. Your child may work with healthcare providers alone or in a group. Group counseling is a way for your child to talk with others who have anorexia. Counseling may center on helping your child replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Family sessions can help everyone in the family understand anorexia and what to do to help your child.
  • Nutrition therapy means you and your child will meet with a dietitian to plan healthy meals. Others in your family may also meet with the dietitian. Healthcare providers and dietitians will work with your child to make small changes over time.

How to care for your child:

  • Be patient. Recovery from anorexia is a process that takes time. Do not punish your child for not eating. Do not try to force your child to eat. Your child may have times when she or he goes back to not eating, or eating few calories. This is common. Work with healthcare providers to help your child get back on track with healthy eating and healthy exercise. Try not to be angry with your child for the episode. Encourage your child to talk about her or his feelings with you or someone else she or he trusts.
  • Help your child focus on a healthy self-esteem. Ask your child what she or he likes about herself or himself. It may also help to tell your child everything you like about her or him. Focus on other things than appearance. For example, your child may be a talented artist, or she or he may write well. Ask others not to comment on your child's weight or shape. Your healthcare provider can tell you healthy weight ranges for your child's age and height. It may take time before your child is comfortable knowing her or his weight or seeing weight as healthy. Help your child build a healthy self-esteem and to be patient as she or he changes her or his thinking.

For support and more information:

  • National Eating Disorders Association
    165 West 46th Street
    New York , NY 10036
    Phone: 1- 212 - 575-6200
    Phone: 1- 800 - 931-2237
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

Follow up with your child's doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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