What Signs to Look Out For?

Anorexic boys and girls display similar physical and psychological changes as their illness starts to take hold, although boys are more likely to be concerned with their athleticism, whilst girls are much more concerned with their basic body image.

One of the key difficulties in diagnosing anorexia in boys is that lots of boys go through extremely skinny phases whilst maintaining a healthy appetite. If you suspect that your son is suffering from an eating disorder, it is an invaluable exercise to note down any changes to his behaviour however small they might seem at the time. As the weeks go past you may well forget that he didn’t used to have some of these funny habits. The second key difficulty is that many of the changes in behaviour could easily be caused by the onset of puberty. However as the list starts to grow you will soon sense that something else is having a profound effect on your son.

These are some of the things to look out for:

  1. Has your son lost weight or failed to gain weight for some time?
  2. Is your son exercising more than he used to?
  3. Have you noticed that he is eating less?
  4. Can you find out if he is eating less at school?
  5. Have you noticed your son excluding certain types of food?
  6. Is your son playing with his food, or cutting it up into tiny pieces?
  7. Has your son developed any other rituals around eating?
  8. Does your son comment on other peoples’ shapes and sizes?
  9. Does your son encourage those around him to eat, whilst eating very little himself?
  10. Has your son suddenly become more attentive to his personal hygiene?
  11. Has your son suddenly become much more neat and tidy?
  12. Has your son become more concerned about his schoolwork and/or his position in class?
  13. Has your son started wearing bigger and baggier clothes, or asking for you to buy them?
  14. Have you noticed your son doing repetitive exercises at home?
  15. Has your son developed any other repetitive habits?
  16. Has your son changed his social circle?
  17. Has your son withdrawn from the family?
  18. Has your son developed a temper, or is he displaying dramatic mood swings?
  19. Does he often seem sad and tearful?
  20. Have any aspects of his behaviour become irrational?
  21. Has he developed any superstitions?
  22. Have you noticed any change in his bathroom habits?
  23. Have you noticed any change in his sleep patterns?
  24. Does he get angry if you confront him about his weight and/or eating or exercise habits?
  25. Does your son look pale, and does he complain of constantly being cold or tired?
  26. Is his skin unusually dry?
  27. Has he grown any fine downy hair (not like the increase in normal body hair during puberty)?
  28. Has anyone else in your family, at school, or in your social circle commented on a change in his appearance and/or behaviour?

The above list gives you an idea of the sorts of things to look out for. Different boys will show different changes in appearance and behaviour. Many of the above, when taken on their own could be explained away as normal for a child going through puberty. The key is to look at all the changes together. Within two months of my becoming concerned about Joe’s health, I could have answered yes to most of the questions listed above.

If you are concerned about your son’s weight and/or diet it is worth looking out for some of these other changes in behaviour and:

Write them down

If you decide to seek professional help you are much more likely to be listened to if you can give a detailed account of how your son’s behaviour has changed.