Anorexia: What to Look For

Behavioral signs that a child might be anorexic include rejection of a healthy amount of food, dramatic dieting, compulsive exercise, and a gross overvaluing of shape and weight as components of her identity. Visible signs that she is starving herself include extreme weight loss, abnormal thinness, brittle nails, hair loss, constipation, irregular menstruation, and swelling. Still, in growing children and adolescents what constitutes a normal weight is very difficult to ascertain; a failure to keep up with normal growth and weight gain that might be perceived as being a “late bloomer” could be a sign of anorexia. But experts agree that the defining characteristic of anorexia is body image distortion—what the child sees in the mirror as unacceptably fat is, to anyone else, disturbingly thin.