Can Boys Have Eating Disorders? Warning Signs


Fifteen-year-old Eric, for example, is obsessed with having zero percent body fat. He is very, very afraid of what food will do to his body. Eric’s need for control over his food is so severe that he’s involved his entire family in his mealtime issues, throwing a tantrum if a meal isn’t cooked to his specifications. Then there’s Troy, 22, a health teacher – no kidding – who obsesses over calories and is constantly cold from his lack of body fat. 

“Everything has to be prepared exactly the way he wants it,” Eric’s mom Becky says. “He eats egg whites, and I have to crack the egg and kind of toggle the yolk back and forth and get all the egg white out, but if that egg yolk breaks a little bit, and he sees a little bit of yellow in there, I have to throw it away. So, we end up throwing away a lot of things if I do it wrong. It’s a lot of pressure when you’re the cook, that’s for sure. It’s not fun.”

Though I don’t think that Eric’s parents set out to be encourage his obsession, they’ve clearly entered enabling territory. Not only does Eric’s mom have to use different utensils to cook Eric’s food – nothing, nothing he doesn’t eat is allowed to touch his food – but he also has his own drawers and shelves in the fridge. And you thought your kid was picky.Dr. Phil says that as many as one million young men suffer from eating disorders, but often don’t get the help they need. If you think you or someone you love may be at risk, here are the warning signs.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are what Dr. Phil calls a “silent epidemic.” In the beginning, girls “ and boys too ” may choose to restrict their diets or to purge for one reason, but they end up continuing to do so because it becomes an addiction. Early intervention is crucial because once an eating disorder gets a grip on someone, it’s far more difficult to treat.

There are warning signs that you do need to be looking for. “First off, you never see them eat. You’ll see them push their food around the plate, but you’ll see every kind of avoidance technique you can imagine because they regard food as poison,” Dr. Phil explains. “If they’re acting around food as though it’s toxic or poisonous, that should be a clue for you." Also, has your child been dressing in baggy clothes? "You’re going to see really bulky sweaters and baggy pants to hide the weight loss and disguise the body,” Dr. Phil says. “Look for extreme behaviors. Look for deception. Look for hiding.”

Additional warning signs:

  • A significant change in apparent appetite


  • Excessive weight loss and an intense fear of weight gain
  • An unnatural preoccupation with food and calories


  • An obsession with clothing size, scales and mirrors
  • Routine secrecy, such as leaving the table immediately after eating to go behind closed doors


  • Avoidance of family meals or events at which food is present
  • Wearing bulky clothes to hide weight loss


  • Excessive exercise
  • Social withdrawal and moodiness


  • Binging: eating an amount of food larger than most people would eat
  • Self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications, or fasting for days following a binge 


  • Hoarding food for later binges and eating in secret
  • Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

    Eating disorders can cause serious health problems for children and teens. Here is what to watch for.

    WebMD Feature

    Eating disorders in children and teens cause serious changes in eating
    habits that can lead to major, even life threatening health problems. The three
    main types of eating disorders are:

    • Anorexia, a condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate
      calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat
    • Bulimia, a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and
      then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain
    • Binge eating, a condition in which a child may gorge rapidly on
      food, but without purging

    In children and teens, eating disorders can overlap. For example, some
    children alternate between periods of anorexia and bulimia.

    Eating disorders typically develop during adolescence or early adulthood.
    However, they can start in childhood, too. Females are much more vulnerable.
    Only an estimated 5% to 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. With
    binge eating, the number rises to 35% male.

    What causes eating disorders?

    Doctors aren’t certain what cause eating disorders. They suspect a
    combination of biological, behavioral, and social factors. For instance, young
    people may be influenced by cultural images that favor bodies too underweight
    to be healthy. Also, many children and teens with eating disorders struggle
    with one or more of the following problems:

    • distress
    • fear of becoming overweight
    • feelings of helplessness
    • low self-esteem

    To cope with these issues, children and teens may adopt harmful eating
    habits. In fact, eating disorders often go hand-in-hand with other psychiatric
    problems such as the following:

    • anxiety disorders
    • depression
    • substance abuse

    The dangers of eating disorders

    Eating disorders in children and teens can lead to a host of serious
    physical problems and even death. If you spot any of the signs of the eating
    disorders listed below, call your child’s doctor right away. Eating disorders
    are not overcome through sheer willpower. Your child will need treatment to
    help restore normal weight and eating habits. Treatment also addresses
    underlying psychological issues. Remember that the best results occur when
    eating disorders are treated at the earliest stages.

    Anorexia in children and teens

    Children and teens with anorexia have a distorted body image. People with
    anorexia view themselves as heavy, even when they are dangerously skinny. They
    are obsessed with being thin and refuse to maintain even a minimally normal

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one out of
    every 25 girls and women will have anorexia in their lifetime. Most will deny
    that they have an eating disorder.

    Symptoms of anorexia include:

    • anxiety, depression, perfectionism, or being highly self-critical
    • dieting even when one is thin or emaciated
    • excessive or compulsive exercising
    • intense fear of becoming fat, even though one is underweight
    • menstruation that becomes infrequent or stops
    • rapid weight loss, which the person may try to conceal with loose
    • strange eating habits, such as avoiding meals, eating in secret, monitoring
      every bite of food, or eating only certain foods in small amounts
    • unusual interest in food
    Get more helpful info on this disorder via

    Ron Huxley’s remarks: Eating disorders are very difficult things to treat, in my experience, as they tend to be so self-reinforcing and have such strong social reactions. This blog post by WebMd is an excellent overview. What it doesn’t address is the feeling of “control” it gives individuals who feel so out of control in life. One’s body can be one area that no one can tell you how to live or act. Finding a substitute that allows for control in a less dangerous way is very important. Ongoing treatment with a specialist and group therapies are also beneficial. How have you dealt with eating disorders with your child? Share!