I’m afraid my daughter has an eating disorder

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
January, 2015

Q: I think my daughter is binge eating and purging. I’ve found empty packages of cookies and candy in her wastebasket, but her clothes are hanging on her. I’m afraid she has an eating disorder – what do I do?

A: A 2014 documentary on childhood obesity by television journalist Katie Couric highlighted problems with eating behaviors. Couric’s interest in abnormal eating habits comes from personal experience; she struggled with bulimia in her youth. The Global Foundation for Eating Disorders reports that positive outcomes, such as those shown by Couric, are more likely with specialized treatment begun early in the illness.    

Seek treatment. Health care professionals will determine if your daughter has an eating disorder using a formal evaluation system called DSM-V. Even if she isn’t diagnosed with a disorder, there is reason to seek treatment given your observations. Her dentist may have noticed that her teeth have the pattern of dental erosion caused by the acid in vomit. Her family physician needs to explore the reasons behind her substantial weight loss.  

Expect family involvement in treatment. Family-based treatment encourages the involvement of the parents to help restore weight. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective, too. Make sure that you get referrals to health care professionals who specialize in eating disorders. Abnormal eating patterns are an illness and they need to be taken seriously. This isn’t a matter of poor choices on the part of your daughter. Research shows that genetics, biological factors and environment play a role. Pray together as a family as you seek support and guidance: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jer 29:11)


In the last issue of FAITH, the question to Dr. McGreal was edited after she answered and may have caused some confusion. Dr. McGreal was responding to differing parenting styles in a non-abusive situation. As always, should there be any sign of abuse of a child, the appropriate authorities should be contacted.