Problems with Food or Body Image

Many kids, especially when they reach adolescence, feel and express some level of dissatisfaction with their looks or body at some point. But some kids become extremely preoccupied with food and their weight to the point that it interferes with their relationships and daily functioning, and even puts their physical health at risk. When this happens, a child or adolescent may have an eating disorder and an evaluation by a professional may be needed.

Checklist of Symptoms

Below is a list of symptoms that children and adolescents who have problems with food or body image may show.

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Often expresses an intense fear of being fat
  • Feels fat even if he or she is underweight
  • Refuses to maintain a healthy weight for his or her height
  • For girls, cessation of periods
  • Low sense of self-esteem
  • Often eats and then vomits to get rid of the food
  • Excessively exercises to make up for food eaten
  • Cooking for others, but refusing to eat
  • Rigid meal or eating habits
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Eating an unusually large amounts of food in a short amount of time

Possible Diagnoses or Explanations of Behavior

Below are some possible explanations and diagnoses that may cause symptoms similar to those discussed above. Click on the disorder name to learn more about it from the A-Z Disorder Guide provided by the NYU Child Study Center.


Children and adolescents with anorexia are obsessed with food and their weight and try to maintain a weight that is far below what is normal for their age and height. They often try to lose weight or avoid gaining weight by restricting what they eat or exercising excessively.


Children and adolescents with bulimia are preoccupied with their weight and often base their self-worth on their body weight and shape. They engage in episodes of binge eating (eating unusually large amounts of food), which in some cases are followed by purging behaviors (i.e., vomiting, excessive exercising, or use of laxatives).

Binge Eating Disorder

Children and adolescents with this disorder frequently eat unusually large amounts of food and feel that they cannot resist the urge to binge eat. They often eat in secret and feel ashamed of their binging.


Children or adolescents suffering from depression may have a decrease in their appetite, which may lead to weight loss. They may also suffer from low self-esteem.

Other conditions associated with weight loss

If a child or adolescent shows extreme weight loss, but does not seem to have a distorted view of his or her body or desire for further weight loss, medical conditions such as gastrointestinal problems or hyperthyroidism should be ruled out by a medical doctor. 

Learn about Evaluation and Treatment of mental health problems among children.



Information provided on this website about common emotional and behavioral problems experienced by children is drawn from sources including:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Boston Bar Association. (2009). The Parents' How-to Guide to Children's Mental Health Services in Massachusetts (2nd edition). Boston: Author.  URL: Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at

Klimkeit, E. I., Mattingley, J. B., Sheppard, D. M., Farrow, M., Bradshaw, J. L. (2004). Examining the Development of Attention and Executive Functions in Children with a Novel Paradigm. Child Neuropsychology, 10 (3), 201-211.

NYU Child Study Center. A-Z Disorder Guide. URL: Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at


Date Reviewed: May 31, 2011