New England Cable News (NECN)

About 86% of individuals with eating disorders develop them before age 20, Walden’s Director of Adolescent Services Renee Nelson told NECN during an interview.

Those who go to college, and are often away from home for the first time, are especially vulnerable. Today, eating disorders are often detected at an early age and a child may be struggling with an eating disorder even before going away to college.

How can parents identify if their child comes home from college with an eating disorder?

Frequent fluctuations in weight–either up or down–is “a clue that their relationship with food has become problematic for them,” according to Nelson. But eating disorders can be “an invisible disease,” with mental signs as well. Obsessive talk about food, and being judgmental about your body type and critical about others’ bodies are also signs.

Eating disorders affect about 5% of the U.S. population.

What should parents do if they believe their child has an eating disorder? And what shouldn’t they do?


  • Defer blame from your child
  • Seek treatment and be an active part of it
  • Take the time to understand eating disorders: causes, best potential treatment, keys for recovery
  • Keep the conversation off food
  • Take control over meal planning


  • Force food/tell them to “just eat”
  • React harshly
  • Discuss or judge weight
  • Talk about food and/or calories
  • Think you will “solve” the problem (you need help, treatment, etc.)

The best advice, according to Nelson, is “don’t underreact and don’t overreact. Find a treatment team that can help you navigate that balance for your child.”

While college students are supposed to be independent, she said, that may not be what your child needs. For example, your child may need guidance around food choices.

Family support systems play a critical role in helping a child recovery from an eating disorder. Having a treatment team to be in touch with while your child is away at college can be a big help.