Child Eating Disorders on the Rise Post-Pandemic: A Mother’s Journey and Expert Insights |

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Have you ever witnessed your 10-year-old son refraining from eating? Imagine seeing him grow weaker by the day, fading away before your eyes. This was the experience of Katerina (pseudonym), as she shares with Kathimerini. Around a year and a half ago, Katerina and her husband, deeply attached to all three of their children, visited the pediatrician upon noticing their youngest son’s weight loss. Initially, they were told not to worry, attributing it to puberty, with normal weight fluctuations. With his blood work appearing fine, everyone was put at ease.

By August, within just a few months, the situation had drastically worsened. The child’s weight plummeted from 47 to 34 kilos. Katerina recounts, “He gradually reduced his meals from five to four, then three, two, and eventually just one.” His eating habits became minimal, almost like that of a tiny animal, barely touching his food. To conceal this, he would often discard food or hide it in the bathroom.

Although professionals ruled out anorexia nervosa initially, the signs were evident to the mother. Her son would make statements about not wanting to eat to avoid gaining weight. In one heart-wrenching confession, he expressed to his mother, “There’s a robotic voice in my head telling me not to eat, or I’ll become fat. It keeps saying I’m fat.”

The situation spiraled out of control, leading to the boy’s hospitalization. Suffering from bradycardia and on the brink of kidney failure, he underwent extensive medical examinations. Meanwhile, Katerina sought solace in a book entitled “Do You Love Me?” supported by the Hellenic Center for Eating Disorders (HCFED). After reading it, she took her child from their island residence to Athens.

Understanding the Complex Nature of the Illness

Since the onset of the pandemic, Maria Tsiaka, a psychologist-psychotherapist and founder of HCFED, noticed a surge in requests for assistance from families with young children. She shared, “We are witnessing a significant rise in anorexia nervosa cases among 10- and 11-year-old boys and girls, who seek help even in the acute phase of the disorder.” Children enduring a 40% weight loss within 5-6 months face severe neurobiological implications as their brains are still developing.

Tsiaka highlights the multifaceted nature of the disease—a blend of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers. For many children genetically inclined to eating disorders, the pandemic-induced restrictive circumstances played a pivotal role. The abrupt lifestyle alterations for 8- to 9-year-olds, coupled with the return to a redefined normal amidst puberty changes, catalyzed the disorder’s emergence.

In contrast to body image concerns in older individuals, young children’s eating disorders often stem from the pressure to excel and conform to adult expectations. Frequently, these children engage in sports where weight holds significance, purposefully restricting food intake to evade progression to higher age categories or challenging older competitors.

Katerina’s son had taken up kickboxing, unwittingly fueling his disorder. Before initiating psychological intervention at HCFED, prompting normal brain function, he had to adhere to set meal plans. This step unraveled hidden truths—he competed against heavier opponents due to a faulty gym scale, triggering a downward spiral underpinned by perfectionism common in youth grappling with eating disorders.

Unveiling the Syndrome

Artemis Tsitsika, an associate professor specializing in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Athens and president of the Greek Society of Adolescent Medicine, elaborates on the “female athlete triad,” a subset of relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). This syndrome manifests as eating disorders intertwined with hormonal imbalances, leading to osteopenia or osteoporosis among young female athletes. Particularly prevalent in intense competitive environments across sports like weightlifting, wrestling, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and ballet, it accentuates a culture fixated on achieving success at any cost.

Unlike traditional eating disorders rooted in low self-esteem, RED-S syndrome predominantly arises from environmental influences. Ambitious children driven by a relentless pursuit of victory, fueled by parental and coaching pressures, find themselves at heightened risk. Illustratively, Tsitsika notes that even a child devoid of prior psychological predispositions could succumb to RED-S if ensnared in an overly competitive setting, exacerbated by external stressors like acing national exams.

Alarming Surge in Post-Pandemic Cases

Anticipating lingering repercussions of the pandemic, Tsiaka anticipates a prolonged influx of eating disorder cases. The spike, estimated at a staggering 150% rise, necessitates urgent attention and robust support systems to address the escalating demand for intervention. Public facilities currently contend with extensive waiting lists, impeding timely access to crucial treatment.

Tsitsika underscores a surge in all forms of disordered eating post-Covid-19, notably during the initial lockdown phase marked by abrupt disruptions to daily routines. Adolescents, grappling with pivotal developmental milestones revolving around self-identity and social interaction, faced heightened vulnerability. Coupled with excessive screen time, there emerged a pronounced uptick in orthorexia—fixation on “clean” eating, shunning indulgent foods, and overdependence on exercise.

As a cautionary tale, Elena Lille, aged 32, shares her relapse journey triggered during the second quarantine period, culminating in a drastic 32-kilo weight gain. Her struggle with bulimic episodes since adolescence underscore the pervasive toll of eating disorders fueled by societal pressures and internal battles, unraveling over years of silent suffering.


  1. What environmental factors contribute to the surge in child eating disorders post-pandemic?
    The pandemic-induced lifestyle shifts, stringent restrictions, and heightened emphasis on perfectionism in competitive settings have significantly fueled the rise in child eating disorders.

  2. How do eating disorders differ in young children compared to older individuals?
    In young children, eating disorders are often linked to the pressure to conform to adult expectations and excel in performance-driven domains, such as sports, rather than purely revolving around body image concerns.

  3. What role do genetic predispositions play in eating disorders?
    While genetic predispositions lay the foundation for eating disorders, environmental triggers, such as competitive sporting environments and parental pressures, play a pivotal role in the onset and exacerbation of these conditions.

  4. How can families support children grappling with eating disorders?
    Families can offer unwavering support, seek professional intervention promptly, encourage open communication, and create a nurturing environment that fosters a positive relationship with food and body image.

  5. What are some early warning signs of eating disorders in children?
    Early warning signs may include sudden weight loss, altered eating habits (e.g., restriction or secretive eating behaviors), negative self-talk related to body image, and withdrawal from social interactions or previously enjoyed activities.An individual shares their journey of struggling with food-related issues since their teenage years. They experienced challenges with food that led to anxiety and discomfort eating in public. Eventually, they developed bulimia, fluctuating in weight. Seeking help, they learned to prioritize proper eating habits and self-care, leading to significant weight loss.

After a decade of stability, the pandemic brought new struggles during lockdowns. Initially, intense exercise and calorie restriction helped, but later, facing chaos, they embraced a more relaxed approach to eating. Currently undergoing treatment, they remain hopeful about self-care and self-love.

For children and teens, recovery from eating disorders can be more complex, especially when facing challenges like absent parents and limited adult support. Food serves as more than just fuel, providing love, communication, and comfort. Children exposed to unhealthy eating habits and excessive screen time may face risks.

Strict dietary rules and fixations on food purity can contribute to eating disorders like orthorexia. Balancing various aspects of life and fostering a positive environment are essential for children’s holistic development.


  1. What led to the individual’s struggles with food in their teenage years?
    The individual developed a negative relationship with food, leading to anxiety and discomfort eating in public.

  2. How did the individual tackle their weight issues?
    Seeking help, the individual learned proper eating habits and focused on self-care, resulting in significant weight loss.

  3. How did the pandemic impact the individual’s eating habits?
    During the lockdowns, the individual initially resorted to intense exercise and calorie restriction but later adopted a more relaxed approach to eating.

  4. What challenges do children and adolescents face in recovering from eating disorders?
    Children and teens may face difficulties in recovery due to factors like absent parents, limited adult support, unhealthy eating habits, and excessive screen time.

  5. How can strict dietary rules contribute to eating disorders?
    Imposing overly strict dietary rules and fixating on food purity can trigger eating disorders like orthorexia, emphasizing the importance of balance and a positive environment for children’s development.

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