What are problems with eating in childhood?1,2,3
Children can have poor eating habits or be labeled “picky eaters” without having an eating disorder. Whether you are dealing with a diagnosis of eating disorder or need help improving mealtime and eating behavior, a psychologist can help you to create and implement a treatment plan to improve your child’s behavior and nutritional intake.
- Anorexia Nervosa: having a distorted body image that causes you to see yourself as overweight. Refusing to eat, exercising compulsively and developing unusual habits such as not eating in front of others.
- Bulimia Nervosa: eating excessive quantities then purging your body of food and calories using laxatives, enemas, diuretics, induced vomiting, fasting, misuse of medication such as insulin, or exercising.
- Binge eating: eating excessive quantities with frequent episodes of out-of-control eating.
- Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): an avoidance of eating that leads to a failure to meet nutritional or energy needs which commonly develops in infancy or early childhood. Eating is avoided due to uncomfortable consequences of eating, sensitivity to appearance, color, smell, texture, temperature, or taste of foods, or other reasons.
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder: Atypical anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating at a lower frequency or duration, purging disorder, and night eating syndrome.
What are symptoms of eating disorders?2
Signs your child or teen may be struggling with an eating disorder:
- sudden weight loss or sudden weight gain
- food rituals (taking very small bites, eating foods in a certain order)
- extreme dieting
- disappearance of large amounts of food
- frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
- failing to gain weight expected in normal child growth
- withdrawing from social contact
- poor body image and self-esteem
Medical conditions that can result from an eating disorder:
- hair loss
- dry skin
- calluses on knuckles from inducing vomiting
- electrolyte imbalance
- esophageal ulcers
- tooth decay
- type II diabetes
- gastric problems
- required food supplements or special feedings
What causes trouble with eating?2,4
Studies indicate that difficult eaters could have underlying psychological issues, food restrictive behaviors can appear before puberty in both boys or girls. Body image can be a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school. Being mocked or insulted about appearance and bullying can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations and can lead to a change in eating behavior. Other psychological conditions that commonly occur with an eating disorder include anxiety, depression, social isolation, substance use, difficulty with impulse control and perfectionism. Related psychological conditions around ARFID are anxiety, autism, OCD, and ADHD.
What can be done to treat eating problems?2,5,6
Better recovery rates are most often observed in younger patients and those with a shorter duration of illness when diagnosed, seeking treatment as early as possible means better outcomes and quicker recovery. Treatment may include family therapy and family-based treatment, parent training, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy helps children and teens to replace destructive or distorted thoughts and behaviors with more positive ones. Therapy often focuses on insight, building motivation, and coping skills. Focusing on improving body image and self-esteem is also a common component in treatment.
Parents should focus on how they interact with their children around food. Parenting skills influence how well kids eat in both quality of food, and quantity. Being responsive and nurturing, setting limits, enforcing discipline, and promoting positive behavior leads to improvements in eating habits. Treatment can help parents learn how different interactions with their child can either help or impede their child’s motivation for recovery.
1 American Psychological Association
2 Academy for Eating Disorders
3 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders
4 University of Montreal
5 Colorado Children’s Hospital
6 Psychology Today