Childhood Eating Disorders

You may be concerned about your ‘fussy eater’, but not sure if it is a problem you need to do anything about. Natasha has speciast training in childhood eating disorders and can explore your worries with you and help you work out how to best support your child.

Childhood Eating Disorders (children under the age of 12 years)

Sometimes children who might feel they have no control over what they eat, or children experiencing other transitional difficulties in their life, may develop an eating disorder. It can be linked to difficulties in transitions such as changes in schools, moving towns or parental separation/divorce.

Children commonly experience food preferences “phases”. This can lead to parents normalising changes in their child’s eating habits, which allows unhealthy habits to develop, which become hard to change. When it comes to eating disorders in children, early detection and prevention is the key.

Children are much smaller in stature and weight than adults. So smaller amounts of weight loss resulting from  food refusal, needs to be taken more seriously and may lead to an eating disorder diagnoses which requires early intervention treatment.

Signs can be subtle, and your child does not need to be focused on body image or weight to have an eating disorder. Difficulties may be linked to anxiety.

What are the early warning signs that parents should be concerned about;

  • fear of stomach aches, vomiting or choking
  • aversion to tastes, smells and texture
  • worry about body image especially a fear of getting “fat” relating to seeing other peers teased at school
  • tantrums related to food
  • anxiety symptoms existing before the eating problems, which further impact their fears around food and eating, depression, perfectionism or being highly self-critical.

Signs of a more developed eating disorder may include;

  • refraining from eating including not eating with the family or saying they already ate dinner
  • reduced food portions
  • weight loss
  • lack of growth
  • thinning of the hair
  • constipation or digestive issues
  • hiding or hoarding food
  • mood swings

What Eating Disorders are Commonly Seen in Young Children?

  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder  (ARFID)– children with this disorder experience disturbances in their eating including a lack of interest in food or a sensory aversion to certain foods.
  • Pica – this is a type of condition where a child might eat non-food or non-nutritional substances persistently such as sand, dirt, ice, hair ect. It should be noted that to be diagnosed with Pica, the behaviour will fall outside of the child’s normal developmental level.
  • Anorexia Nervosa – this eating disorder can affect young girls and boys. Children with anorexia nervosa think they are overweight when they appear underweight to others. Some children may obsess about their food intake, exercise excessively/intensively or binge and then purge.

How are Eating Disorders in Younger Children Treated?

At Mima Counselling Services we believe that a family centred intervention is the most effective in working with younger children with emerging or diagnosed eating disorders. Family Based Therapy (FBT) informed care involves supporting the parent taking charge of nutrition decisions and gaining skills in meal support and supervision. We offer strategies to assist you with the management of food avoidant behaviours and anxiety symptoms of your child.

It is important that a team of specialists including a GP or paediatrician, dietitian and other allied health professionals be included in the support and treatment of your child and their eating disorder.





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