Is my child just a picky eater?

What are Eating Disorders

 Eating disorders are related to persistent eating behaviours that negatively impact one’s health, emotions and ability to function in daily life.  

Most eating disorders have to do with body image issues. Having to focus too much on your weight, body shape and food, leads to dangerous eating behaviours. These behaviours impact the level of nutrition your body receives. Eating disorders can harm the digestive system, bones, mouth, heart and lead to other diseases.

Most people think only teenagers or young adults suffer from eating disorders, but they can affect young children as well. The rates of eating disorders among children under 12 years have been growing recently. 

Types of eating disorders

Common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).


It is an eating disorder in which people maintain a body weight that is below average for their age and height. Anorexia might have to do more with emotional problems and self-esteem than body weight and eating. People with anorexia often equate their self-worth with their weight. Anorexia usually develops during adolescence and is diagnosed mostly in girls. It often coexists with other mental health problems, such as mood or anxiety disorders.

Symptoms include:

  •  Eat very little on purpose
  •  Have a low body weight
  •  Have an intense fear of weight gain
  •  Have a distorted body image (see themselves as fat even when they are very thin)
  •  Think about food or calories almost all the time
  •  Fast or exercise too much
  •  Bluish discolouration of the fingers due to a lack of oxygen
  •  Thinning hair
  •  Fatigue
  •  Insomnia
  •  Dizziness or fainting
  •  The absence of menstruation in teenage girls

Bulimia nervosa, or bulimia, is an eating disorder in which a person engages in episodes of binging and then purging. Binging involves eating a large amount of food and purging involves getting rid of extra calories e.g. self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise.

The condition often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. It often coexists with other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal behaviours.

Symptoms include: 

  •  Overeating (binge-eating)
  •  Self-induced vomiting after they overeat (purging)
  •  Fast and exercise a lot
  •  Judge themselves based on body shape and weight
  •  People with bulimia eat much more than most people would 
  •  Hide their eating and purging from others.
  •  Discoloured or stained teeth
  •  Calloused backs of the hands or knuckles from self-induced vomiting, 
  •  Swelling in the cheeks or jaw area
  •  Irregular menstrual cycle.
ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder):

In AFRID a person is unable to or refuses to eat certain foods. For example, a child may consume only a very narrow range of foods and refuse foods if they appear new or different. This type of eating disorder commonly develops in childhood and can persist into adulthood.

Symptoms include

  •   No interest in food or avoid foods
  •   lose weight, or don't gain expected amount of weight
  •   Not afraid of gaining weight
  •   Don't have a poor body image


The condition usually begins with dieting or weight -loss regimes, but gradually progresses to extreme and unhealthy weight-loss routines. Factors thought to be associated with eating disorders are:

  •  Unrealistic social attitudes toward body appearance 
  • Families with a history of weight problems, physical illness and mental health problems.
  • Being a part of sports or activities in which leanness is emphasised (e.g., ballet) 
  • Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, effective (or mood) disorders and substance abuse disorder.  

How Are Eating Disorders in Younger Children Treated?

The treatment plan depends on the type and severity of the eating disorder. Some people are hospitalised because of extreme weight loss and medical complications. Eating disorders are best treated by a team of professionals: a doctor, dietitian, and therapist. Treatment includes nutrition counselling and talk. Mental-health therapy is the most appropriate treatment method for eating disorders, with parents taking charge of nutrition decisions and meal supervision. The doctor might prescribe medicine to treat binge eating, anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

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