Eating Disorders in children

Is your kid a picky eater who consumes only specific foods? Or, have you noticed that they are eating less portions of food every day? Then there is a chance that this problem could progress into a severe eating disorder. Many times, eating disorders go undiagnosed by parents because they believe that their child’s eating habits can be changed as they grow. However, they are unaware of the growing concern about eating disorders in children and teens, which can lead to both physical and mental illnesses. 

Therefore, it is crucial for parents who deal with young children to recognise the indicators of eating disorders because the prevalence of these diseases among young girls and boys under the age of 12 has been rising recently. Continue reading to know simple yet effective tips to overcome eating disorders in children.

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What is an Eating Disorder?

It is a condition caused due to unhealthy eating habits of children which gets manifested into a serious problem and affects the health, mind and body of the child. Eating disorders are more emotional and mental problems than physical ones. There are several types of eating disorder which includes Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge eating, AFRID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), pica etc.

Types of Eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa:

Children with this condition are more prone to malnutrition as they avoid intake of calorie-rich or nutritious food. They consume only a small quantity which won’t even be sufficient to meet the daily requirement. These kids mostly avoid food because of their consciousness about their body image and other weight-related problems.

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Bulimia Nervosa:

It is the condition wherein the children will consume a larger portion of food in one sitting or overeat and then purge through vomiting, laxatives or other means because of the fear of weight gain. This is mainly due to the negative perception of their bodies feeling guilty about eating more and gaining weight.

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Binge eating:

This condition is the opposite of anorexia where the children intake more calories than required or indulge in overeating. It occurs more commonly with kids who are more distracted while eating so that they don’t know how much or how fast they eat leading to binging or overeating food which can eventually lead to obesity and other ailments like heart problems, hypertension, diabetes etc when they grow up.

AFRID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder):

As the name suggests, it is the condition wherein children have avoidant or restrictive behaviour towards eating. They will be pickier toward certain kinds of food based on their flavour, texture, taste or other sensory properties.

Pica:

It is a type of eating disorder where the children used to chew items that are not non- food or don’t have any nutritive value like chalk, hair, clay, soil etc. This habit then develops into a coping mechanism both emotionally and psychologically.

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Eating Disorders: causes

Most eating disorders are concerned with body image, and emotional and psychological problems. Usually, pre-teens and teenagers have these conditions due to the influence of society, peer pressure, and media standards that make them think that being skinny is more attractive than being healthy. Children suffering from emotional and mental issues usually use these as a coping mechanism for their problems and to keep everything under control and perfect.

The other spectrum of the line shows that there is an increase in the obesity rate from 5 to 18 per cent among children and teenagers as per IOTF (International Obesity Taskforce). Both eating disorders and obesity go hand in hand as obesity can lead to various lifestyle disorders or metabolic disorders like hypertension, Cardiovascular disorder (CVD), diabetes etc.

This is due to unhealthy lifestyles:

Symptoms:

These children have both physical and mental conditions:

Physical Symptoms include:

  • Weight gain/ Weight Loss
  •  Hair loss
  •  Change in blood pressure
  •  Dropping of heart rate
  •  Heart-related ailments
  •  Loss of stamina
  •  Feeling tired and Fatigued
  • Extreme Dieting or Extreme Exercising
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Lack of oxygen leads to bluish discolouration
  • Dizziness and Insomnia
  • Delay in puberty
  • Irregular Menstrual cycle

Mental health symptoms include:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Mood Disorder/ mood Swings
  • Unable to cope with emotions / Perfectionism/ Wanting to have everything under their control
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depressions
  • Withdrawal from social situations
Certain tips to prevent eating disorders:
  • Encourage eating wholesome food and include all varieties of food in the diet.
  • Eating healthy and nutritious meals helps the children to have a sound mind and body.
  • Since most of the time eating disorder is related to emotional well-being, it is good to have an open discussion about the child’s feelings and emotions and the home is a better place to voice out their opinions. This prevents them from suppressing their emotions.
  • Have a body-positive attitude and avoid comparing kids with others in terms of their body, grades or anything and teach them to accept that every shape and every size is beautiful.
  • Create awareness among children and teens about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet as this is the age where their physical and mental ability develops.
  •  Have a healthy lifestyle and avoid junk foods.
  • These eating disorders can hinder the puberty and menstruation cycle of girls. So, care should be taken in the food intake and nutrition of Pre-teen and teenage girls.
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