Child Nutrition & Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders refer to psychological conditions and distressing thoughts that contribute to persistent, severe, and unhealthy eating behaviors. These disorders can be pretty serious as they can adversely impact a person’s physical and mental health. In many cases, an eating disorder can change how people interact with their social circle.

While eating disorders can develop regardless of age and gender, adolescents and young women are more affected by this problem. According to a study, this problem has been found to affect 13% of young people under 20.

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are classified into different types based on their particular eating patterns and subsequent effects on mental and physical health and social interactions.

Here is a brief overview of those eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

This condition usually develops during adolescence or young adulthood and is more common among women. People with this eating disorder typically think of themselves as overweight, even if they are not. Such people are often found monitoring their body weight and restricting themselves from eating various types of foods.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Being underweight
  • Being at the risk of nutrient deficiency
  • Excessive fear of gaining weight, even at a healthy level
  • A highly negative perception of the impact of body weight on health and self-esteem, also known as body dysmorphic disorder

Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with healthy foods to the extent that it becomes unhealthy. People with this disorder usually end up avoiding whole foods entirely.

Bulimia Nervosa

This condition, like anorexia nervosa, generally develops at a younger age and is more prevalent among women than men. However, unlike anorexia, this disorder is characterized by a person’s likeness to eating large amounts of foods during a specific period, also known as a binge eating episode. People with this disorder usually attempt to purge to relieve or prevent inevitable gut discomfort resulting from excessive food intake.

Common signs of bulimia nervosa are:

  • Frequent binge eating episodes are characterized by a lack of control over food intake
  • Increased frequency of inappropriate purging to avoid gaining weight or relieve GI tract discomfort
  • Fear of getting overweight

Binge Eating Disorder

This eating disorder is most common in the United States. It can develop during early adulthood and adolescence, irrespective of gender. People with this disorder show similar characteristics as those with bulimia. However, they do not attempt to purge, such as vomit or use laxatives, to compensate for excessive food intake.

Common signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating large amounts of food, even without appetite
  • Being unable to hold back during a binge
  • Being guilty of binge-eating behavior
  • No purging after eating, such as vomiting, using laxatives, or engaging in a physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese

Pica

This disorder is characterized by the intake of items that are generally not considered foods, such as soil, ice, dirt, soap, paper, cloth, hair, laundry detergent, etc. Although this problem is more common among children and adolescents, it can also affect adults. Generally, people who have this problem more than others include children, pregnant women, and people with psychological conditions.

Rumination Disorder

A person with rumination disorder regurgitates the previously chewed and swallowed food, re-chews it, and then re-swallows it or spits it out. This behavior is usually seen 30 minutes after the food intake.

Rumination disorder can affect infants, children, and adults. Infants have this disorder for 3-12 months, and they usually do not need any treatment. However, children and adults with this disorder may need therapy to treat this issue.

Remember, an unresolved rumination disorder can cause severe weight loss, which can prove fatal.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, previously known as Feeding Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood, is an eating disorder that most commonly develops during infancy or early childhood. It can also develop during adulthood, regardless of gender.

ARFID is characterized by a lack of interest in eating due to specific tastes, smells, textures, colors, or temperatures. The most common symptoms of this condition are:

  • Self-imposed food restrictions lead to severe deficiencies of calories and other nutrients
  • Eating behaviors that interfere with eating with other people
  • Weight loss and poor body development
  • Nutrition deficiency that leads to the need for supplementation or even tube feeding

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Like many other mental illnesses, the causes of eating disorders are largely unknown. However, experts have identified the following factors as more potential reasons for an eating disorder.

  • Biology and Genetics: Many people inherit eating disorders from their parents. In some cases, biological factors, such as changes or imbalances in brain chemicals, may also lead to eating disorders.
  • Psychological and emotional health: Psychological factors that may lead to eating disorders include impulsive behaviors, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and perfectionism.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of eating disorders differ from person to person, mainly depending on the type of disorder they have. However, some signs are more common than others, such as:

  • Excessive or compulsive physical workouts
  • Cutting foods into smaller pieces than usual 
  • Wanting to cook foods but unwilling to eat
  • Deliberate purging – through vomiting or using laxatives – after eating
  • Preferring to eat alone and hiding eating habits
  • Eating even after the hunger is quashed
  • Measuring body weight again and again
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Eating Disorder Treatment Options

There are various ways to treat an eating disorder, but an accurate diagnosis is key. Therefore, your therapist will analyze the type of your disorder and its root causes before recommending a treatment approach.

Let’s have a generalized view of eating disorder treatment options.

Psychological Therapy

Psychological therapy is the most basic form of treatment for eating disorders. During this treatment, the therapist helps you:

  • Shift to healthy eating habits and patterns
  • Identify the correlation between your eating habits and mood
  • Develop necessary skills to stay calm against any unhealthy eating triggers
  • Discover ways to eat healthy during stressful times
  • Improve your mood

Psychological therapy for an eating disorder may be classified into the following treatments:

  • Family-based therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Group cognitive-behavioral therapy

Nutrition Education

Another way to treat your eating disorder is to meet a dietician who will help you identify your problem and develop healthy eating plans. They will also assist you in bringing the necessary change in your eating habits. This nutrition education can help you:

  • Achieve a healthy body weight
  • Get a better understanding of how specific nutrients affect your body
  • Develop healthy meal plans
  • Establish eating patterns that could benefit your physical and mental health
  • Avoid overeating or starving
  • Reverse the negative impact of your eating disorder

Medications for Eating Disorder

Medications are not a cure for an eating disorder, but they can be pretty effective when used in tandem with psychological therapy. Antidepressants are the most commonly used medications to help treat several eating disorders. However, your doctor may prescribe other medications if necessary.

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Child Nutrition and Eating Disorders FAQs

What qualifies you to have an eating disorder?

You should get checked for an eating disorder if you notice any abnormal eating behavioral changes for a long time. This includes an unexplained likeness or dislikes for certain foods, irregular eating patterns, lack of control over food intake, and a general distaste for all foods. An unwanted change in body weight – overweight or underweight – is also a sign of an eating disorder.

Can malnutrition cause eating disorders?

Yes, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder resulting from chronic starvation.

Who is at risk for an eating disorder?

The risk factors of an eating disorder include both biological and physical. You are more prone to getting an eating disorder if you have a close relative with an eating disorder, a history of dieting, negative energy balance, or type-1 diabetes. Psychological risk factors for eating disorders include body image dissatisfaction, perfectionism, history of anxiety disorder, and behavioral inflexibility. Several social factors such as weight stigma, acculturation, and limited social circle also contribute to the onset of an eating disorder.

Can babies have eating disorders?

Yes, infantile anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that develops between six months and three years of age. This problem is characterized by the infant’s refusal of food intake and can lead to overall poor body development.

What age group is more likely to have an eating disorder?

The prevalence rate of eating disorders with respect to age may differ depending on the type of disorder. The highest risk of developing binge eating disorder is at around 21 years of age. And the risk of developing bulimia and anorexia nervosa is highest at the age of about 18.

What percentage of anorexia patients recover?

According to research, about 46% of anorexia patients fully recover from the condition. About 33% of all anorexia patients experience improvements. And about 20% do not recover.

Consult an Expert

Are you or your child facing health issues due to an eating disorder? Maybe it’s time you should consider consulting a highly qualified therapist to get rid of this problem. You can book a consultation at EuroMed Clinic Dubai using the form below.

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