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Natural Awakenings National

Kids’ Eating Disorders

Child sitting at dining table looking at full plate of food with head in hand, displaying lack of interest in eating


Some common disorders in children 12 and under include:

Anorexia Nervosa: Signs and symptoms include weight loss (often dramatic), distorted body image, intense anxiety/fear of weight gain and other behaviors that prevent weight gain.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Signs and symptoms include extreme pickiness; lack of interest in food without body dissatisfaction; aversion to specific tastes, smells, texture and appearance of foods; avoidance of certain foods/food groups or habitual eating of only a few foods; fear of swallowing; anxiety about getting bellyaches or getting sick; weight loss and/or stunted growth from insufficient nourishment and malnutrition.

Pica: Signs and symptoms include eating non-edible substances such as crayons, paper, grass, rocks, feces, hair, paint chips, cleaning powders or clay; health problems such as constipation or diarrhea, intestinal obstruction or infection, anemia or lead poisoning. It is often seen in children on the autism spectrum that have a history of abuse or neglect, or mental health conditions like schizophrenia, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can also be caused by a zinc deficiency.

Subtle warning signs from Cassandra Lenza include:

  • Child discussing dieting, food obsessions or weight-control measures; discussing exercise with greater interest, especially if she/he has not discussed exercise or movement before 
  • Social confinement and isolation 
  • Increased body dissatisfaction
  • Changes on child’s growth chart

Other signs: delayed puberty, eating smaller food portions, weight changes, thinning hair, hiding food, digestive problems, downy hair growth on body, severe mood swings or tantrums, excessive movement

Tips for parents from Marcia Herrin include:

  • Avoid labeling food as good or bad. It is better to serve all kinds of foods in moderation.
  • Avoid talking about dieting, weight or judgments about different body types or sizes. 
  • Never tease a child about their weight or changing body. 

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Beyond Picky Eating: Help for Pediatric Eating Disorders

Children of any gender and age can be afflicted with anorexia nervosa, bulimia and other conditions unique to younger kids, but holistic solutions can help with childhood eating disorders. Read More » 


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