There is quite a difference between being picky about your food and suffering from an eating disorder.
Many parents don’t even know that their children may have an eating disorder when they don’t want to certain foods for one reason or another. They think the child is just being picky, hard to deal with, or doesn’t want to eat healthy foods, but they may be wrong.
Most children go through a phase where they are picky about their food. More often than not, it is because they don’t like the way it looks, and it clears up on its own. Sometimes, however, there is a bigger issue. For some children, an eating disorder known as ARFID is to blame, and it can cause genuine health problems if it isn’t properly taken care of.
ARFID, also known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, is often categorized as an extreme picky-type reaction to food. There are a few symptoms to recognize. If your child exhibits any of the following symptoms, please speak to a healthcare professional to see if they may have ARFID and how you need to treat it.Failure to gain weight Eating only small portions Anxiety/Crying when presented with certain foods Reluctance to eat Gagging or throwing up over specific foods Trouble eating foods based on texture, smell, food group, color, or appearance Dependence on vitamins and supplements for nutrition
ARFID presents a lot of health complications if not properly treated, including malnutrition and Gastrointestinal issues. These can lead to further complications later in life, so deal with the problem early.
Your doctor may recommend speaking with a nutritionist and/or a dietician to help come up with the most nutritious foods your child can eat. You may also get a full round of supplements to go along with it all because what little food your child can eat may not be enough to keep them healthy.
My personal experience with ARFID
My son was what we called a “picky eater.” We thought he just didn’t like the selections we had. However, as time went on, I noticed things that made me question the whole picky theory.
He would refuse to eat most things we cooked or bought out. He refused to even try some foods based on the way they looked, smelled, or their texture.
At first, I thought he was being a little dramatic, but soon realized I was wrong. (For context, I was also pretty young and everyone was telling me that he was just being picky, like most kids.)
He would throw up over a food’s texture. Even if he liked the flavor of something, if the texture was weird, he would throw up not long after it went into his mouth. He would throw up over smells or even the way some food looked.
He would cry or get really anxious when asked about what he wanted to eat or when given certain foods
All that caught my attention.
He would only eat certain things at every meal. We might have roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and dinner rolls, and all he would eat would be the dinner rolls and mashed potatoes.
A little further down the line, his selection became smaller. Instead of mashed potatoes and dinner rolls, it was just dinner rolls, then neither. He began to lose weight and have more health issues, and I knew it was time to look further into this issue.
At first, our doctor dismissed us. He said my son was just being a picky kid, but I knew that wasn’t right. There was something else going on. Something was wrong.
I started fixing two meals every time I cooked because he could no longer eat the same foods as the rest of us. I had already been getting up and cooking something different for meals anyway when he stopped being able to eat most things I fixed, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It is a time-consuming venture, though, one that is difficult when you never know if they can eat something from one day to the next.
It took a long time to find what was going on because a lot of doctors didn’t even know what ARFID was. Once we knew, though, and had an official diagnosis, we started aggressively trying to find ways to keep him from losing weight or nutrition.
My son is older now, and his eating disorder has only gotten more complicated with the addition of both a GERD and IBS diagnosis. Now, not only can he not eat most foods because of the AFRID, but he has to watch what he eats for the GERD and the IBS as well. He does not have a wide variety. He takes vitamins and eats on a schedule. It isn’t easy, but it works.
If you think you or your child may suffer from ARFID, please speak to your doctor. Don’t wait until health problems arise. Tell your doctor what you think and if they won’t help, see someone else.
Here is an article on ARFID from the National Eating Disorders blog. You can get more information and learn about your child’s health concerns with the disorder in more detail there.
Do more research and learn all you can before dismissing your child’s behavior around food as just picky eating.