An eating disorder can affect a child’s personality mainly because of all the stress that the body is going through. Children often become moodier and irritable. This is simply due to the fact that the brain and the body are undernourished.
When we talk about Eating disorders, the first thing that comes to our mind is that it happens in teens and young adults. We never think that children under 12 could also have eating disorders. I know you must be thinking how can a child have eating disorders … they just eat less. But the truth is that a child as young as 7 can be diagnosed with an eating disorder. The bad news is that eating disorders in children are on a rise and can often be undiagnosed in small children.
The exact cause of these eating disorders is not known. But factors like genes, stress, and environment play a pivotal role. Media, advertisements, toys and the way we talk about our body and weight issues influence the children. They often want to become like their dolls. They also start worrying about getting fat just because they overhear adults talk about it.
Last week, my 6-year-old walked up to me and said, “I am not going to eat lunch today.”
She: My tummy is coming out and I am feeling fat. I don’t want to become fat.
I was a little surprised to hear her. But then I reeled back and thought hard how and why she was thinking on these lines. And yes, I realised pretty soon that she overheard her aunt saying she won’t eat anything for dinner as she had put on weight.
You see children get influenced so quickly. Anyhow I managed to convince my daughter and she happily ate lunch. But yes eating disorder in children should not be taken lightly. It is way more serious than we think.
The most common eating disorders observed in children are:
Anorexia: Most of us are aware of this term. Some of us may have suffered from this in our teens as well. In this, the children keep thinking that they are obese while everyone else finds them normal or underweight. In a bid to manage their weight they often eat less or refuse to eat. They are always worried that they will gain weight and thus exercise vigorously. Anorexia can impair a child’s physical growth and health.
- Affect of anorexia on health: Due to undernutrition the health issues faced are weak bones, feeling of lethargy, constipation, bloating and delayed puberty.
- Affect of anorexia on emotions: Children with anorexia find it difficult to concentrate. Also, they are anxious, feel lonely and have a constant fear of gaining weight.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): This is very common in children. Those children who suffer from this disorder undergo a sudden change in their eating habits. They may not like the smell, texture, colour or taste of certain food. For example, a child who likes to eat noodles may stop eating it due to an aversion to its texture or smell. Children eat less as they fear they may vomit or get a stomach ache if they eat too much. These restricted and avoidant food habits not only lead to weight loss but also a deficiency of proteins, vitamins and minerals in young children.
- Affect of ARFID on health: Children with ARIFD do not get sufficient nutrients and thus result in poor growth.
- Affect of ARFID on emotions: They are likely to have anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorder
Bulimia: This is more evident in teens and young adults. A person with bulimia may eat and eat a lot to the extent that they cannot control this. Later they throw up ao that they don’t gain weight with all the calories in the food they have just had. They often judge themselves based on their body weight and shape. they also hide their condition, eating habits, binging and purging from others.
- Affect of bulimia on health: Health problems caused by vomiting in bulimia are feeling of tiredness, lethargy and weakness. This also leads to swollen salivary glands, blood in stool, tooth erosions and cavities.
- Affect of bulimia on emotions: Children with bulimia are likely to suffer from low self-esteem depression and anxiety.
Binge Eating: This is very common we all do binge eating at some time or the other. This is more pronounced in teens and young adults. A person can eat large helpings of food even if they are not hungry and later feel guilty. They gain weight and may become overweight as well. They often eat alone and faster than a person who does not binge eat. They also eat when in depression or a bad mood.
- Affect of binge eating on health: Binge eating leads to weight-related issues like sleep apnea, fatty liver and diabetes.
- Affect of binge eating on emotions: Those who suffer from binge eating have depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, a feeling of helplessness, loneliness, anger and have trouble in coping with stressful situations.
Pica: Have you ever see a child eating mud, chalk or soap. Just yesterday my daughter was mentioning that her friend eats soap. I did make a disgusted face that time but then thought of communicating to the mother. So Pica is a condition where the child eats things which are not food and not nutritious, like soap, dirt, chalk, hair and ice. Common causes of Pica are malnutrition or iron deficiency anaemia.
- Affect of pica on health: Children who have pica are usually unharmed by what they eat. But none the less sometimes they may land up with parasitic and stomach infections, constipation, lead poisoning and blockage of the digestive tract.
- Affect of pica on emotions: Pica usually does not interfere with the social life of a child but it is seen in children with autism.
What to do When Your Child Has Eating Disorders:
- For a child to eat properly it is important to adopt a good attitude towards food as well as eating in the family
- Show that no food is bad and that fats, carbohydrates and proteins are necessary for a healthy body
- Avoid talking about your diets and low fats foods in front of your child
- Planned family meals is a great way to get your child structured towards the importance of sitting and eating healthy
- Comments on weight should not be made
- Seek help from a doctor
- Last but not least be supportive and patient
Eating disorders place physical stress on a person’s body irrespective of any age. But in a child’s growing body it is important that the weight should be restored so that the body is not permanently compromised in terms of height, bone strength and fertility.
Source of Pictures: Google Images
A – Autism
B – Bronchiolitis
C – Celiac Disease
D – Dyslexia