EATING DISORDERS AMONG CHILDREN
Eating disorders can affect children, too, says clinical psychologist Carine Al Khazen, and the repercussions can be dangerous…
WHICH DISORDERS AFFECT CHILDREN? [Adult and child disorders are] the same, and have the same psychological and medical repercussions. But the medical implications on children are more dramatic, as they involve stunted growth and impaired neurological development. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, a children’s eating disorder that is less frequent in adults, is an anxiety disorder about food where children have intense fear of foods because they have had a negative experience around it. With time their fears expand and they reach a state of malnourishment, and starvation in extreme cases. It’s picky eating to the extreme.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS? Extreme weight fluctuations. Even if the weight loss is called for, it should not have happened in a very short period of time and shouldn’t have required obsessive behaviours (like extreme dieting and exercise regimens). If so, it could definitely be the early sign of anorexia nervosa. Food missing from the house and/or hidden candy and chocolate wrappers discovered in odd places could mean binge-eating. Body-checking behaviours like spending undue amounts of time in front of the mirror scrutinising their bodies, frequent and negative comments about their bodies, and a need for constant reassurance regarding their body weight and shape could be other pointers.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO? Seek help as soon as you spot the signs. Even if you are wrong, one consultation cannot give your child something they don’t have – better to be safe than sorry. Please remember, it’s a life-threatening disorder that has much better outcomes when treated early. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, present the multi-disciplinary treatment as non-negotiable.