I hate Broccoli! A fussy eater or an eating disorder?

Fussy Eater Child

It’s a question that often comes up on our health practitioner courses.

How can we distinguish a child who is a fussy eater, from one that has an eating disorder?

This is an important concern for parents as well as health professionals. We don’t want to ignore a potentially serious problem, but nobody wants to overreact if their child is simply going through a rebellious phase with food.

Some parents ‘sneak’ disliked food into meals, and others simply give in to the immediate demands of the child, hoping that the phase will pass and believing that making a fuss will reinforce the child’s opinions about the food. Both approaches can work and are often employed as children experiment with different foods and discover their likes and dislikes. Tastes change and often a despised food will become a firm favourite when you add a pinch of maturity.

Some adults may be worried that fussy eating is in fact something more serious, like an eating disorder.

What are important signs to be mindful of that may indicate an eating disorder might be present?

  • Significant weight gain or weight loss in a short period of time
  • Expressing fear about becoming ‘fat’
  • Low self esteem
  • Obsessing about food
  • Ritualistic eating such as orgainsing food or counting food pieces or bites
  • Talk of ‘dieting’
  • Obsessing about exercise

The earlier people seek treatment for eating disorders, the more likely they are to recover. So concerned caregivers should seek help if they believe a child is exhibiting eating disorder related behavior.

What’s involved in recovery treatment?

Ideally a team approach works best with eating disorders. One person to monitor the child’s overall health, ideally your GP, a dietitian to help establish a balance of good nutrition and help with ideas about shopping and food preparation, and someone to help with the psychological aspects of recovery.

The Australian Centre for Eating Disorders (ACFED) is building a network of trained health professionals who understand how to assess and treat eating disorders. Many of our ACFED Approved Practitioners also conduct sessions via skype if you live in a regional or remote area and many have experience in counselling children. Our network of ACFED Approved Practitioners includes counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, hypnotherapists, and dietitans.

We are constantly adding to our list so please check our website to see if there is someone near you who can help.