According to recent studies, 9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. For many, an eating disorder begins as a child or as an adolescent. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that affect individuals of all demographics, including different body shapes and sizes. Research shows that a multidisciplinary approach is the best practice for treating eating disorders and achieving sustained long-term recovery. At Nashville Child and Family Wellness Center, we provide comprehensive eating disorder assessments and treatment for children, adolescents, and adults. Our providers believe that healing from an eating disorder takes time, that all foods fit into your life, and that a weight-neutral approach is critical in the treatment of certain eating disorders because each person has unique genetics and weight is not always the best indicator of health.
There are several types of eating disorders that medical and mental health professionals recognize, all of which are serious and can have potentially life-threatening symptoms. These eating disorders are:
Characterized by a distorted body image, an intense fear of gaining weight, and weight loss. This weight loss results in disruption of normal growth and development, or puts someone at a medically inappropriate low weight for their body. Individuals with anorexia nervosa restrict their food intake, and may also engage in excessive exercise and other behaviors to lose weight.
Characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. An individual’s weight may or may not be impacted by this disorder.
Characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating without the presence of compensatory behaviors. Binge eating episodes are often associated with feelings of shame, guilt, and a loss of control.
This involves a persistent restriction of food intake with limited variety that typically results in weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and impairment of social and occupational functioning. Researchers have proposed five ARFID subtypes as primary symptoms can vary across individuals. Depending on the subtype, these symptoms may include a lack of interest in eating, absence of hunger cues, sensory aversions, or fear driven avoidance. Common fears include choking, nausea, vomiting, pain or allergic reactions. Unlike anorexia nervosa, ARFID is not driven by a distorted body image or a fear of weight gain, but individuals can struggle with these symptoms or features of another eating disorder.
OSFED are eating disorders that do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, but still involve significant distress and impairment, and require treatment.
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The causes of eating disorders in children and adolescents are complex and multifactorial, and can involve a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Some potential contributors to the development of an eating disorder in children and adolescents include:
The signs and symptoms of eating disorders in children can vary depending on the specific type of eating disorder. Here are some common signs and symptoms that parents and caregivers should be aware of.
Rapid and significant changes in weight can be a warning sign of an eating disorder. Pediatric growth charts tend to show signs that an eating disorder has impacted normal growth and development in either direction.
Children with eating disorders may become preoccupied with food and weight, and may talk about or research dieting, exercise, calories, and nutrition excessively. They may also become extremely self-conscious about their bodies and appearance. Parents tend to notice added stress around clothing choices, shopping, getting dressed, or showering.
Children with anorexia nervosa restrict their food intake and may avoid certain foods or entire food groups altogether. There tends to be guilt and anxiety around meal and snack times. Children with bulimia nervosa engage in binge eating episodes followed by compensatory behaviors such as restricting, purging, or excessive exercise. There tends to be high distress after a binge eating episode and prior to engaging in compensatory behaviors. Children with binge eating disorder may engage in secretive eating habits, may eat at a more rapid pace, and may hide or collect food in their room. There tends to be guilt and shame associated with eating. Depending on the disorder, parents tend to notice changes in their child’s eating patterns such as skipping snacks or meals, a new preference for eating alone in one’s bedroom, a sudden interest in dieting or becoming vegetarian/vegan, or increased restroom use after eating. Sometimes parents notice large quantities of food missing from the pantry, or a large amount of wrappers/containers in the trash can or in the child’s room/backpack.
Children with eating disorders may become irritable, withdrawn, or depressed, and may avoid social activities that involve food or certain types of clothing. They may also become increasingly secretive or deceptive about their eating habits.
Eating disorders can cause a range of physical symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, fainting, puberty or menstrual delay, gastrointestinal problems, and dental problems from repeated vomiting.
Therapy can be an essential component of treatment for individuals with eating disorders. A specific treatment approach or a combination of different types of therapy may be recommended based on the specific needs and symptoms of the individual. Here are common forms of therapy offered by experienced providers at Nashvile Child and Family Wellness Center that are used in the treatment of eating disorders:
CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors. In treating eating disorders, CBT can help individuals identify and challenge distorted thoughts and beliefs about food, weight, and body image and develop healthier coping strategies.
ERP is a type of therapy that branches off from CBT and emphasizes behavior change. In the treatment of eating disorders, ERP can help individuals gradually face fear associated with food and their body by learning how to better tolerate and accept feelings of anxiety and discomfort.
FBT is a structured, three phase treatment that is family-centered and can include all family members. This type of therapy can be especially effective for children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa, and aims to help parents and caregivers support their child's recovery by promoting healthy eating habits, weight restoration, and a positive body image.
IPT is a type of therapy that focuses on improving relationships and social functioning. In the treatment of eating disorders, IPT can help individuals address interpersonal problems that may be contributing to the eating disorder, such as conflicts with family members or friends.
ACT is a type of therapy that focuses on developing mindfulness skills and acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. In the treatment of eating disorders, ACT can help individuals develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with their bodies and develop coping strategies for dealing with negative emotions.
DBT is a type of therapy that combines elements of CBT and mindfulness-based approaches. In the treatment of eating disorders, DBT can help individuals develop skills for managing intense emotions and reducing impulsive behaviors related to food and weight.
It’s important to note that eating disorders can have serious physical and psychological consequences, and can even be life-threatening. Treatment for eating disorders often involves a combination of medical, nutritional, and psychological interventions, and will be tailored to the individual’s specific needs.
Nashville Child and Family Wellness Center is committed to providing high-quality, evidenced-based treatment for children, adolescents and adults.
Our individual services for eating disorder treatment include: