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Psychological Disorders 2023

Why does my child not want to eat? (and what to do)

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Why does my child not want to eat? (and what to do)
Why does my child not want to eat? (and what to do)

A child who finds it very difficult to eat certain foods due to their texture, color, smell or taste may have an eating disorder, which needs to be identified and treated correctly. Generally, these children show a strong aversion to some foods, demonstrating the urge to vomit or throwing tantrums in order not to eat.

It is normal for almost all children to go through a phase of decreased appetite around 2 years of age, which eventually resolves without any specific treatment. However, children with eating disorders tend to show greater selectivity in what they eat right after the introduction of the first foods, not being able to vary much in the type of food they eat, or in the way these foods are prepared.

Major childhood eating disorders

Although they are uncommon, there are some eating disorders that can make a child eat only a certain type of food, with a certain texture or at a certain temperature:

1. Restrictive or selective eating disorder

It is a type of disorder that usually appears in childhood or adolescence, but can also appear or persist in adulthood. In this disorder, the child limits the amount of food or avoids its consumption based on its experience, color, aroma, flavor, texture and presentation.

The main signs and symptoms of this disorder are:

  • Significant weight loss or difficulty reaching the ideal weight, according to your age;
  • Refusal to eat certain food textures;
  • Restriction of the type and amount of food ingested;
  • Lack of appetite and lack of interest in food;
  • Very restrictive food selection, which can get worse over time;
  • Fear of eating after vomiting or choking;
  • Presence of gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach upset, constipation or abdominal pain.

These children tend to have problems in relationships with others because of their eating problems and may have significant nutritional deficiencies that affect their growth and development, as well as their performance in school.

Learn more details about this selective eating disorder.

2. Sensory processing disorder

This disorder is a neurological condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and responding properly to information that comes from the senses such as touch, taste, smell or sight. The child can be affected in only one or several senses, and therefore a child with this disorder may respond exaggeratedly to any stimulus of the senses, being unbearable some sounds, certain types of tissue, physical contact with certain objects and even some types of food.

When the taste is affected, the child may present:

  • Oral Hypersensitivity

In this case the child has extreme food preferences, with a very small food variation, can be picky with brands, resists trying new foods and cannot eat at other people's houses, avoiding spicy, spicy foods, sweets or salads.

It is possible that you only eat foods with a bland consistency, pureed or liquid, after 2 years of age, and foods with other textures may find it strange. You may also have trouble sucking, chewing, or swallowing for fear of choking. And you may resist or refuse to go to the dentist, complaining about using toothpaste and mouthwash.

  • Oral hyposensitivity

In this situation, the child may prefer foods with an intense flavor, such as excessively spicy, sweet, bittersweet or s alty foods, even feeling that the food does not have enough seasoning. And you can say that all foods taste 'the same'.

It is also possible that he chews, tastes or licks inedible objects, frequently eating his hair, shirt or fingers. Unlike oral hypersensitivity, children with this disorder may enjoy electric toothbrushes, enjoy going to the dentist, and drool excessively.

When to go to the doctor

In cases where signs and symptoms of an eating disorder are evident, the ideal is to seek help from a pediatrician as soon as possible, so that the change can be evaluated. In addition to the pediatrician, an evaluation by a speech therapist and even a psychologist may be advised, who can perform therapies that help the child to slowly get used to new foods.

This type of therapy can be called systematic desensitization, and consists of introducing foods and objects into the child's daily life that help them to overcome the type of disorder that has been identified.There is also a therapy called "Wilbarger's Protocol in the mouth", where various techniques are performed that aim to help the child develop greater sensory integration.

A consultation with a nutritionist is also indicated, due to food restriction, which can cause malnutrition, and an individualized nutritional plan must be developed, with the possibility of using supplements to provide the calories that the body needs.

What to do to make your child eat everything

Some practical advice to get your child to eat a greater variety of foods or more are:

  • Offer new foods preferably when the child is hungry, because they will be better accepted;
  • For the child to accept new foods, try to get them to eat these foods, not giving up before trying about 8 to 10 times, on different days;
  • Combine favorite foods with less accepted ones;
  • The child usually eats better if he chooses some foods from the meal, at least 2;
  • Avoid drinking too much liquids immediately before meals;
  • The time to eat should not be less than 20 minutes and more than 30 minutes, enough time for the child to recognize the feeling of satiety in his body;
  • If the child does not want to eat, they should not be grounded, as this reinforces negative behavior, the plate should be removed and the child can leave the table, but at the next meal, nutritious food should be offered;
  • It is important that the child and the family are seated at the table, calmly, and it is important to have fixed times for meals;
  • Take the child to buy food at the market and help with the choice and preparation of meals and how they are served;
  • Read tales and stories about food.

Check out these and other tips in the following video:

In cases where a disorder is evident, it is possible that the process to regulate feeding takes weeks, months and sometimes years of treatment before your child can enjoy food in a 'normal' way, have the and adapt, being very important to seek help from he alth professionals, such as pediatricians and psychologists, for these situations.

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