Eating disorders - particularly amongst young children - have been the cause of many sensationalist headlines in recent years – with many people believing that we now have an entire generation of children who are obsessing about their food and their body image. We also have children who have no real concept of healthy food intake and exercise who are overweight.
The truth is that some amount of self-criticism is normal. However, when a child becomes obsessed about food or develops patterns of destructive behaviour centred around food, then it’s time to seek help. This can be both in terms of over eating, under eating and faddy eating.
Eating disorders can impact many aspects of a child’s development and quality of life, impacting on their learning, cognition, language acquisition and behaviour, as well as putting a huge amount of strain on family relationships.
Eating disorders and other medical conditions
Children with Prader-Willi Syndrome develop an unhealthy obsession with food and may have a seemingly insatiable appetite. Professional support, a strict diet, cognitive behavioural techniques and behaviour analysis for both the child and family can help a child with this condition to maintain a healthy weight.
Other conditions such as ASD, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and acquired brain injury (ABI) can all lead to eating issues and obsessions with food, or with one particular food. Some children may become obsessed with an eating routine which, if broken, can lead to tantrums and aggression.
What causes eating disorders?
The causes of eating disorders are complex and varied. Some children develop an eating disorder as a way of controlling their environment. For a child who feels that life is chaotic or out of control, an eating disorder is a way of regaining that sense of control.
Family breakdown, bullying or anxiety may also trigger an eating disorder. Any dramatic change in your child’s weight, or a sudden preoccupation with food is a clear indicator that something is wrong.
Helping your child with an eating disorder
If you are concerned about your child’s physical health, it is essential that you consult your GP at the earliest opportunity. Physical symptoms will need to be stabilised to ensure the safety of the child. Once this has been achieved, there are a number of treatments available to bring the eating disorder under control, in particular Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
NETwork Interventions has years of experience of dealing with both neurologically induced eating disorders and those with cognitive and behavioural causes. Starting with a detailed assessment of your child and their environment, we will pinpoint the ‘triggers’ that are causing or perpetrating the disorder, and guide and support your child and family to tackle them.
We also support you as parents, and the wider family, providing the professional guidance and support you need to find a way forwards. In fact, working with the whole family - and not just your child in isolation - is one of the reasons we believe our interventions are so successful.
Children who become preoccupied with food and/or body image often have unvoiced worries and anxiety that manifest in the form of eating disorders. Your child may struggle to label what is going on inside of him or her, or in their environment, and is there is a struggle in this skill area it is essential that we teach this. By teaching your child to vocalise these anxieties and label (tact) what is going on, their pattern of behaviour can gradually be altered to incorporate a healthier attitude to food and anything else that is going on in their world.
If the child is being bullied, they may become withdrawn and their social skills begin to be impaired. If allowed to continue for too long, this can result in isolation, depression and increased anxiety, self-perpetuating the probability of the child returning to a destructive pattern of eating and body image worries. By freeing up this ‘social skills blockage’, VB can prevent a child from becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative and prevent a lapse back into a destructive cycle of obsessive behaviour.
Often children are unable to express their concerns if they are non-vocal or have limited language either in every area or in certain areas. We can equip family members with the skills to teach missing language skills, establish good eating routines for their children and to teach motivation to expand eating repertoires.
Did you know?
NETwork Interventions has seen time and time again that eating disorders in children are nearly always the results of missing skills from social to communication to academic. Equipping a child with those skills is the most effective way of overcoming an eating disorder.