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What are the Causes and Symptoms of Selective Eating Disorder in Children?

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/10/2010

Selective eating disorder in children can be easily mistaken for other eating disorders. They may have the same symptoms as other disorders, but they have different causes.

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    Selective Eating Disorder

    Selective eating disorder in children can start as early as infancy. This feeding disorder is also known as picky eating and it is where children show an aversion to certain kinds of food and even a refusal to try new kinds. This aversion is not just limited to taste, but also to the texture and even the brand of those foods.

    Children with this disorder prefer to eat a narrow selection of foods, most of which are carbohydrates. Obviously, this is a nutritional concern that needs to be addressed. Here are some tips on detecting the symptoms and identifying the causes of selective eating disorder.

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    Autism and Anxiety Disorders

    Selective eating disorder is usually associated with anxiety disorders and autism spectrum disorders. If a child has any of these disorders, there is a strong likelihood that they are also prone to selective eating. That is why children with these disorders should be observed carefully to watch for any signs of selective eating. By so doing, steps can be taken to minimize negative effects or even prevent the development of the disorder.

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    Common Signs of Selective Eating

    Symptoms of selective eating include intolerance to certain textures or smells, discomfort with the aroma of certain foods, and gagging, choking and coughing during meals. These symptoms can be very apparent when a child suddenly runs out of the dining area because they are upset with the smells and the tastes they encounter during meal times.

    The selective eating disorder can even be the cause of children avoiding food groups such as carbohydrates, fruits or vegetables. For instance, when a child stays away from vegetables, it may not just be because of an aversion to the taste of vegetables which is common among children. It may already be an early symptom of selective eating disorder which may persist as the child grows up.

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    Causes

    Other disorders can be mistaken for this feeding disorder like food avoidance emotional disorder or anorexia nervosa. These disorders cause children to stay away from certain kinds of food or all kinds of food and they are caused by emotional difficulties or fear of food. Selective eating is usually mistaken for food neophobia which is a disorder where people avoid consuming novel foods. However, it must be known that selective eating is not based on emotional difficulties or phobias. It is entirely based on taste, smell, texture and sight of food that children associate with traumatic incidents.

    Certain memories of incidents with food may bring about this disorder. As an example, a child may have gagged on something that is chewy. This may cause the child to develop a selective eating disorder where they are now finding chewy types of food repulsive.

    Extra sensitive taste sensation can also be a cause of selective eating disorder in children. Intense sensations experienced when a food is tasted can cause someone to develop and adverse reaction to that food and anything that is associated with it. A heightened sense of taste can be a good thing for some people, but when associated with certain kinds of food and memories, it is very likely to cause selective eating disorder.

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    Reference

    American College of Neuropsychopharmacology: Eating Disturbances and Eating Disorders in Children

    Behavioral Health Nutrition: Selective Eating and Autism Spectrum Disorder