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What Treatments are Available for Selective Eating Disorder?

written by: LotusSnow • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/13/2010

Many of us regard going out for dinner and attending parties some of life’s pleasures. However for a selected few who suffer from selective eating disorder, these functions can be the stuff of nightmares. However, there are some treatment programs that are available that might help.

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    About Selective Eating Disorder (SED)

    This disorder is characterized by an inability or unwillingness to eat certain food types. It is quite common for children to exhibit symptoms of this disorder; however serious problems arise when the behavior persists through childhood into adolescence and adulthood. Depending on the severity of the disorder, the effects can be psychological, social and physical. Nutritional problems may arise due to the restrictive diet. For instance, someone who is willing to eat only fruits may be deficient in certain minerals like calcium, which may increase their risk of osteoporosis.

    So what can we do about this disorder? Let us look into the different selective treatment disorder treatment programs that are available.

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and SED

    Systematic desensitization programs offer short exposures to new food textures and oral sensations. Using a series of exposure situations, the patient is nudged toward resetting his or her dysfunctional patterns of behavior. During these sessions, the patient is slowly exposed to different kinds of food. An example would be if the patient does not eat anything but scrambled eggs, perhaps a few pieces of tomato might be chopped up and added to the eggs to allow the patient to become familiar with the taste. When the patient is sufficiently familiar perhaps a few pieces of cheese may be added, slowly exposing the patient to more and more new foods.

    As therapy continues, even more new foods are introduced in a non-threatening manner. Typically the patient is allowed some form of control over what kinds of new food that he or she is willing to add. The ultimate goal is that over a set period of time, the patient will begin to eat normally. If possible, the therapist or psychologist will continue to work with the patient to expand the list of acceptable food types until it includes most of the items from the all the necessary food groups.

    It is also important to create a stress-free atmosphere for those patients who are continuously on “alert mode" and have difficulty calming themselves. This treatment helps patients to make friends with food. Patients are given opportunities to explore and handle food in many contexts, and through the various tactile senses. Techniques to stimulate and exercise the tongue to lessen the gag reflex are also taught. Unfamiliar foods are introduced to the side of the tongue rather than the tip because it is less sensitive to strange new tastes.

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    Food Chaining and SED

    This is a treatment program that builds upon the patient’s successful eating experiences. Foods that are palatable to the patient are studied for patterns in taste, texture and temperature. The SED patient is slowly introduced to new foods that they are likely to eat because of the similarity to the foods they already enjoy eating.

    For example, if the patient loves toast, we could use that to create the food chains, or links, perhaps to introduce him or her to raisin toast, cinnamon toast, buttered toast, cheese toast or fruit toast. So here the “link" food is toast.

    Food Chaining uses a variety of techniques to make food more palatable for the SED patient. Flavor mapping analyzes the patient’s flavor preference, so we can determine how to expose the patient to a balance of different flavors. An example here would be, if the patient is willing to eat toast with butter, he or she would be more apt to accept toast with perhaps, thinly spread almond butter, since the taste of both butter and almond butter are similar, although the texture is different. We can use flavor masking too, which is a technique that uses a condiment or sauce to mask the taste of new foods.

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    Hypnotherapy and SED

    A therapist uses hypnosis to help put patients into a state of deep relaxation called “trance". During the trance state, the patient is very focused and is supposedly highly receptive to ideas, images and suggestions.

    Since there is an obsessive-compulsive component to SED, hypnosis might be beneficial in many ways. Hypnosis can help you figure out the psychological root of your problem, thus helping you deal with the emotional aspect of it. It can also help break negative behavior patterns and instill positive eating habits and attitudes.

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    Conclusion

    The seriousness of selective eating disorder is just as worrisome as other eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. Patients suffer from depression and are usually quite socially impaired because they are unable to go out and eat. Often they worry about being bad role models for their children. Most people who suffer from SED are also embarrassed by their limited food repertoire and will try to keep their condition hidden. In addition, sufferers have reported that since so little is known about this disorder, it can be difficult to get help as currently there aren't too many selective eating disorder treatment programs available.