Understanding Toddler Eating Disorders

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Types and Causes of Toddler Eating Disorders

The causes of a toddler eating disorder can run the gamut from true medical conditions to pure behavior problems. For example, some toddlers refuse food because of FAED (Food Avoidance Emotional Disorder), which is an emotional disorder that causes extreme mood swings, leaving children with little appetite. Others may have functional dysphagia, in which a child fears that eating will lead to vomiting, therefore he or she avoids eating a lot of food. Depression and compulsive eating can both lead to eating disorders as well. All of these cases need to be treated before the actual toddler eating disorder can be dealt with effectively.

On the other hand, some eating disorders are caused by behavioral problems. For example, some children restrict their food intake to a small number of types of food, which can compromise their health. Others may refuse to eat or drink, either temporarily or over a long period of time, due to behavioral issues. These issues need to be dealt with through behavioral techniques, rather than through a medical mindset.

Helping Toddlers with Eating Disorders

If your toddler has an eating disorder, the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis to figure out what is causing the eating disorder. Medical issues, such as depression or dysphagia, need to be treated in order for the toddler eating disorder to improve. Behavioral problems, on the other hand, may need psychological intervention. For example, a child who eats only a few very specific types of food can be offered similar foods that are only slightly different. In this case, the child may also need affirmation of whatever need the eating disorder is filling.

After your child has been treated for the eating disorder, you still must make sure to carefully maintain progress. Focus on giving your toddler healthy snacks and meals, introduce new foods individually and in small quantities, and let your child help you to prepare food as much as possible. Make eating time a positive, social time, and your child may surprise you by how he or she reacts.

Normal Toddler Eating Behaviors

Many parents are nervous that their toddlers may have toddler eating disorders, when the toddlers are in fact acting exactly as many toddlers do in the realm of food and eating. It is normal for toddlers to go through a food jag, in which they will only eat one or several items. In addition, toddlers may refuse new foods numerous times before finally deign to taste them. They can also be frustratingly inconsistent in their eating patterns, which can make parents nervous.

Additionally, they may also eat only small quantities throughout the day, with perhaps only one “full meal.” All of these are normal patterns of behavior for a child. Offer child-friendly healthy snacks and meals, so don’t be too hasty to chalk up these behaviors as a toddler eating disorder.




This post is part of the series: Infant and Toddler Feeding Disorders

In an adult, it is called a “eating disorder.” In an infant or toddler, it’s called a “feeding disorder.” This series contains informational articles about various aspects of infant and toddler feeding disorders.

  1. Does Your Toddler Have an Eating Disorder?