It is common to hear complaints about certain foods, such as “My stomach hurts if I eat lactose or dairy products.”or “I don’t eat fish. It makes me feel nauseous.” Both children and adults may suffer from such disorders and are very selective about food intake. This can result in malnutrition and lack of energy.
Such eating disorder is called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). In most of the cases, the children develop fussy eating habits due to certain aversions or irregular feeding habits. For instance, if a child grows up without eating fish, his or her taste buds will not be ready to taste fish later. The body will be deprived of certain nutrients found in fish.
Again, many children grow a habit of eating the same food daily, such as chicken. Sometimes such the habits grow as they hear adults speaking things bad or negative about certain food items. Then when they grow up, they cannot eat that certain food as their body reacts to the ingredients.
ARFID often results in restrictive food habits based on the colour, taste, smell or shape of the food. It causes dependence on particular foods, lack of nutrition, weight loss and stunted growth. The disorder also affects children’s social behaviour.
Patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or those with autism also show excessive selectiveness in food intake.
Parents have to be consciously active from the very beginning to avoid such disorders in children. Parents can introduce children to different foods with various colours, tastes and shapes. They must not say anything negative about any food in front of their kids.
Parents should not give in to children’s tantrums regarding food habits. They should try to feed them varieties of foods. If restrictive habits increase the child must be taken to a physician or a psychologist. Before starting any treatment, he or she should be diagnosed to identify if the disorder is ARFID or OCD.
*Helal Uddin Ahmed is associate professor of the Department of Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health