Restrictive Eating

What is Restrictive Eating?

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (“Restrictive Eating”) refers to a condition of disinterest or avoidance in eating.  The consequence of Restrictive Eating is that a child does not get the required nutrients through their food intake and will fall behind their peers in development.

Restrictive Eating is normally associated with children below the age of 6, but may continue in adolescents and adults.

Restrictive Eating is different to other common eating disorders, such as, anorexia and bulimia nervosa, where the concerned in the latter have a fear of gaining weight and body image.

What causes Restrictive Eating?

Causes of Restrictive Eating differ by individual child.  Whilst not always the case, the condition has been linked to other medical or psychological conditions in the child, such as, autism, attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Symptoms of Restrictive Eating

It is normal for a child to be selective about what kind of food they eat and it is common for children to go through phases where they refuse eat certain kinds of foods.
It is normal for a child to be selective about what kind of food they eat and it is common for children to go through phases where they refuse eat certain kinds of foods.

When the “phase” of refusing to eat persists and begins to severely impact the child’s wellbeing, there might be risk of Restrictive Eating.

Common associated symptoms of Restrictive Eating include:

  • Significant weight loss or suffer from slower growth than peers
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Difficulty digesting certain foods
  • Avoiding certain textures of food
  • Avoiding certain colours of food
  • Impairment to the growth of the child
  • Severe drop in energy levels
  • Dependence on supplements for nutrition
  • Interferes with social functioning (avoiding social gatherings where there is the presence of food; avoiding recess time; etc)

Treatment for Restrictive Eating

Our psychologists at Think Psychological Services are trained and experienced in dealing with children diagnosed with Restrictive Eating.

Depending on the age of the child, treatment plans are customized to the specific child.

Typical approach would include:

  • Systematic desensitisation through a home intervention feeding exposure program, tailored for the child to work through and overcome their restrictive eating
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy to work through the emotional and psychological aversion or fear of new and novel foods. This can help adjust any cognitive distortions that one may have about certain foods and how it makes them feel.
Restrictive Eating