Understand what counts as beyond typical picky eating

Vanessa Millovich DCN RDN LDN

How can you tell if your child’s picky eating is more serious? Diagnosed eating disorders are medical conditions that require consistent treatment from a team of professionals, just like many other medical conditions. 

ARFID, which stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, is a newer diagnosis in the realm of eating disorders. It used to be called “Selective Eating Disorder” and has key symptoms which make it more serious than “regular” picky eating.

“Regular” picky eating comes and goes throughout different phases of a child’s life and doesn’t cause them to not be able to go to a birthday party or participate in typical activities.  Picky eating also doesn’t cause a child to lose a significant amount of weight or “fall of their growth curve”.


Is your child’s food avoidance getting in the way of other activities?

If your child avoids foods, is uninterested in food and mealtime, on a consistent basis, along with weight loss or lack of weight gain over several weeks to months, there may be a more serious underlying issue going on.

Children who rely on oral supplements to meet their nutritional goals, in combination with an avoidance to foods because of the look, texture, taste, and smell, may need to be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in ARFID and disordered eating.


More significant warning signs for younger children (think toddlers to pre-puberty)

With these kiddos, they may begin to avoid more and more kinds of foods, their hair could start to thin, and they may also have a serious fear of choking or vomiting when they eat. Because of their younger age, it may be more challenging to figure out if their picky eating is more serious.


More significant warning signs for older children (think puberty and beyond)

If your older child often complains about any of these symptoms listed below, it may be appropriate to have him/her evaluated by a doctor.

  • Feeling cold, dressing in excessive layers, more tired than usual, tells you that they feel full a lot (even when they’ve barely eaten), will only eat foods of certain textures, complains that they can’t concentrate, they are dizzy, and maybe they stopped getting their period (for girls who have gone through menarche)


Normalize eating disorders

If your child does end up being diagnosed with an eating disorder like ARFID or one of the others, try to help them understand that it is like any other medical condition. This means that it still needs to be treated by trained professionals, just like if they had a broken leg – they would go to the right kind of doctor, in order to get their leg, put in a cast etc. It is very important for children with any warning signs of an eating disorder to be evaluated and treated, if needed, to avoid life-altering mental and physical consequences in adulthood. If you’re looking for additional help for your child with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorder Alliance (NEDA) helpline or visit their website listed here.