Characterized by an obsessive unwillingness to eat certain kinds of food, selective eating disorder is not simply being a “picky eater” but instead is a psychological disorder causing severe physical problems due to malnutrition. While most children outgrow food pickiness, teenagers and adults who continue eating only very few types of food may need to seek selective eating disorder treatment at eating disorder treatment centers.
Currently, selective eating disorder (SED) is not a widely accepted eating disorder but it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder IV as a category of eating disorders. Also called “avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder,” selective eating disorder has been assigned several clinical signs that must be met before an eating disorder therapist diagnoses someone with SED:
- Failure to meet nutritional requirements and appropriate weight maintenance. This failure may necessitate patients begin supplemental nutrition or enteral feeding due to significant loss of weight and/or nutritional deficiencies
- A diagnosis of selective eating disorder must not be related to cultural values or lack of access to different kinds of food
- A diagnosis of selective eating disorder cannot be explainable by another medical condition or mental illness
Eating disorder treatment centers address SED using cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, nutritional counseling and other methods that comprise an eating disorder recovery program for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder. However, it is important to thoroughly assess someone suspected of having SED before treatment begins, since SED is sometimes due to unknown medical or sensory processing issues associated with autism spectrum disorders.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a Selective Eating Disorder Treatment
CBT is a subtype of psychotherapy that teaches patients how to recognize negative thought patterns so they can stop them immediately and replace them with positive, more rational thoughts. Patients in an eating disorder recovery program suffer from SED or other eating disorder primarily due to holding onto cognitive distortions–distorted beliefs about their body shape, obsession with being “perfect” and low self-esteem. CBT shows eating disorder patients how powerful an impact their thoughts have on their emotions, attitudes, and beliefs. It also reveals the faultiness of their thoughts through a variety of techniques like cognitive rehearsal and validity testing.
CBT and Cognitive Rehearsal
An eating disorder therapist will ask a SED patient to think about a problematic situation they once struggled to deal with productively. The patient then works to find positive solutions to that problem by discussing other ways they could have better dealt with that problem with the therapist. By regularly “rehearsing” utilization of positive thoughts regarding past issues, cognitive rehearsal helps SED patients learn to use positive thoughts to deal with current issues related to their selective eating disorder.
CBT and Validity Testing
An eating disorder recovery program implemented at residential eating disorder treatment centers may include validity testing as a way to “test” a patient’s beliefs. Patients are allowed to defend their viewpoint regarding their eating habits but must support beliefs with objective evidence. For example, if they believe that eating only a certain food won’t make them ill from nutritional deficiencies, the eating disorder therapist may ask them for proof of their health by bringing blood tests results or other lab reports to a counseling session.
Systemic Desensitization and Selective Eating Disorder Treatment
Also used to treat people with phobias, systemic desensitization involves exposing SED patients to new foods for short periods. If a patient refuses to eat dairy products, the therapist may have them take a sip of milk or eat a tiny piece of cheese every day. Or, a small piece of cheese could be melted on a hamburger instead of eaten alone. The goal is to eventually get the patient used to the taste and texture of foods they previously avoided.
Eating disorder treatment centers offer professional residential or outpatient help for adolescents and adults with selective eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or other lesser known eating disorders. Call us today to learn more about our selective eating disorder treatment program.