Eating Disorders: It Is not about the food’s-not-about-the-food

Article by Lea Peyton Gebhardt 

Eating Disorders do not discriminate; they are not limited by gender, age, social class, or ethnicity. Individuals suffering from Eating Disorders have severe disturbances in eating behavior (ranging from total restriction to binge eating) coupled with negative or distorted body image. Over exercise, self-induced vomiting, and misuse of laxatives or medications are behaviors typically associated with weight control in Eating Disorders.  Poorly understood by most, Eating Disorders are often oversimplified to a basic mathematical equation of eating too much or eating too little with bodyweight being the end result. This linear thinking dismisses the severity of the disease, overlooks the psychological and emotional aspects, and reinforces weight as the measurable outcome.  It is important to remember it is not about the food.  Eating Disorders are diseases that affect ones physical health, cognition and thinking, feelings and emotions, sociability as well as quality of life.  And sometimes, they are paired with anxiety, mood, adjustment or personality disorders, and substance abuse.

Unhealthy relationships with food can develop as a response to life stressors.  Food is one of the few things we can control without external interference and this is learned at a very young age. When life seems overwhelming for individuals with eating disorders, food becomes the coping mechanism.  How much, how little, what, when, and where to eat, represent an individuals’ control that may not be felt, perceived or present in other areas of life. This methodical approach to eating coupled with a fixation on weight control can be all consuming and can take up to 90 percent of waking hours; therefore leaving little time to manage any of life’s other responsibilities. Food and weight become tangible, measurable entities, yet they are merely metaphors for answers to more complex core issues including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, coping, identity, values, relationships, low self-esteem, abuse, or obsessive behavior.  We live in a culture where thinness is valued and aggressive food marketing produces conflicting information about which foods are “healthy”, creating the perfect environment to mask emotions behind food control.

Eating disorders and the resultant food behavior can ravage the body physically resulting in malnutrition, anemia, muscle wasting, compromised bone health, gastrointestinal function and immunity, and even death. Malnutrition can further compromise any underlying psychological condition and yield mood stabilizing medications ineffective. Remember it is not just about food.  Eating Disorders can only effectively be treated with a multidisciplinary team consisting of a physician, psychiatrist, therapist, and dietitian. 


Remember to honor your child, picky eating is not always a choice

Physiologically, eating may just be the most complicated thing we do.

Swallowing, alone, involves 26 muscles, and every meal engages the respiratory, endocrine and metabolic systems, as well as the entire GI tract and all 5 senses. Eating triggers psycho-emotional associations, and affects both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It is no small wonder that things often go wrong. It is extremely important for both professionals and parents to read children’s cues and look for patterns with food refusal.

As a general rule, kids don’t refuse to eat simply to be difficult, but they do have difficulty articulating why they are not eating. They may not have the language to express why it is difficult (it hurts, it makes me gag, I don’t like the texture, I am afraid) or lack the understanding that their eating habits are atypical. Many picky kids have unknown medical conditions, like acid reflux, iron and zinc deficiencies, diarrhea, or constipation. A kiddo with undiagnosed food allergies may experience pain when eating. He may not even be aware that it does not have to be painful to eat. You must also take into account a child’s motor skills, as sometimes children are not developmentally ready to advance textures even though it may seem age appropriate. Sensory Food A version, a commonly seen feeding disorder characterized by consistent refusal to eat certain foods based on taste, texture, smell or appearance, may produce strong visceral reactions that leave a child unable to eat. Some children may only refuse a few foods while others may exclude entire food groups such as vegetables, fruits, or meats. Children with Sensory Food A version can become very distressed at meals, often leading to heightened anxiety for both the child and the parent or caregiver.

Typically, these kids will eat preferred foods, but their diet may be lacking in key vitamins and minerals. Often these preferred foods are predictable to them, meaning that the food will look, taste, smell, and feel the same way every time. Typically, sensory related aversions are not isolated to food. These children will often refuse touching certain textures such as sand, playdoh, or wet grass, and have adverse reactions to brushing their teeth or washing their hands or face.

Psychologically, children may have negative memories associated with a past food experience. They may associate food with fear, pain or discomfort. Furthermore, children may lack the confidence to try new foods or to experience new textures that cause them fear, anxiety or scary sensations. Children often look to their parents for modeling and reassurance. I f the parent is anxious, coaxing, bribing or bargaining, this can lead to increased anxiety for the child and less eating. W hen children have a negative association with eating they are in react mode, leading to increased adrenaline. Elevated adrenaline in turn causes suppression in appetite, an inability to calm, and increased difficulty with swallowing.

Kids eat when they feel well, when they feel confident with their skills, and when they have positive social interaction with their parents, peers, and caregivers. Appropriately addressing any issues with choosy eating should include treating any contributing medical condition, correcting any resulting malnutrition, and empowering children to feel safe with new foods in order to build a solid foundation for a lifelong healthy relationship with food. If your child seems fearful or anxious at the table, you may want to consult with a feeding expert for guidelines to ensure your child will become a healthy, happy eater. Remember to create regular meal times, provide a variety of food (keeping in mind that children get overwhelmed with more than three choices,) let your child choose what and how much they will eat, and praise your child for self-feeding skills and being brave about exploring new foods!

Picky Eating 101 for Parents


Welcome to our mini 4-week course on Picky Eating with Pediatric Feeding/Nutrition Expert Lea Gebhardt. This webinar series will have 4 packed hour sessions on everything you need to know to raise a picky eater! The course is just $250 for all 5 weeks! There will be a bonus 5th week of Q&A. You will have an opportunity to send your questions in advance of the special session! 

Course Objectives:

1.   Basic understanding of picky eating, sensory integration and eating: what makes kids picky, what works and what doesn't.

2. Employ strategies to promote familiarity with new food: reduce fear and anxiety with meal times, and increase acceptance of nutritionally suitable foods.

3. Establish Family Meal Time Expectations: get your family on the same plate and stop making multiple meals!

4. Simplify Meal Planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation. 

There are 4 times to choose from, but space is limited so register soon.  If you have a conflict on any week, you will be permitted to attend a different time if you notify us in advance.

Course Times:

Tuesday at 11:00 am CST or 7:00pm CST

Jan 28th

Feb 4th

Feb 11th

Feb 18th

Feb 24th

Wednesday at 11:00 am CST or 7:00 pm CST

 Jan 29th

 Feb 5th

Feb 12th

Feb 19th

Feb 26th

Please register online under investments and send an email to with your course time preference.  You will receive a confirmation. All webinar login information and course materials will be sent one week in advance of each course.

For more information from Lea,  see these previous articles.


We hope you’ll join us for this informative webinar series. We promise it will be both fun and informative. Meals should not be a struggle and eating new foods doesn't have to be scary! 


From Our Pantry to Yours,


Lea & Emily