Therapy for Feeding Disorders

Get the help your child deserves.

Does your child struggle with or avoid eating?  Are the underweight, unhealthy, or not growing and developing the way they should?  Do you feel overwhelmed, stuck, or unsure how to help?

If so, we are here for you.

Deep Eddy Psychotherapy provides psychotherapy for kids (and support for parents of kids) who struggle with feeding disorders.  Our lead feeding disorder psychologist, Dr. Katie Fahrner, is here to help your child overcome their challenges and thrive.  If your child is working with a  feeding specialist, dietician, or speech language pathologist, our psychotherapy services can fill the gap by intervening from a psychological and behavioral level

If you are ready to get started or if you have more questions, please contact us today – we would love to hear from you.  Read on to learn more about feeding disorders and how our therapists can help.

What are feeding disorders?

Pediatric feeding disorders are conditions in which a child avoids eating or limits what or how much he or she will eat.  This leads to problems including weight loss, lack of growth, nutritional deficiencies, and challenges with daily functioning such as having enough energy to play at recess.  The ICD 10 code F98.29 tends to be used for the diagnosis of Other Feeding Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood.

Feeding disorders are not the same as eating disorders (e.g., anorexia or bulimia), as eating disorders tend to be driven by fears about weight gain, fatness, and body shame.  

What causes feeding disorders?

Pediatric feeding problems are usually multi-factorial in origin. These factors fall into two categories Organic and Non-Organic.  However, it can be more easily conceptualized as factors stemming from physical issues or behavioral/emotional issues.

Physical Issues

Some of the physical issues that can contribute to feeding challenges include pain caused by GER, vomiting, colitis, esophagitis, and other conditions. There can also be nausea, allergies, constipation, and respiratory conditions that contribute to feeding issues. Oral motor and sensory skills can also be factors in feeding issues.

Underlying medical conditions need to be treated first and foremost, as there will not be much progress in treating a feeding disorder if the child continues to experience pain, discomfort, or the risk of aspiration when eating.

Behavioral/Emotional Issues

The second category of factors that can often contribute to feeding disorders is the behavioral/emotional which include child factors, parent factors, and environmental factors. Child factors include, difficult temperament, anxiety or fear, lack of recognition of hunger cues, learned oral avoidance, or hyperactivity.

Some parent factors include inappropriate developmental expectations, over-focus on weight gain, lack of modeling of appropriate eating behaviors or ineffective behavioral strategies. Environmental factors generally play a large role in maintaining feeding disorders. These factors include:

  • Lack of exposure to food
  • Allowing grazing all day
  • Lack of structured mealtimes
  • Chaotic/distracting household
  • Having distractions such as toys, games, and television during meals.

What are some signs of a feeding disorder?

The sign that leads to most of the referrals is poor weight gain or weight loss, and of course, failure to thrive in infants. But some other signs that warrant a referral are:

  • Choking
  • Gagging
  • Coughing during meals
  • Ongoing problems with vomiting
  • Aversion to certain textures or food groups
  • Resistance to use certain utensils

Infants crying and/or arching after most meals is often a sign of reflux which can be a significant factor that contributes to feeding issues. Some other referrals come from parents who are concerned that their child is not transitioning to the next level of baby food with more texture for instance or they aren’t able to transition to table foods or to cup drinking.

How can a psychologist help someone with a feeding disorder?

Feeding disorders tend to be treated with a multidisciplinary approach.  In other words, it’s best to work with a team of specialists who can work to address the different factors that contribute to a feeding disorder.

The first level of intervention needs to address any underlying medical condition that results in pain or discomfort associated with eating. Sometimes a nutritionist is consulted especially when there are dietary restrictions due to allergies or other chronic illnesses.

Feeding therapy can be done by an Occupational Specialist, a Speech and Language Specialist, or a Psychologist. The feeding specialist works with both the child and parents to develop a plan to address the specific feeding challenge.

When Dr. Katie Fahrner works with feeding issues in children, she combines behavioral techniques with the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach. This approach was developed by Kay Toomey, Ph.D., and has the goal of increasing a child’s repertoire of consumed food through play and interaction. The SOS approach incorporates a systematic desensitization approach in which children learn about the sensory properties of new foods, develop oral motor skills required for eating, and reduce stress and emotional responses to mealtimes through play. The work with parents helps with the transfer of these skills to the home environment.

What advice do you have for parents of children with feeding disorders?

As a parent of a child who struggles with eating/feeding, you have had to endure some really tough times.  We know how exhausted and frustrating it can be to not be able to feed your child – something that is so fundamental to raising them.  Keep in mind that the feeding disorder is not the fault of the parent.  You have often done your very best.  All you need is the right support from the right professionals.  

If you are struggling to feed their child for whatever reason: get the support of a professional trained in working with feeding challenges. Interventions may range from some simple techniques for the parent to try at home to more intensive feeding therapy for their child.  Not only does what is going on affect your child, but it also affects the family more broadly. 

Don’t wait and hope for things to get better on their own.  Contact us today to get the help your family deserves.

Interested?  Contact us today!

We would love to hear from you.  If you would like to learn more about our services or schedule to begin your first therapy session, check out our Contact page!  Our team of compassionate providers is dedicated to providing you with the utmost quality of care for your mental health needs.