picky eating or eating disorder

Odds are that your toddler's refusing to eat anything green or throwing a fit his meat is touching his mashed potatoes is just a plain old normal toddler phase. But for 10 percent of kids, these signs may point to something more serious -- an eating disorder.

What's the difference between a picky eating and something more serious?

Picky eaters may consume only a few different foods, but they are still getting a nourishing diet. Say he'll only eat mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, raisin bran, bananas, carrots, and chicken fingers if you're lucky. He's getting something from all the recommended food groups, and is probably getting enough variety of nutrients.

Children with eating disorders don't get enough calories and nutrients to promote healthy growth and development. They might eat only three to four types of foods -- say, only bananas, apples and bread or milk, crackers and yogurt -- eliminating entire food groups and jeopardizing their health.

Common symptoms of a feeding disorder include:

An abrupt change in eating habits lasting longer than 30 days;

Delayed development of a skill set necessary to self feed or eat more challenging textures;

Weight loss, or failure to gain weight;

Choking or coughing during meals;

Unexplained fatigue or loss of energy;

Disruptive behavior during mealtime.

Every child is different and may have a different assortment of behaviors, including refusing food by crying, spitting it out, turning their head or throwing utensils, coughing, gagging, and vomiting. Some 30 percent of children with developmental problems are likely to have a feeding disorder.

Early diagnosis is key to heading off complications such as anemia and developmental delays, like delayed crawling, walking and talking. If you suspect your child is suffering, contact your pediatrician.

For more information, go to the feeding disorder page at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.