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J Am Acad Psychoanal. 1989 Spring;17(1):43-64.

Infantile anorexia nervosa: a developmental disorder or separation and individuation.

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Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, George Washington University, School of Medicine.


Infantile anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that has its onset during the early developmental stage of separation and individuation between the ages of six months and three years. Infantile anorexia nervosa is characterized by food refusal and leads to failure to thrive. The infant refuses to eat in an attempt to achieve autonomy and control with regard to the mother, a maneuver that serves to involve the mother more deeply in the infant's eating behavior and to meet the infant's need for attention. Mother and infant become embroiled in a battle of wills over the infant's food intake. The infant's feeding is directed by his emotional needs instead of physiological sensations of hunger and satiety, and he fails to develop somatopsychological differentiation. The infant's temperament and maternal conflicts over control, autonomy, and dependency appear to contribute to this eating disorder. Treatment is aimed toward helping the parents understand and promote the developmental process of somatopsychological differentiation. Initially, a behavioral-cognitive approach is used; however, parents who struggle with unresolved issues around dependency and control require further psychotherapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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