Picky Eating Passing Phase or Disorder

Study to Classify Picky Eating as a Life-Long Disorder

Picky eating is not new. There have always been fussy eaters. In the past, picky eating has been thought of as a phase which kids outgrow.

The difference is that a generation or two ago, kids were offered only whole foods. So, if Junior didn’t eat his broccoli, he’d eat the rest of his dinner, which his mom made from scratch.

Today, when kids refuse to eat dinner, moms purchase French fries and chicken fingers or a hamburger. Kids are growing up deficit in healthful nutrients. Picky eating is more than a passing phase, and it is affecting our children’s health. Now, some experts are calling adult picky eating a “lifelong disorder.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted a task-force categorizing eating disorders for the 2013 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is considering recognizing “selective eating” as a disorder applying to adults and children.

Dani isn’t so sure about the taste and texture of beets.
It may take over a dozen times tasting a new food, before acceptance.

In a new study by the Duke Center, Finicky Eating in Adults F.A.D., The Duke Center for Eating Disorders provides treatment for the entire spectrum of eating issues including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, childhood feeding disorders, food avoidance, obesity and now picky eating.

The Wall Street Journal article stated, “Picky eaters tend to gravitate to certain foods, including blander products that are often white or pale colored, like plain pasta or cheese pizza. For reasons that aren’t clear, almost all adult picky eaters like French fries and often chicken fingers, health experts say.”

Adult picky eaters withdraw from activities that might make them uncomfortable. Eating with family on holidays or invited to a friend’s home for dinner can be a traumatic experience for an adult picky eater. Some psychologists say picky eaters have no control over what they like and could be suffering from an eating disorder.

While writing Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater, a friend referred me to a man I’ll call Carl. Carl was in his 40s and would eat only a few foods. He was overweight and had several health issues, including diabetes. I spoke to Carl’s wife first.  She was very concerned about his health. He had already seen a psychiatrist to no avail.

When I met with Carl, I asked him what foods he regularly ate. He ate only bland, white foods and fast foods, like French fries and hamburgers. Texture was a big issue for Carl. I asked him how he could eat fast foods without a problem, since he preferred bland foods. His answer was that he could always be sure the taste and texture would be exactly the same.

I do NOT agree with the claim that adult picky eaters have “no control” over their dysfunction. Anymore than adults have no control over any disorder, whether it is an eating disorder, alcoholism, smoking or drug abuse. Given the desire and motive to change, people do.

I explained to Carl how people learn using all their senses and that picky eating is a learned behavior. The Baby Bites steps work for toddlers, kids and adults, because it incorporates multi-sensory learning. Multi-sensory learning is how we all learn. The difference for kids is that parents control their environment. Adult picky eaters need to act as their own parent. Although Carl’s social life and health were suffering, he was not interested in learning how to eat whole foods. Despite his failing health, Carl was comfortable in his dysfunction.

Don’t let your child turn into a “Carl.” The longer you wait the more difficult it will be to change behaviors. The older your fussy eater is, the less control you have over what he/she eats. I wrote Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater because my grandson, Joshy, was the king of picky eaters. At two and a half,  Joshy regularly ate only four or five foods. He was painfully thin and his fussy eating was already affecting his health. His parents were beside themselves with worry. In a matter of a few weeks, we were able to change his eating preferences after we included multi-sensory learning during mealtimes. Today, he is a healthy eight-year-old, preferring whole foods.

Your child’s story can have a happy ending as well. Find out more about Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater and the children’s whole foods storybook, The Forest Feast: Click Here

3 thoughts on “Picky Eating Passing Phase or Disorder

  1. Martha Havens says:

    I have been a picky eater all of my life, and I never thought of it as an eating disorder. I have very gradually learned to like most foods. I still have some problems with strong-tasting foods, though, and I am over 60. Parents should introduce foods to children and encourage them to try a bite. It also helps if parents make the food fun, like putting faces on beets, Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes. Parents can make food more appetizing by adding sauces. Parents can reward children with a food they love if they eat one they don’t like. Anything to make a kid eat is worth a try. I used all these techniques on my kids, and neither one of them are fussy eaters.

  2. Maggie Macaulay says:

    Thanks for another informative and important article, Joann! Thanks for doing what you do to encourage healthy eating in families. What children eat impacts every aspect of their lives, from their behavior to how they learn to their future health. We will share this with more parents by placing a link to your post in the July 20 issue of Parenting News. Hope it brings many readers your way, and your readers may subscribe to Parenting News, our free weekly e-zine for parents and teachers, at http://www.WholeHeartedParenting.com.

  3. Robynne says:

    I read 16 years ago a “scientific study” that it takes 17 new introductions of a new food for a toddler to think that a food belongs in his/her world. So if your toddler (not baby) spits it out the first time — so what — that’s just his/her sayings “this is new” and I need to experience it, feel and play with the texture and flavor, and 17 tries later they will most likely recognized and eat it that food for life. I am not including allergic reactions here. So moms keep at it. Don’t let you toddler dictate the family menu — or be prepare for “kiddie” food instead of gourmet for life.

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