Table of Contents:
III. Picky Eating in Children
IV. Picky Eating in Adults
V. Possible Cures
Picky eating is essentially the exclusion of certain foods from one’s diet (Dovey, T. M., 2010); causing the individual to have a more restricted diet than average eaters and, in some cases, long-term health issues. (Intlekofer, 2012). These foods could either be familiar or unfamiliar to the person.
Though a common behavioral phase in most young children, picky eating, or neophobia – which is the fear of trying something new – is sometimes seen in adults. The root cause of picky eating or neophobia is unknown, but there are various theories that not only genetic, but also outside factors – such as parental and peer pressures – are considered potential contributors to the development of the behavior. (Dovey, T. M., 2010). But more often than not a child will grow out of his or her pickiness by the time they reach adolescence. (Sostek, 2010).
It’s reported that typically, picky eaters will follow the same kind of eating pattern – where they dislike and gravitate towards the same style foods. Fruits and vegetables and most meats are often avoided while salty and processed foods are favored. (Cordova, 2011). Some eliminate entire food groups from their diets; others simply avoid foods that are of a certain texture.
While avoiding a couple of foods is not considered a problem, extreme cases can be linked with a certain type of eating disorder called “selective eating disorder.” (Carr, 2010) It is not considered as dangerous or life-threatening as other eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia – as it doesn’t focus on body image and weight – but can still have a negative effect on one’s social and physical health.
Serious pickiness can cause some individuals to lie in order to avoid going to social events because of the stress and embarrassment related to not liking most foods.(Intlekofer, 2012).
There is no absolute way to cure pickiness. There are a few methods one might take to help enhance their palate or persuade a child to eat more foods that they might otherwise avoid.
The leading cause of picky eating is unknown. In children, pickiness is in part the result of outside pressures from both family and friends. The family’s mealtime dynamic and parents’ own dietary preferences can each influence a child’s eating behavior. (Dovey, T. M., 2010). In some cases, these early experiences carry over into adulthood. (Nixon, 2010).
There is also the theory that picky eating or neophobia is genetic (Carr, 2010) and that an individual’s genetic makeup results in them being “supertasters” or having a more intense sense of taste than other people. (Nixon, 2010).
“Their selection isn’t necessarily based on calorie content or fat content. It’s more of a textural and taste component,” said [Jennifer] Lombardi [MFT, co-owner of Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program]. (Cordova, 2011).
The concept of the “supertaster” can be linked to other sensitivity disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder and autism – though not all picky eaters are diagnosed with these disorders. (Intlekofer, 2012).
Dovey, T. M., Staples, et al (2010) call this particular characteristic tactile defensiveness, in which the individual may be “overly sensitive to oral touch leading to the rejection of foods with certain textures.”
Other sensory attributes such as smell or how the food looks could also play a role in why someone avoids certain food. If some foods look the same, then they must taste the same. (Dovey, T. M., 2010). There are also instances where a certain food item is associated with something else i.e. mushrooms and dirt or fungus. (Carr, 2010).
Not all pickiness involves avoiding foods, however. The way food is eaten can also affect one’s dietary preferences. For example, some eaters may avoid foods that have touched or are on the same plate as other foods. (Carr, 2010).
If only a small number of food items are avoided, the effect it’ll have on one’s health is minimal, as there are other – and maybe similar – foods to choose from that will provide the proper vitamins and nutrients one needs. (Sostek, 2010). However, for those that exclude a more vast range of food items, there is a risk of problems similar to diabetes or anemia. (Intlekofer, 2012).
Picky Eating in Children
Researchers at the Duke Center for Eating Disorders claim that pickiness in children usually starts as an “evolutionary safeguard” as the child develops motor skills. As the child learns to move around more, the more timid they are to put something into their mouths. (Sostek, 2010).
Establishing likes and dislikes starts at a very early age – when much of the child’s development depends on environmental factors such as parental practices/interaction and peer influence. There is evidence showing that children become familiar with the taste of the foods in their mother’s diet if they are breastfed as infants; and as the child matures, parents contribute to their child’s eating habits through the way they structure family meals, if they are on a specific diet, or if one has his or her own food rejections. (Dovey, T. M., 2010). Though more often than not, a child will grow out of the picky behavior as they reach adolescence. (Sostek, 2010).
Reactions to novel foods span from body language – moving away from or throwing the food – in young children to verbal communication in older children. (Dovey, T. M., 2010).
Picky Eating in Adults
Some children continue their picky eating habits throughout adulthood. While considered more of a behavioral/developmental phase in children, pickiness in adults could be a form of eating disorder– depending on the severity of the case. Extreme cases of neophobia and pickiness go beyond disliking a small number of foods. It’s the individual’s thought that “there are very few foods they are even capable of eating.” (Nixon, 2010).
This thought process is known as “selective eating disorder,” in which an individual will reject a wider range of foods based on their smell, appearance and/or texture. (Cordova, 2011). This particular disorder differs from anorexia or bulimia because the concern is not about losing or gaining weight.
For some adults, pickiness stems from negative experiences/associations with food that began in their childhood such as a food-borne illness or forced feeding. (Nixon, 2010 & Sostek, 2010). Most often, adult picky eaters will stick to foods that are high in fat, sugar, or sodium and not much else. This behavior can act as a social stigma, in which social events are often avoided due to the emotional stress and embarrassment of the condition. (Intlekofer, 2012).
To treat picky eating/neophobia, one should take the same gradual approach as any behavioral treatment. (Intlekofer, 2012).
For children and adults, “exposure Therapy” or the constant exposure to the particular food item(s) my eventually alter and enhance the palate – causing the food to become liked rather than disliked. (Cordova, 2011). How often and how long a parent exposes their child to foods – especially those that have been rejected by the child – will have a significant influence on the child overcoming his/her neophobia or pickiness. (Dovey, T. M., 2008).
Despite social pressures acting as a potential factor in causing one to become picky, it could also contribute to helping break the habit. “The more the people around the child consuming the novel food, the more willing the child will be to try it.” (Dovey, T. M., 2008).
Tricking the child into eating a certain food by incorporating it into foods that the child will eat is a riskier approach to expanding the palate. (Carr, 2010).
Carr, L. (2010, September 20). Picky eaters – causes and top 10 natural remedies. Retrieved from http://collectivewizdom.com/PickyEaters-CausesandTop10NaturalRemedies.html
Cordova, D. (2011, May 25). Adult picky eater? could be an eating disorder. McClatchly-Tribune Business News. Retrieved from http://libraryproxy.quinnipiac.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/868683616?accountid=13381
Dovey, T. M., Staples, P. A., Gibson, E. L., & Halford, C. G. (2008). Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’ eating in children: A review. Appetite, 50(2-3), 181-193. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666307003716
Intlekofer, K. (2012, September 12). Pathologically picky. Johns Hopkins Magazine, Retrieved from http://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2012/fall/pathologically-picky
Nixon, R. (2010, November 28). Adult picky eaters now recognized as having a disorder. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/10301-adult-picky-eaters-recognized-disorder.html
Sostek, Anya. “Universities Studying Picky Eating in Adults.” The Ledger Jul 25 2010. ABI/INFORM Complete; Hartford Courant; Hoover’s Company Profiles; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Criminal Justice. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.