Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Picky Eaters Might Suffer from Eating Disorder

According to an article at Life Science, picky adult and picky child eaters might actually suffer from an eating disorder, rather than just be annoying brats. "Selective eating disorder, more commonly known as very picky eating. Instead of having a couple foods they'd rather avoid, the way most of us do, people with selective eating disorder feel there are very few foods they are even capable of eating." So, instead of say, avoiding onions or disliking beets, those with selective eating disorder will only eat very very few things--like one man quoted as only eating crackers, peanut butter, grilled cheese and chocolate milk. Everything else, according to this patient looks like "a plate of barf." Its not just "stubbornness," but extreme food aversion. Some of the treatments for selective eating disorder mirror the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD because many of the thought patterns that develop around food are similar to those who ritually wash their hands over and over or engage in other obsessive behaviors.

As with anything dealing with food, there was quite a lot of backlash in the Jezebel comments that covered this issue (well, honestly, backlash on both sides--quite a few "picky eaters" came out of the closet to combat the "just eat it" crowd). When you read about patients like the man described above, limited to four foods and not possibly getting the kinds of nutrient you need to thrive, its very sad and treatment needs to be taken seriously. Same for all eating disorders, which now account for 4% of all children's hospitalizations. But the general trend toward indulging "picky eaters" or more accurately, the encouragement of all children to become "picky eaters" through the proliferation of "children's foods" --you know, mac n' cheese, grilled cheese, chicken fingers (no bones EVAR), fries and general crap--is a very bad development. In France, French children eat "food," not adult food, not children's food, but "food"--same for India. We pathologize food, advertise it, brand it, plastic wrap it, etc. I'm sure that their are children (& adults) with OCD or selective eating disorder, but in cultures where its expected that children eat what they are prepared, and what their parents eat, it is probably easier to identify and deal with. In our culture, "picky eating" is almost an expected phase...that can turn into a lifetime of poor eating habits, nutrient deficits and familial conflict. My brother was a picky eater and he's a picky adult eater--he's never really grown out of the "kids menu" mentality and that sucks, but at least he recognizes that its bad and tries to get his daughter to eat a more varied diet. I'm not saying, starve your children until they eat what's given to them, although I know one person that worked for (a friend wouldn't eat what her mother made, so instead of giving in and making her something else, she had to stay at the table until she had at least three bites...she refused, went to bed hungry, then the next morning they put out the same meal...she finally gave into the those three bites and she's a varied eater to this day.) It sounds really tough, but watching my poor mother make three separate meals, one for my picky-eater brother, one for my vegetarian sister, one for my dad, me and her was exhausting. Now looking into picky eating--is your kid or are you adverse to certain foods because you might be lactose or gluten intolerant? These are avenues of exploration that need to be traversed, but the best way to prevent picky eating is to only serve your family one kind of meal and expect everyone will try it. Expectations often predict behavior, but spreading awareness that sometimes picky eating is actually a full-blown eating disorder (or could develop into an eating disorder) is crucial in our conversations about food, food culture and eating REAL FOOD.

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