Picky Eater, Or Selective Eating Disorder?

Are you a picky eater, or do you have selective eating disorder?

Most children go through phases where they become picky with what they eat, only wanting hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They will find a certain food, or group of foods, that they tend to like more than others, but they eventually grow out of this phase and start trying new foods. However, there are some children that don’t.

For those who experience extreme pickiness when it comes to the food they eat may suffer from an eating disorder known as selective eating disorder (SED).

While selective eating disorder can affect people of any age, it usually starts in childhood. Unlike simply being a picky eater, people with selective eating disorder have extreme anxiety and can become physically ill by being exposed to foods that are not normally in their diet.

Selective eating disorder is not like the more well-known disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Where the people who suffer from these disorders are concerned with their weight or looking a certain way, people with SED are drawn to foods that they are familiar with and suffer from great stress and anxiety whenever they are forced to eat foods they don’t like.

According to Mealtime Hostage, SED was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in May 2013 and was renamed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

For years, researchers have been trying to determine the underlying cause of extreme picky eating, according to The Daily Beast. Some associate it with past traumatic experiences, such as choking. Others relate it to an ingrained phobia of trying new things, and still, other doctors claim that it results from an extreme sensitivity to textures and smells, coinciding with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism.

Many parents who are unfamiliar with the disorder take the route of force feeding or believing that the child will eat when they are hungry. This is not the case. Children with SED will typically go hungry before they will eat the foods that generate anxiety.

Speech Language Pathologist, Jennifer Hatfield from Therapy and Learning Services in Indiana, says that picky eating should be on a spectrum rather than one extreme to another.

“A selective eater will NOT ‘eat when they get hungry.’ If you implement a technique designed to ‘wait them out’ or ‘exert your parental control,’ if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever. That. Can’t. Happen. because that would mean lower intake which then would translate into weight loss, nutritional concerns etc..and MORE stress for the child and family.”

What most people don’t understand is that people with selective eating disorder don’t want to be different. They want to be able to eat the things that “normal” people do. They do not like going to a restaurant and hoping that there is something on the menu that fits into their diet. They do not like going out with friends, or on a date, and wondering if they will be judged because they didn’t order a cheeseburger or chicken nuggets, and instead chose to get an order of bacon and a side of fries. SED is a real disorder.

“Learning that you have an eating disorder is a strange experience,” Kayleigh Roberts, who suffers from the disorder, wrote in an article for the Huffington Post. It’s tough, sometimes, to apply the label to myself since picky eating has nothing to do with body image (or at least, it never has in my case). Even though I had always known that my relationship with food was unhealthy, socially prohibitive, anxiety-inducing, and out of my control, the idea that it could constitute a legitimate eating disorder had never crossed my mind. It had also never crossed my mind that there were other people just like me.”

So, are you, or is your child, a picky eater, or is there something more serious going on? Your child turning down their peas at dinner may not be because they simply don’t want to eat their vegetables, they may not physically be able to eat them. Consult your doctor if you are concerned that you, or your child, may have developed selective eating disorder.

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