Alternative Names: Selective Eating Disorder (SED), Picky Eating, Fussy Eating, Perseverative Feeding Disorder
Picky eating is a disorder that prevents the consumption of certain foods. It usually occurs in children and animals, but that is not always the case. Picky eaters may be born that way: the ability to taste sweetness and bitterness may be genetically related to the number of taste buds on a person's tongue. The so-called genetic supertaster, for example, may have as many as 1,100 taste buds per square centimeter of tongue, while a more accepting eater may have as few as 11 taste buds in the same-size area [The Yale Guide to Children's Nutrition edited by William V. Tamborlane, M.D.].
A study from the American Dietetic Association showed that even though 49% of mothers considered their children to be picky eaters, all of the children in the study actually consumed a wide enough variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs.
"Selective eating is the little-studied phenomenon of eating a highly limited range of foods, associated with an unwillingness to try new foods. Common in toddlers, it can persist into middle childhood and adolescence in a small number of children, most commonly boys. When this happens social avoidance, anxiety
and conflict can result." [Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 257-70 (2001)
Signs and Symptoms
Sufferers of SED have an inability to eat certain foods based on taste, texture, appearance or aroma. "Acceptable" foods may be limited to certain food types and even specific brands. In some cases, afflicted individuals will exclude whole food groups, such as fruits or vegetables.
Treatment and Prevention
Despite this genetic wiring and such sensitive taste ability, a child can learn to enjoy foods he didn't care for at first. Here are some tips to help accomplish this.
- Increase familiarity. If at first you don't succeed in interesting your youngster in a food, try, try, again! Children may require as many as ten exposures to a new taste before they begin to like it.
- Play with your food. Nutritionists now encourage preschoolers to have fun with food by making food faces or shaping a meal with cookie cutters.
- Add a dash. If your child still won't take food risks, try modifying certain items by adding a little of something they do like.
- Never force a child to eat. Children know when they are hungry or full, so trust them to be able to tell the difference.
While a picky eater may become less so over time, if very selective eating habits continue for years, it can result in the development of nutritional deficiencies and food allergies, if they are not already present.