Subjects: Behavioral health
Traditional wisdom holds that children who are picky eaters will outgrow the behavior, so no intervention is required. That holds true for the vast majority of people, but recently scientists have called attention to a small group of adults who are remarkably picky eaters.
One woman featured in a Wall Street Journal article on the subject for example, has lived on the following diet for more than 20 years: French fries, pasta with butter or marinara sauce, vegetarian pizza, cooked broccoli, corn on the cob and cakes and cookies without nuts.
“When I was younger it was cute,” the woman told the Journal. “Now it’s embarrassing.”
Adult picky eaters don’t fit existing definitions for eating disorders, since their behavior is not driven by the need to achieve a certain body weight. In fact, they aren’t necessarily skinny or obsessed with their appearance, at all.
Yet their odd food preferences can interfere with their social and professional relationships, which suggests a true behavioral disorder. For example, some adult picky eaters lie about their diets and avoid parties or business lunches in order to keep their secret. Others refuse to eat with their families. Many feel ashamed or inconvenienced about their dietary preferences.
In an attempt to understand adult picky eating, scientists at Duke University have launched a national public registry that allows people to report on their unusual dietary habits (www.eatingdisorders.mc.duke.edu). Counseling is also available, though no therapeutic strategy has been shown to be effective so far.
Meanwhile, a group of experts that has been tasked to author the Eating Disorders section of the 2013 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may recognize for the first time a condition called “selective eating” that could apply to both adults and children.