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Seen At 11: Picky Eating, The New Eating Disorder

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NEW YORK (CBS 2) – 

Picky eating in kids can be frustrating for parents to deal with, but imagine being close to someone who will only eat pizza or chicken nuggets.

It’s hard to believe, but picky eating in adults is such a growing problem, it was recently categorized as a new eating disorder.

Everyone has foods they’d prefer not to eat, but imagine not eating entire food groups.

“I would never eat a plum because, it’s just, that inside is squishy,” Jessica O’Brien said.

It’s not just plums, though, that 27-year-old Jessica O’Brien dislikes. She won’t eat any whole fruit, nor will she eat any vegetables.

“My throat will just start to close up, and I’ll start to gag,” O’Brien said.

It’s not the taste of produce that O’Brien doesn’t like, though – it’s the texture. She had immense difficulty the time she tried to eat a leaf of spinach.

“I feel almost like the veins, and it kind of bursts, and I just can’t handle it,” she said.

Since childhood, O’Brien has been suffering from what’s known as selective, or picky, eating.

Kids usually go through a phase of refusing to eat certain foods. Unlike most who grow out of the fussy eating habit by adolescence, O’Brien said she hasn’t been able to kick her food phobia, despite seeking help.

“I know rationally…fruits and vegetables come from the earth, they’re good for you, but once it’s in my mouth, my body just takes it in as ‘enemy,’” she said.

Believe it or not, O’Brien is far from alone.

“It’s about safe food and unsafe food,” eating disorder specialist Ilene Fishman said.

Fishman and other eating disorder experts say they’re seeing more adults suffering from similar picky eating problems. It’s become so widespread it’s now being categorized as a new eating disorder.

“People are limited nutritionally because of this diet,” Fishman said. “It also really impacts quality of life.”

On several internet support groups, selective-eating adults discuss how difficult it is to eat out, or go to an event like a wedding.

“It’s not clear what begins picky eating,” Fishman said. “It could be an experience with food – say, getting sick.”

Little is known why selective eating exists either.

“It’s pretty much the only thing my husband and I fight about,” O’Brien said.

While O’Brien said she’s been trying to eat more foods, it hasn’t been easy. She hopes the new classification of picky eating as an eating disorder will help it gain more attention, and possibly a cure.

Two major U.S. universities are now studying picky eating, and have even started a national registry for picky eaters to report their eating habits.

For more information on selective eating, click here.

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