Seen At 11: Picky Eating, The New Eating Disorder


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.

  • paula

    Whatever the issue, the most firghtening thing to read are comments like “weed them out of the gene pool”. It is hard to believe that there are people that still have the same beliefs as hitler

  • Lauren D

    And i thought I was the only one who was like this. Good to know that their are support groups out there!!

  • Megan C

    I am 23 and I dont eat any vegetables, meat and few fruits. When I try to eat vegs I gag almost like im allergic and my throat is closing. I hope they find more info on this because I would love to eat healthier.

  • Susan S

    Because there is not yet any other word or label to identify this group, Picky Eater has been used to describe them. That label and even “Selective Eating Disorder” implies a conscious choice. Hence the vile, emphatic, uninformed, insensitive comments. Clearly people are reacting to the label without reading the details. These people are not just turning up their noses at food, they are gagging and retching when they try something new. This is a physical sensory issue, not a choice.
    Imagine yourself to have a far more extreme form of what has hitherto simply been misunderstood to be nothing more than a normal immature childhood behaviour. You know that what you have is not the same as this but you suffer at the hands of medical people who are just as ignorant as John Q.Public appears to be above. They force the symptoms that they hear to fit into the narrow definitions they have learned in medical school. They don’t really listen, they don’t really discern. So these poor people get humiliated and told that they are immature, bratty, spoiled. They would give anything to fit in and eat normally but they begin to avoid social situations because they know their behaviour appears “wierd” and the countless questions and mean spirited comments are uncomfortable. This is not a choice, it is painful. Cruel irony others say it “attention” seeking behaviour when in fact these people want the earth to disappear and swallow them so they can remain innocuous. Finally a support group appears on the scene and slowly over 7000 members bolster each other’s courage and decide to make some noise so that they can be understood and so that the condition can be researched. Another Irony, the word is finally getting out and they have to face the same thoughtless, ill informed knee-jerk reactions that kept them in hiding all these years.
    I know we have a fast paced society and we all need to make decisions quickly and move on, but being this judgemental without a careful reading and undertstanding of even the scant information provided here, serves no one.

  • Picky Eater

    Ignorance can only take you so far DanTe. Would you say the same thing about people with other disorders? Should we wipe the planet of people that arent as perfect as you? Who are you? Hitler?

  • Hiran

    “Picky Eating Disorder” huh? Tell that to millions of starving children in Africa and some third world countries.

    Aren’t we such a spoiled lot?

    • PickyEater

      It is not something we choose. Selective Eating Disorder is not a choice. We simply cannot eat certain foods. Our body rejects that food when we try to eat it. Its not as simple as just eating something. We have all tried to overcome this disorder and its nearly impossible. We have a physical reaction to food that, according to some studies, rests in our DNA. Thinking we can just eat certain foods by will is like believing a blind man could see by just opening his eyes wider. Just because you dont understand it, doesnt mean it doesnt exist.

  • kathy brady

    would like to leave a comment, but gotta sign up, go from there, see it that will work?

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