Picky Eater or Eating Disorder?

I have always been labeled as a picky eater. For over twenty years I have had to listen to family and friends go on about my “pickiness”. Worse yet when people would try to force me to eat things I said I didn’t like. You may be thinking okay what does this have to do with an eating disorder, and until recently I would have been thinking the same thing. A month or so ago I was having a chat on twitter about things I won’t eat with other picky eaters. While looking for a picky eater list I has remembered seeing before, I stumbled upon this post about Selective Eating Disorder. I read it out of curiosity since I had never heard of this disorder, and wow was I amazed! I just read it going yes, yes, YES!

Selective Eating Disorder

Selective Eating Disorder (SED) is also know as Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or AFRID. This food disorder is different from the more well known disorders, like anorexia or bulimia. SED is not an obsession with body shape or weight, rather a disinterest or avoidance of foods/food groups. Once thought to be a disorder of children, it is now known that SED can affect people of all ages. Many people with SED will rule out whole food groups, or foods based on color, texture, smell, etc.

There are a few key differences between picky eating and SED, as shown by the chart below. A big difference is you do not simply grow out of SED. Another key difference being picky eaters will give in and eat when they are hungry versus SED where despite hungry food is still refused.

Back in the Day

Okay so a little more back story here, my relationship with food has been this way since I was 3 or 4 years old. I am that person who doesn’t like my food to touch, rarely tries new things and who is always omitting items when ordering. All of these things give me such anxiety!

I ate “normally” as a toddler and so did my younger brother, but there came a time we both stopped eating/trying things. Of course since I am seven years older than him I was always blamed for his pickiness. “He learned not to like it from you” etc etc. Once I found out about SED I thought well maybe there is more to this. My brother and I related to that initial article so much, it all just made sense.

As a young teen I remember sitting in my nutrition class and my teacher putting up two different plates of food. One was a colorful plate of veggies and meat – a well balanced meal, while the second was full of white bland looking foods. She asked the class which plate looked more appetizing and everyone said plate one, everyone except me that is. I had been analyzing each plate and on plate one the only thing I would eat was the steak, while plate two had pasta, potatoes, bread and chicken all things I love. I felt so out of place, like I was weird because I wouldn’t pick the plate everyone else had.

Being “Picky”

It would be easier for me to list foods I will eat rather than a list of those I won’t. (You can see a list, and join in, where people ask me about foods I eat and don’t on twitter.) I can say I don’t know what an avocado tastes like or what it’s like to have a full plate at a holiday dinner. Some foods I have tried and don’t like, but others I just “know” I don’t like them. Have a been diagnosed with SED? No, but I do relate and connect with all the articles I read about those who suffer from it. Yes I said suffer!

Some may see it as a choice, but if it were that simple the thought of trying veggies or new things would cause me to break out into a cold sweat. The thought of new foods sends my anxiety off the charts. I wouldn’t choose to be embarrassed to eat with others or in public. I would have a lot more variety in what I eat. It is no different than someone with anorexia stressing over how many hours they will have to spend in the gym to burn off that cookie they ate. SED might not be deemed life threatening like other disorders but it really can impact your life in a negative way. It can also harm you in more than one way depending on your aversions. If you rule out meats you can lack protein, if you rule out fruits or veggies you may eat to many unhealthy foods and be over weight, or you may have so many aversions that you do not eat enough and are under weight.

In the same nutrition class I mentioned previously we had to track what we ate for a week. It was meant to show us how we could improve out eating habits to eat less sugar and increase healthier options. What I learned was despite eating “junk” I still was not meeting the amount of calories I needed to eat per day. Which is not healthy for your body regardless of what you eat.

I wish I was a “normal” eater, that just seeing or smelling foods didn’t make me cringe. Most foods I just know I don’t like, some is texture, smell or how it is prepared. Some foods I can only eat with other foods – like cheese, or when warm – like pizza. If I attempt to try something new I will probably make myself sick with stress before I can even eat it. Eating with others is a huge source of anxiety because I know I will get a million questions about what I have chose to eat or not eat. Followed by either more questions or teasing for being so picky. Do I like hearing others call me picky or make fun of my eating habits – no. If I could just stop I would, it would make things a lot easier. Dining out is just as stressful, and I usually only go to the same handful of places because I know what I will order there. If something sounds good to me like say nachos, 9 times out of 10 I will order something else. Just on the fact I am embarrassed to tell the waiter that I only want meat and cheese (maybe chili if I pick out the beans).

Either way, disorder or just being picky, it’s not as easy as “just trying” it. I try to improve my habits and not be so picky, but my mind just won’t let me sometimes. I am trying to work on it for my son, I want him to continue liking everything he eats. So far he loves all fruits and veggies so I would like to keep it that way! I don’t want him to be that kid that says “oh I don’t broccoli, I haven’t tried I just know I don’t like it.” If there are other “picky eaters” out there I would love to hear about your habits effect your life. Don’t forget to join the fun and ask me about things I eat/don’t eat on twitter!

9 thoughts on “Picky Eater or Eating Disorder?

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing this. I didn’t know it was a real thing. Very eye opening. I think my mother-in-law might be this same way. When she stayed with me it was so hard as the host to know what to offer her or cook for her. I was so stressed about it, eventually I just gave up because I was focused on baby. She would eat the same thing everyday almost. I felt like such a bad daughter in-law but now I get that it could just be her and nothing to do with my cooking. In my family we are all about food and cooking, it is central to every gathering. So not being able to make something that people can eat is like so hard. Glad you figured out it wasn’t just you being picky! Now don’t beat yourself up for having bean less chili :).

    1. I totally get it! Maybe ask her if she has a favorite dish you can make her next time she stays. Then you can start to learn things she may not be a fan of.

      I’m okay with the bean less chili (if others weren’t the same they wouldn’t sell it that way) it’s more of ordering something minus like 5 things 😂 basically stripping things down to bread/chips, meat and cheese 😂

  2. This is a really interesting and I think also important post. Especially for parents. It’s so easy to categorize a child as a picky eater, and sometimes adults are really intolerant with that trying to pressure a child to try something. My son has many of the symptoms you decribed – he has a strong aversion for many textures of foods. I have to “protect” him so many time for well meaning adults who try to “convince” him he really does like that food. I never knew there was a name for the disorder, learned a lot from this – thanks!

    1. Glad to help! Also I love that you respect what your son likes/doesn’t like – there’s nothing worse than feeling food is a punishment.

  3. I seriously never heard of this before.. Wow! While reading this I regonized myself, as I’ve always been a very picky eater as well. I would have never thought about an eating disorder!

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes I thought the same, I never would have thought it was a disorder, but I knew I wasn’t just picky. Picky eaters wouldn’t have mini panic attacks over trying something new.

    2. I felt the same way when I first read about it. I’m not sure about you but it gave me such a great feeling knowing there were other people like me.

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