Pickiness: the undiagnosed eating disorder

My favorite foods are fried things, cheese pizza and noodles. but I eat other things. In fact, I eat or will eat, everything in every food group that exists. as long as it’s plain. I’ll eat any meat from alligator to koala, any nut and any fruit or vegetable from brussel sprouts to noni fruit (except avocados). They’re all open range as long as they’re not sauced up or dumped all together and passed off as a new food item. Still though – dumb people trying to comprehend my eating habits without actually thinking about or investigating them at all conclude one thing: all I eat is pizza. or fried things. or noodles.

Well, there are lots of other adults where that is actually the case, and as people learn more about life and humans, more nuances are uncovered. For thousands of adults, picky eating isn’t something they can outgrow and it’s a real problem for a lot of people even though it’s not yet officially recognized as an eating disorder.

But Jenna doesn’t restrict her diet because she loves fried potatoes—in truth, she doesn’t enjoy them at all. Jenna suffers from an unusual eating sensitivity, which has compelled her to eat almost nothing but French fries, cheese pizza, and spaghetti ever since she graduated from Gerber baby food as a toddler.

Over the past few years, researchers have been struggling to explain the origins and causes of the condition, which is sometimes called extreme picky eating, food neophobia, or Selective Eating Disorder (SED). Some psychiatrists attribute it to anxiety around past traumatic experiences such as choking on a food with a particular texture. Others suggest it could stem from an ingrained phobia of trying unfamiliar things, or liken it to the extreme sensitivity to textures and smells that coincides with autism or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Because the condition often straddles the line between mental and food-related syndromes, however, it’s difficult to define and, as a result, even harder to treat. Extreme selective eating falls so under the radar that many health professionals are unaware of its life-altering social and medical effects. Almost all the selective eaters interviewed by The Daily Beast mentioned that their doctors had never heard of picky eating or its treatments.

It’s a disability, dammit!

But as they grow older, a limited diet can have life-altering consequences. They can’t “just try it,” as many say they’re pressured to do. (“That’s like telling an individual with Parkinson’s disease that they could stop shaking if they just tried to hold themselves still,” Amber Scott says.) In a culture that revolves around food, everyday activities such as dates, business dinners and weddings are stressful for picky eaters, who say they often make up excuses to refrain from eating and to avoid uncomfortable questions.

For Bob Krause, the consequences of picky eating came in the form of broken marriages, his decision to leave the Navy, and—in an attempt to avoid business dinners and potlucks—becoming self-employed. Until he was 53, Krause says, he truly believed he was the only person in the world with such unusual habits. In 2003, he launched an awareness-raising website called Picky Eating Adults, which quickly became a forum for thousands of selective eaters to swap advice, dietary habits and coping methods.