Could You Have Selective Eating Disorder?

It's the rare child who doesn't turn up his nose at certain foods, or who goes through stages of eating only a limited number of foods. While most picky eaters outgrow this behavior, some children carry it into adulthood. Mental health experts are beginning to recognize picky eating as a serious eating disorder. They've even given it a name: Selective Eating Disorder, or food neophobia (fear of new food).

Whatever you call it, an eating disorder is a serious emotional and physical problem that can produce life-threatening consequences. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that about 10 million people in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders.

People with Selective Eating Disorder experience extreme disturbances in eating behavior. They are often overly concerned with their body weight and shape. Picky eaters fear new foods or are especially sensitive to particular food textures. They generally do not consume an adequate or healthy diet, putting them at risk for malnutrition.

There's a significant mental health component to Selective Eating Disorder. Depression, sexual abuse, troubled relationships, cultural pressures, and chemical imbalances are just a few of the many underlying issues that may cause an eating disorder.

Nancy Zucker at the Duke Eating Disorder center confirmed in an ABC interview that being a picky eater can really disrupt a person's life. Duke has launched an online survey, Finicky Eating in Adults, to try to measure the extent of this problem.

Experts at Tulane Medical School call Selective Eating Disorder a food phobia in disguise. They say suffers' inability to consume more than a limited repertoire of foods stems from psychological compulsions that food is going to taste badly or be spoiled. They reject food based on smell or some other sensory quality, not taste. One adult on the ABC news segment said a plate of spaghetti looked like a plate of worms to him.

They've found that a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychodynamic therapy helps people with Selective Eating Disorder change the way they think about food and understand the how's and whys of this health condition.

If your child is unusually picky about food and doesn't outgrow it, seek help from your physician. Find ways to make mealtimes fun and teach your children healthy eating habits. In addition to seeking professional mental health services, picky adults can join forums on Sometimes just knowing you're not alone can propel you to seek help.

Sources Web.

National Institutes of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. "Eating disorders." Web. 24 August 2010. "Eating disorders." Web.

Lord, Ashley. "Selective Eating May Be Food Phobia in Disguise." Hullabaloo. WEb. 6 February 2003.

"Media Spotlight: Nightline talks with Zucker about picky eating." Inside Duke Medicine. Web. 6 October 2010.