Young Children, Adult Picky Eaters May Have Eating Disorders


Two unexpected groups may suffer from eating disorders: young kids, who are being increasingly diagnosed, and extremely picky grownups, who may have a newly identified problem.

According to PsychCentral, a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that eating disorder hospitalizations among kids under 12 more than doubled between 1999 and 2006. Four percent of these hospitalizations are now due to eating disorders. The report notes that doctors shouldn’t assume only already-thin young girls get eating disorders — it may seem obvious, but boys and overweight kids (and also children of color, who are often overlooked in eating disorder narratives) can get eating disorders too. While it’s incredibly sad that these illnesses can strike kids so young, it’s also a good reminder that the “teenage girl who wants to look like a model” archetype doesn’t describe nearly all eating disorder sufferers. The picture accompanying the PsychCentral article shows a girl looking at her butt in the mirror, but EDs aren’t always about appearance, and doctors need to be on the alert for patients whose symptoms may fall outside the stereotypes.

One possible example of this: adults who are extremely picky. Sometimes pickiness can be a symptom of anorexia, but according to LiveScience, a survey currently being conducted by Nancy Zucker and colleagues at the Duke Center for Eating Disorders suggests that many picky eaters don’t fit the profile for existing EDs. Instead, a surprising number of adults simply have very few foods they can stand eating, and this can get in the way of their social, family and professional lives. If it does, they may suffer from something newly termed “selective eating disorder.” One patient, 63-year-old Robert Krause, can only eat crackers, peanut butter, grilled cheese, and chocolate milk — because everything else looks like “a plate of barf” to him. His problem is serious — he says it’s destroyed two marriages and hampered his career.

Pickiness is pretty heavily stigmatized in our culture, and the common wisdom is that people who are unwilling to try new foods must be spoiled or headstrong. But even if people with selecting eating disorder want to change their habits, they may face a visceral disgust of certain foods — says a commenter on LiveScience, “When I try to eat things I don’t like it makes me sick to my stomach and I feel like I’m going to throw up so I spit the food out. […] I want to eat different things I feel like I can’t.” Just telling selective eating disorder sufferers to suck it up and eat the pizza probably won’t help — one would assume people have been trying this approach for years. But perhaps Zucker’s study will reveal more treatment options to help them enjoy — or at least endure — different foods. At the very least, it should remind us that not all eating disorders look alike — and they’re not always about looks at all.

Eating Disorders Rise Sharply In Children [PsychCentral]
Adult Picky Eaters Now Recognized As Having A Disorder [LiveScience]

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