Selective Eating Disorder: Extreme Picky Eating Becomes a Medical Diagnosis
Children are often called “picky eaters” because of a hesitance to try new foods and seemingly surviving on little more than chicken nuggets and French fries. Most kids, as they get older, overcome the tendency to severely limit their diet; however, sometimes they grow into adults who continue extreme selective eating. The American Psychiatric Association is proposing a new medical diagnosis for this condition called “Selective Eating Disorder” or SED.
The British Journal of Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry describes selective eating disorder as a “little studied phenomenon of eating a highly limited range of foods, associated with an unwillingness to try new foods. When this happens social avoidance, anxiety and conflict can result.”
SED is common in those with autism spectrum disorders.
Researchers at Duke University’s Center for Eating Disorders have initiated an online national public registry of selective eating. In less than five months, 7,500 people have fully registered for the Food FAD Study (Finicky Eating in Adults) with more who have started the survey but have not completed it. The registry offers a place for patients to report on their unusual eating preferences and habits, giving researchers an insight into the disorder.
Director Nancy Zucker stresses that “people who are picky aren’t doing this to be stubborn” but actually experience food differently than the rest of us. Researchers aren’t sure if biology or psychology is the driving force – both are likely involved. Zucker believes that SED patients may be “super tasters”, meaning they taste certain flavors more acutely than other people. Other theories suggest an early negative experience with food, such as childhood gastrointestinal issues.
In addition to nutritional deficiencies, SED patients may risk other negative health consequences such as obesity and high blood pressure as foods preferred tend to be bland, processed, and salty.
The American Psychiatric Association intends to make a final decision on whether to include Selective Eating Disorders in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) due to be released in 2013.