Picky Eating vs. Selective Eating Disorder

It weighs heavy on my mind, the negative comments from those who don’t live with Selective Eating Disorder (SED). One would think that someone who didn’t know anything about the subject might choose to ask questions instead of offering ridiculous suggestions. Unfortunately, logic escapes many who seem to have an uncontrollable urge to wedge their foot firmly into their mouth. Oh, the irony; reading words from someone with a mouthful of shoe about people who can’t eat but only a handful of foods.

A sample of some comments from The Wright Stuff’s Facebook Page

SED is not picky / fussy eating. Picky eating is a temporary childhood phase. SED usually has an underlying cause. There is always a reason that explains why a child refuses food. Despite what the ‘sole’-seeking, armchair critics might like to think, shipping a child or adult with autism or a digestive disorder to a third world country isn’t going to fix their diet any more than it will change the qualities of the food they cannot eat.

Trying to explain that SED is not just picky eating is hard. Not everyone shares the same medical history. Not everyone eats the same foods. Not everyone answers “yes” to all the points on the chart that follows this paragraph. There is, however, a distinct difference between picky eating as a typical phase of childhood development and someone with SED.

sed vs picky

image © Mealtime Hostage, 2012

The shoe chewing crowd could argue that SED is not really an eating disorder, after all, it’s not in the current version of the DSM. I say, “Keep munching away on that sneaker.” I have yet to speak with anyone who has SED that doesn’t struggle with eating socially to some degree. At a restaurant, the garnish (often an offensive pickle) is leaking juice onto their food; a repulsive sauce has contaminated part or all of their meal. Family gatherings are often dreaded for the overwhelming smells, and the food that is expected to be eaten. Adults with SED learn creative ways to bear the relentless teasing, and the remarks about what isn’t on their plate.

Any event that creates a pattern of behavior that significantly impacts social interaction and/or creates distress for the individual experiencing these symptoms meets the criteria for a disorder. Just because it has not been added to current or previous editions of the DSM or any other medical textbook, does not make Selective Eating Disorder any less real. What it does mean, sadly, is that those with this particular eating disorder have a great deal of difficulty finding treatment for it. Parents, like me, depend on advice and suggestions from other parents of kids with SED, and adults who have grown up with it. Many adults with SED never had anyone take their disordered eating seriously. They have just learned to live with it, a strategy that often involves hiding their limited diets from others by avoiding situations that involve eating socially.

For all the quirks that make it so difficult to describe, there is one unifying truth among people with SED. All of them … Every. Last. One… would, if they were able, willingly choose to eat normally.

UPDATE Added July 5, 2013

Selective eating disorder was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in May 2013, and renamed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

At the time of the original post, the group of parents and adults that collaborated to create the above chart were aggravated and incensed by the lack of available information on selective eating. Parents, like myself, were fed up with being placated and dismissed with “he’ll grow out of it” while Duke University’s adult picky eating study had heard from over 30,000 respondents. This post continues to attract adults who had no idea there are others who also struggle with eating socially, avoid entire food groups, and often live off a diet that often consists of 30 items or less.

This same post has also attracted knowledgeable feeding professionals who have contributed significantly to the conversation about selective eating.

Speech Language Pathologist, Jennifer Hatfield from Therapy and Learning Services in Indiana describes picky eating as a spectrum, rather than a comparison between extremes.

“A selective eater will NOT “eat when they get hungry.” If you implement a technique designed to “wait them out” or “exert your parental control,” if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever. That. Can’t. Happen. because that would mean lower intake which then would translate into weight loss, nutritional concerns etc..and MORE stress for the child and family.”

Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Family Therapist and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding describes eating in general as a spectrum. Developing eating competence is a progression of sequentially satisfying one’s food needs at one level before addressing the needs at the next.

Satter hierarchy of food needs

The foundation of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs rest on getting enough food to eat (extreme poverty), followed by having access to acceptable food (unspoiled food, food you are not allergic to). Only after achieving reliable access to food (able to acquire a food stash, and plan for subsequent meals) can people start to consider food selection in terms of taste and appearance.

How does this work with adult picky eating? Consider popular parenting techniques of the 1960s, 70s and 80s and how a parent would be advised, even encouraged to respond to a picky eater. A child who is repeatedly sent to bed hungry for not touching anything on their plate, declining the vegetable, or gagging on the chicken is not learning that there is a constant and reliable access to food. Despite the full pantry, this particular child is growing up with food acceptance skills at the very bottom on the food needs hierarchy. As a result, the need to satisfy hunger is commonly met with energy dense, low nutrient carbohydrates.

Once people learn they can readily access enough, acceptable, reliable, and good-tasting food, only then are they able to comfortably consider novel food and finally, choosing what to eat for instrumental purposes (calories, specialty diets, etc).

It’s common for the adult picky eater to refer to eating as “a chore.” Adult PEs at the lowest levels of food acceptance tend to see food in terms of “edible” and “repulsive”, often wishing all their caloric and nutritional requirements could be met with a supplement to avoid eating all together. With this in mind, adult picky eating is less about being stubborn and hard-to-please and more about living in a food-focused society with under-developed food acceptance skills.

In terms of helping the adult picky eater embrace or expand what they can eat, Satter offers:

“To help yourself, begin by addressing your attitudes about eating. You are entitled to like what you like and to feel good about eating what you eat. Once you learn to be kind to yourself about eating, work on protecting yourself from food pressure. Be matter-of-fact and unapologetic about saying ”yes, please,” and ”no thank you.” Don’t complain and don’t explain.”

What anyone eats is nobody else’s business. If someone else is offended by what is or isn’t on your plate, that is their problem, not yours. It is, and always has been, the eater’s responsibility to choose how much to eat, and that includes the right to say “no thanks” to offerings of anything you don’t want, especially when it’s served with judgement, ridicule, stress, pressure and guilt.

Please continue to add to the conversation.


291 responses to “Picky Eating vs. Selective Eating Disorder

  1. Pingback: Feeding Picky Eater | Feeding Your Picky Eater·

  2. It is so refreshing to read this. My son is seven and we have struggled with his diet since at least 2 years old. Any and all pediatricians we visited offered the dreaded, “he’ll grow out of it”, well guess what, I’m still waiting for that day. I’m also exhausted from the “Just starve him until he has no choice but to eat.” Admittedly, he comes from a family with a history of eating disorders, so I’d offer to validate any theory of family-history being a factor in this, whether by being inherited or due to picking it up from their environment- maybe I’m entirely at fault. The symptom of gagging hits home; I’ve sat for hours begging, forcing, convincing, etc. him to take ONE TINY BITE. I can remember maybe once or twice that he actually did and it ending in gagging and never made it down. The line from the quote: “…if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever. That. Can’t. Happen.” made my eyes well up with tears. That statement is so true, and I’ve made this mistake before. I still have a bag of frozen chicken nuggets in the freezer that will never be touched since I changed the brand/shape. I realize he’s only seven, and this is particually targeted towards adults with this problem, but I feel like early intervention is key. Unfortunately I cannot find anyone who will accept this as a disorder and is willing to counsel him on it. It has put an unbeleivale stress on our family, we cannot go out to eat with him (we look like THAT family with the child sitting at the table with the ipad while everyone else is socializing), he will not join the table for holiday meals, we cry, scream, argue at least twice a day over food. His lunchbox goes to school full and comes home full. If I were to guess, he’s probably only be consuming around 300 calories a day. He is underweight for his age and build. But you know, we’re just waiting for him to grow out of it…and waiting…and waiting…and waiting. I cannot even begin to explain the frustrations we go through on a daily basis. This is killing us. I have truly tried EVERY technique out there, this is basically my last hope. For my son’s sake (and my family’s by extention) and anyone else who has stood their ground about the validity of this disorder, I hope it continues to develop to work towards a solution.

    • It quite possibly is something in the family, while I have the worst case of SED in my family several relatives on my mom’s side have some issues with food. I’m compared often with my uncle who had it bad, but was able to find more to eat when he grew up and found his wife. I would say that maybe you need to find out what he likes and for lunch try to vary it, there are some foods I can eat everyday, but most I can’t eat everyday and I get tired of the same thing if I do. you can’t force him to eat, but give him some variety of easy to eat foods he may start eating more. you may also want to look into giving him more vitamins at night. Biggest thing I would recommend, that if you have tried to force him to eat, would be to try to regain his trust around food. I can’t try things around my parents anymore because of how they reacted in the past with forcing new foods on me. I still freak out just whenever they talk about it, but your son is still young and you may still be able to change that relationship before it completely sets in like it did for me. Good luck and God bless.

  3. My 11 year old son was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophogitis (EE) about a year ago. He is down to 5 foods he will eat plus gluten and dairy free sweets. Making his school lunch each morning is incredibly stressful! I’m not sure what to do next to help him…

  4. So tired of being told there is something wrong with me because I won’t GRAZE like the rest of the herd. I am almost 60 years old, I have no health issues other than getting older – so what the hell is the big deal about how I eat or who I choose to eat with? I don’t have a DISORDER. I have EATING PREFERENCES, based on my own personal choices that have worked for me all of my life. If there are folks in this world who choose to stuff their faces full of anything and everything because it tastes good to them or under the old gise of “try it you’ll like it” great for them – but they need to NOT judge my eating habits by their own.

    Seems to me the “grazers” are the freaks.

    Whoever you might be out there – be as healthy as you are able to be, perhaps limit your quantity of the foods of your choice if weight is an issue, walk more, enjoy fresh air……and avoid people that make you feel bad about yourself because you don’t comply with what they feel is normal.

    A Disorder? Bull.

    Listen to Anderson Cooper – he’s got it figured out. Food is OVER RATED.

  5. I have been doing a lot of reading over the last three days and am pretty convinced now that I have some degree of selective eating disorder, although thankfully not as bad as some of the stories I have read. I cope fine with other people eating things I don’t like around me, the only exception is I wont let cabbage be cooked in my house because the smell makes me feel sick. I can also cope with some things being on my plate that I don’t like but only if the flavour hasn’t mixed with things I will eat, so for example if someone puts a side salad on my plate I would be able to leave the salad that I don’t like and eat the rest of the meal. if there was coleslaw or something on my plate I would not eat anything that had touched it.

    I am 27 now and have been a picky eater my whole life, my mother tells me she even had to get special baby milk from the doctor when I was only a few weeks old because I would throw up everything else she had tried, not just like normal baby sick but proper sick to the point where I was loosing weight instead of gaining it.

    The list of things I wont eat is huge and includes many things I have never tasted. My biggest problem is onions, they are in almost everything if you go out to eat and I can smell/taste/see them from a mile away. I cant eat anything that has touched an onion and was once sick after a single bite of a hotdog that had obviously been picked up using the same tongs as onions had been picked up with earlier. Again I can deal with other people eating onions, and if they are raw like in a salad I can live with them being on my plate but not on my food.

    I have been overweight my whole life, probably due to the fact that my diet consisted of mainly pasta for years, I am a lot better now but I still have a really unhealthy diet. I have piled weight on over the last few years, despite my eating habits improving and I am now desperate to loose weight. I am a student nurse so I understand how my health will suffer, there is a long history of diabetes in my family and I know I am just counting down until I get the same diagnosis. My career is suffering as well, I recently was offered the chance to join the army reserves through my university, I am far too overweight to join and there is no way I can loose the weight quickly enough to get my application in, it would be unhealthy to loose that amount of weight in that timescale anyway.

    I was always told that I needed to eat more fruit and veg, but no one has ever thought about how difficult that is when there is not a single fruit I will eat and I don’t think I ate a vegetable before I was 20 and even now I eat very little veg.

    I read a really interesting comment from someone on another site who said he would only eat food he didn’t like in the same mouthful as food he did and I realised that I do the exact same! The few vegetables I will eat have to be in the same mouthful as certain other things, i.e. mushrooms (very well fried) with pork or carrots with beef (both very well cooked).

    I will eat meat but only if there are no ‘yucky bits’ as I call them. A yucky bit could be fat or those wee dark bits you get on chicken sometimes or something that just doesn’t look right to me for another reason. I wont eat lamb at all, I cant stand it although I don’t think I have ever eaten it. I will eat beef only if it is well done, and I cut around all the fat on anything making sure to leave a big margin so no fat accidently ends up in my mouth, if it does I need to spit it out I physically cant swallow anything fatty and I wont eat the rest of my meal because I am put off it.

    It’s not just healthy foods I struggle with either, I don’t like milk chocolate although I will occasionally eat a small piece of dark chocolate. I don’t eat much fried food again only a very occasional thing, maybe a sausage on a roll or something. I also don’t like much fast food, the rare occasion I go to a fast food place I will get a burger but it has to be plain, it then never comes plain like I ask for and I don’t want them to change it for me because I have been put off. there is one mcdonalds I will go to because they always give me my burger plain, but others that have given me a normal burger in the past I wont go back to because I don’t see the point, I wont eat anything anyway.

    I am desperate to eat more healthily and try and loose some of this weight before I end up really ill. I actually quite like exercising and have started going to the gym a few times a week but I know that my diet is a huge issue for my weight and my overall health.

  6. Reading this article and many of the comments I cannot begin to explain what this all means to me!

    I’m 26 and can pretty much link everything in my life that I want to change back to my problem with eating! I’m unhealthy, over weight and unhappy with so many parts of my life, which I know is because of food.

    According to my mum my problems started at about 15 months when I began to become ‘fussy’. By 18 months I wouldn’t eat. I had a bottle of milk until I was 5 1/2 because I wouldn’t drink milk any other way. My bottle was taken away and I haven’t drunk milk again!

    I was taken to the dr numerous times..”it’s a phase, she’ll grow out of it. If all she’ll eat is crisps and chocolate, give it to her. It’ll soon stop.” Well sorry to say it hasn’t and it drives me crazy! Going to the dr as an adult is a waste of time “just try small bits”. If I could I WOULD!! I did eventually see a Mental Health person who diagnosed me with a food phobia, which I disagree with, but anyway this wasn’t a “serious enough mental health problem so nothing we can do for you.” Thanks NHS yet another failed patient!

    Anyway enough ranting, I can’t believe I’ve actually posted a comment…not something I would normally do but felt compelled to after reading about so many people just like me!

    P.s anyone found a cure yet?? I’d really like one!

  7. I love this. My seven year old son is a mwal time hostage suffering from SED. I am so grateful to people like you that can relate to the difficulty in dealing with this disorder. People are quick to judge and sometimes far to ignorant to take the time to read up on what SED actually is. I do everything I can to help and support my child. I can only hope things will get easier to deal with as time passes us by. Thank you for your SUPPORT and information.

  8. I am so glad I found this and don’t have to continue to struggle alone. I’m going to check out the Facebook group. I’m a 33 year old male and I have SED. I’m luckier than a lot of the commenters- I can eat some meats, which helps immensely. I can’t eat fruit or veggies but I can consume them as juice or smoothies. Social situations are tough regardless- my father in law has taken to calling me Burger Boy, since that’s the only thing on the menu at most restaurants that I can eat. Everyone wants to play the “What can you eat?” game with me. I’m tired of it. I’m frustrated. I want to be healthy- I want to eat well. I’ve even tried to do it for other people, to make them more at ease, but I can’t. When the sight of a salad or casserole stirs up stress levels on par with facing a wild lion…it’s a disorder, not a choice. I think of eating even my acceptable foods as a chore. I would LOVE to have flavorless, astronaut food paste to fill my eating requirements.

    Thank you for this post and all the commenters.

  9. I am 33 year old male. I learned something today. I learned that I’m not a freak. I learned I’m not a weak minded adult. I learned that I really can’t help it that I have such a selective diet.
    Let me say something that no one outside this page would understand. I joined the Army and survived Boot Camp! One time my Drill Sergeant forced me to eat Chilli Mac. As many of you know what happened, I vomited it back up. Then he made me eat it again. I was psychologically tortured 3 times a day for 4 months. But I survived. I graduated. My main strategy was to drink as much fortified milk as I could get my hands on.
    Today, I am a successful business man. I dread those occasions when I’m professionally expected to get to a meal with high level managers, directors, etc. The more fancy the restaurant the worse. I find the more expensive food gets, the less likely I’ll find anything edible.
    Good New – Bad news
    I started off eating about 4 things until I was a teenager. But as I got older I occasionally find a new thing to eat. Imagine the revelation when “we” find something new we like! Its a huge revelation. Today I eat enough things to have a healthy diet but my wife gets tired of making the same things over and over.
    But let me end with this article has shed a lot of anxiety for me. It makes so much sense! With knowledge comes power, an though I know I’ll battle with this probably my whole life, I will always strive to what we all want: to eat like a normal person.

  10. Thank you, thank you. You are describing my 7 year old. He is a sensitive and bright boy who has been labelled as picky and spoilt by family members and doctors when I asked for help and advice. We’ve spent hundreds maybe thousands on cook books for fussy children, pediatric dieticians, pediatricians and charts, rewards and notthing worked. I always followed thru and yet there were no results, only more stress and heartache seeing my little man miserable, more and more anxious and skinny. He could easily go to bed hungry or give up his electronics just to avoid touching new food anad hasn’t eaten a single meal at daycare for 2 years.So we backed off a bit and he seems to grow and thrive just fine . We don’t go to restaurants, we eat before going to family bbqs and kids parties.I altenate and cook one of his 4 plain dinner choices every night but dread he will refuse to eat his favorite plain rice one day. It’s comforting to hear that there are others battling the food problems like us and to know it exits and not just in my head. Thanks

  11. I feel like I now have some idea of what my boyfriend has tried to explain to me. I believe what he tells me is true. I used to think he was just making up excuses not to eat. Although I understand it is a real problem, I am worried to death about him. What if he doesn’t get adequate nutrition?

    • The best thing you can do for your boyfriend is be supportive of what he can eat and protect him from negative comments about his diet and future health. Selective eaters, surprisingly don’t have any more risk of health issues than the normal eating population. Stressing about what isn’t in his diet is far more harmful than anything he does eat.

  12. For those of you who don’t eat vegetables but can swallow pills, I suggest you check out the selection of green supplements in pill form at the health food store, and the fiber supplements too. If not, consider trying gummy vitamins or the kids’ formula emergen-c. I do understand the food phobia thing (mine is less comprehensive, but I often lie and say I’m allergic to eggs and shellfish because I can’t stand the thought of eating them) but it’s really important to find some way, whether as a drink, a pill or even an injection from your doctor, to get some essential nutrients into your body. If weight loss is an issue for you, part of the problem is almost certainly malnutrition, which is making you hungry, combined with a lack of filling fiber.

    On a happier note, for those who are worried that they will pass food phobias on to their children by example, I have a friend with this disorder who now has a child who loves healthy eating!

  13. I’ve made it 18 years with what I think is SED. I was fortunate enough to have supportive family all around, even though I did have to compromise on a few things like giving up sleepovers, summer camp, and later on even some dates. My list of foods was always small but manageable since I could eat basic things, but it all turned upside down now that I am in college. The support system worked great for me and even at a 3 hour distance from home and “safe” meal environments I can scrape by, but the problem just keeps getting worse. I can replicate most meals I enjoy in my apartment (i opted to live off campus in order to have some control over my eating), but now after almost a year of doing so I have begun to turn myself off to a lot of things I used to enjoy. As the anxiety escalates, the taste of food becomes a dreadful thought and the texture is the worst part. I’ve been keeping up with this very helpful page for a while now, and I do hope everybody manages to find comfort someday. I haven’t seen, however, anybody mention a sudden worsening of symptoms. Has anyone had a success in slowing down the progression or re-achieving a nice balance after a major change in their lifestyle? Though I’ve given up a lot of social aspects of my lifestyle through the years, I’m not quite ready to give up something like my future, but at this rate I’ll either starve or decrease the number of foods I eat significantly.

    • Vic,

      Finding that balance and regaining a comfort with food is a path that’s going to be unique to you. Make a list of the food you are comfortable with and take a look at what’s common in terms of taste and texture. Usually, selective eaters lean toward salty, high fat tastes and softer textures. It would also be helpful to look at the foods you no longer enjoy and see what’s common about those.

      These are valuable clues. Whether you wish to expand into new food groups, experiment with food groups you are already comfortable with or just find new ways to enjoy what you already eat, the priority is to find ENOUGH food TO eat so you end each meal or snack feeling satisfied. Make sure to eat at regular intervals, whatever that may be, so your anxiety about food is not fueled by hunger. While you should approach each eating opportunity with an appetite, being hungry will only elevate your anxiety and make eating too stressful to enjoy.

  14. I am 19, Male, I have had this problem for as long as I can remember, my meals are mostly the same every day which are fries, chicken and other meats, mostly frozen foods, I eat mashed potatoes and recently started eating potatoes. I can never go out for meals with friends or family because I will end up being embarrassed and making a scene when I don’t want to and just won’t eat anything or eat just fries from the menu.

    For so long I have wanted to start eating healthy, all of my life I have played sports and I go to the gym and I started getting more socially involved with friends when I became 18 years old and I could drink, I have a good and healthy looking body with muscle tone but I know that inside my body I won’t be healthy and I want to change this because I am on a sports science course in university and I have learnt that I need to start eating healthy or I will end up becoming really unhealthy.

    I would appreciate it very much if someone could give me some advice on how to start trying new foods and where to start because I never eat vegetables but I eat most fruits and I really want to be normal.

  15. I guess I could say I’m blessed that I have quite a good range of ‘acceptable’ food, with vegetables being my main problem, but for a long time I have struggled in social situations around food. It’s a worry for me that I am not getting what I need from my food and hope that avoiding ‘healthy’ food isnt affecting me too badly as I look to be healthy on the outside, being a reasonable weight and feeling okay most of the time despite my immune system not being as good as it should sometimes. I have been laughed at for not eating vegetables, with people thinking I’m being fussy and not understanding that if it was my choice I would love to eat a lovely salad or the ‘dreaded’ green veg put in front of me. It was such a relief to find out that there were other people like me. I just can’t wait for the day that I can enjoy a meal without picking something out and to not have to deal with sniggers at my side plate full of carefully disected food. I’m also blessed to have a mother and lovely partner who love me just the way I am and help me to hide my disected food from others who are not so understanding – by eating it themselves… Haha… But I have learnt to deal with my eating quite well and will continue to try to find a way to eat ‘normally’ and healthily.

  16. I’m an underweight 14 year old girl and I am pretty sure I have SED. I like a pretty wide variety of foods, however they must be plain and exactly the way it was the first time. I HATE trying new foods and will gag whenever I try to swallow. Luckily my parents will normally make things that I will eat, but they think it is all for attention I think. I don’t and even last month they tried making me try some kidney beans which smelled disgusting. They forced me to swallow two and I almost threw up. Then I had two more in my mouth and I had a panic attack. I couldn’t breath and almost passed out. It was not an allergic reaction. My favorite food is oranges and orange juice and I wish I could eat and drink it for the rest of my life.

  17. Another thing is that I cant swallow pills..So despite my limited diet restrictions, I cant take pills to manage my lack of vitamins that it gets very bad esp when I start entering adulthood and can feel it so much.My brain processes things so much slower cuz I dont eat fish at all. And I constantly feel tired and sleepy all the time every single day because I dont have enough iron(which is what the doc told me).I dont take pills cuz I choked on them before and now I have banned pills for life.I can only take the really tiny ones and even so I will bite them or mash them into powder form before swallowing.And my doctors get so exasperated because they think that something is wrong with me for not being able to swallow pills even at 21.And every visit they teach me the same old method of how to gulp down pills.Bt nothing s changed so far.I really really hope for some advice.Especially on improving and expanding my food diet. I tried seafood which I absolutely abhor but the best I can handle is only a pinch of it which makes other ppl think there s no difference and I might as well not eat if its that little that Im trying. Pls give me advice.Thank u soooo much

    • My mom takes her pills with applesauce but I don’t know whether that is something you can eat.

  18. Im 21 and I believe I have this as well.I dont eat vegetables, seafood, lots of fruits almost and everything that Im suffering from malnutrition and often get black outs and low blood pressure due to lack of vitamins. It is extremely stressful whenever Im out and I always get scolded for being TOO PICKY.I’ll have comments like “Just eat everything on yr plate!Whats so hard!Stop wasting food!Etc”. But it gets so bad that even when Im soo hungry I will still not eat the foods that I dont originally do even if I have no food after and will resort to filling my stomach with rice only just to keep myself from the hunger pangs. Even if there is a tiny bit of vegetable the size of my little finger in my noodle, I will pick it out as well.Im going crazy at this eating rate.Isnt there a way to overcome this?

  19. Wow, thank you for this article. I have always called my son a picky eater but now I realize he is definitely a selective eater. He was great as a young child but had a head injury at 4. That brought on many sensory issues, including the very picky eating. His brother will eat anything, so I’ve always believed it was something inherent that caused my son to be so finicky. We recently went on vacation to a very remote region, and my son literally did go without food, often just eating bread, because he refused to eat foods that were “different” even though they were similar. I don’t know how to help him, but your article has sure helped me understand him. Thanks!

  20. I’m pretty sure my daughter has this disorder. I have a few questions about it and looking for answers. It says that this is usually associated with another disorder but is that always the case? Is there anything we can do to help cure her? I also wonder if therapy might help because I don’t want her to end up traumatized later on in life because of this. She only eats carbs and cheese and also loves sweets. While she has always been pretty healthy, I’ve noticed weight gain that is more than usual and I don’t want her to be unhealthy and overweight and make the problems worse and the potential for teasing worse. Is there anyone who can help us?

    • Michelle, selective eating is common with autism spectrum disorders and with OCD, however, selective eating can also result because of a sensitivity to smell, an increased amount of taste buds, or past trauma (choking; difficulty with textures; or consistent pressure to eat food before the child is ready, to please the parent, or in quantity that exceeds the child’s appetite.) This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is possible to just be a selective eater for no reason other than a preference for certain flavours. Most SEs experience anxiety in social eating situations because of the dietary limitations, which feeds the anxiety around eating.

      Can she be cured? She can certainly be helped. In many cases, SE can be resolved over time at home. SED is often a family issue, in the sense that feeding advice stresses getting the child to comply with eating. The approach I use with my son and promote on the blog puts the bulk of responsibility on the parent to feed with trust and without pressure – to start with what you have to work with and build on that at a pace that is comfortable for the child.

      Join hundreds of other parents who understand at https://www.facebook.com/groups/MealtimeHostage

  21. I am 16 and I think I finally found the disorder I have. I’ve been going a very long time trying to figure out an eating disorder that fits me. I thought I was anorexic but I do not have a problem with my body weight. I get told by many people I’m anorexic, or I look like I am. I am 5 foot 1 and I weigh about 90 pounds. I have always been petite. I am very comfortable with my body, in fact i wouldn’t mind to gain 5-10 pounds. I’ve been like this ever since I could remember. My mother says I used to eat completely normal until I was about 4 or 5. This disorder makes me feel very embarrassed. I hate going out to eat with friends, family, and even my boyfriend. I don’t really know how to go about telling people with this… My boyfriend knows a little about it, and my friends think I just have a normal eating disorder. I also struggle with social anxiety disorder, and clinical depression. Could this be a contributing factor to this disorder? I am also a pretty healthy girl, my periods are a little irregular, but so are my mother’s and my sister’s. My immune system isn’t the greatest, but I also have a lot of younger siblings that bring home all types of germs. I don’t look unhealthy, but I am a little pale. I also am starting to take vitamins.

    The foods I eat are very limited: fries, cheese sticks, granola bars, protein shakes and protein bars, yogurt, peanut butter, all types of bread, pancakes, eggs, waffles, french toast (I like breakfast foods), and other types of junk foods. I do not eat any type of meat, no vegetables, and only some fruits. I don’t eat pizza, macaroni, chips, and other type of foods a normal teenager eats.

    I desperately wish I could fix this disorder. It is very embarrassing and it gets in the way with my everyday life. I am glad that I am not the only one out there suffering with this, but it also makes me sad that 20 and 30+ year olds are still battling.. I was hoping I would “grow out” of this, but I guess I’m not 😦 I worry daily how my life will be when I’m older and married.. For example: I wonder how I am going to go to dinner parties, or make sure my baby is healthy if I ever get pregnant. This disorder makes my life very awkward and makes me panic and worry for my health and social life in the future. I don’t want to be like this anymore. I used to think something was wrong with my taste buds, because if something smelled good and I thought I would like it, I wouldn’t.

    Everyone, including friends and family, tell me I need to eat better, but it’s difficult and cannot be fixed over night. I am so embarrassed to talk about this with anyone, because everyone will think I’m strange. I really wouldn’t mind not eating meat, I think meat is pretty disgusting, and I could live without eating red meat, but I just wish I could eat vegetables. I feel like I crave them, but I can never get them.

    I am very glad I found this article and this disorder, and I hope that everyone battling with this overcomes it xx

    • Bella, thank you for your comment.
      Depression is a horrible monster, especially where food is concerned, and many selective eaters also struggle with social anxiety.

      Your diet, albeit limited, has enough to sustain you – protein, fats, carbohydrates. A few fruits can go a long way and are just as nutritious as vegetables. If you never grow into a taste for salad, don’t worry about it.

      To begin your journey to overcome this disorder, let go of the illusion of what a normal person eats. If you take a good look at the normal eating world, it’s full of “don’ts” and “shoulds”. Few normal eating people eat for the pure pleasure of eating, in fact many obsess about nutritional quality, ingredients, and quantity. Having the luxury of variety does not necessarily make the eater “normal”.

      Give yourself permission to accept that what you eat is normal for you. It doesn’t make you weird or strange anymore than having a preference for a specific perfume or shampoo. Considering that 80% of those normal eating folks have failed at dieting, if you can just make regular opportunities to eat food you enjoy eating, in sufficient quantity to satisfy your hunger, you’ll already be eating more normal than most people who can eat almost anything. 😉

    • I am a 42 year old female that has suffered with this my whole life. I was told by family friends and relatives that when I got pregnant I would have a teeny tiny little unhealthy baby. Well, let me tell you something…. I was barely 108 pounds when I got pregnant the first time. I gained a healthy 30 lbs by the end of the pregnancy and had an incredibly healthy 8 lb 2 oz baby boy (who, at 24 years old now, also suffers from this debilitating disorder). I’ve had two other healthy, happy children who don’t seem to have this problem (Thank God).

  22. We have a 10 year old that has SED. What I find interesting about everyone’s comments is that no one is addressing the actual anxiety or what can be done, if anything, about it. Yes, its becoming clear that more and more children and adults suffer from this disorder. But now what? Anxiety issues create long term problems for anyone. Living on a diet of 10 foods (mostly high carb or high sugar) is not healthy, period. Its great that this is a place people can come and say, hey, I am not alone. If you are already an adult, perhaps you feel that recognition is enough, and that since you’ve made it this far, you can survive the rest of your life this way. But for children? Our girl can’t have play dates or sleepovers, no summer camp or visiting relatives. Every meal – which is a crucial and social part of anyone’s day – is a struggle. She’s been in therapy and she has serious anxiety issues, which we are working on EVERY DAY.

    I’d like to hear from these others, especially adults, with success stories – not getting by stories. I want to hear how hard work, every day, and the support of professionals (perhaps medication?), has allowed you to feel safer, less anxious, and therefore allowed you to experiment and broaden your palate. Whatever the issues – brain chemistry or divorced parents – there must be people out there who have learned how to manage this disorder… not just by finding the one restaurant that serves a dish you’ll eat.

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  25. aaah, I’m really glad I found this. I’m only 18, but it feels like by this age, it’s a bit too late for people to keep telling me I’ll grow out of my picky eater phase.

    I luckily don’t have anxiety when going out for meals, as 95% of the time when I go out to eat with friends or family, it’s either a dessert place, a breakfast place or they have the option of chicken fingers and fries or pepperoni pizza. Going to a friend’s house for a meal is a different story, as most of my friends either have parents that only make healthy organic meals with loads of weird spices, or someone in the family is allergic to gluten (which is in almost all the things I eat).

    Eating at home is the bigger challenge. Whenever I leave my room to get food, I get yelled at if I don’t choose anything healthy. Since there’s nothing healthy that I like, I give up and get yelled at for not eating. I’m afraid to leave my room when my family is home because there’s a high chance of getting yelled at about food, and because I never leave my room, I also get yelled at for not leaving my room.

    Last year I had afternoons off from school every day, so as a result I was home alone most of the time for lunch. I ended up eating only chicken fingers and cheese toast. I gained 20 pounds that year, and now my parents are on my case about eating healthy even more than before (though to be honest I’d rather be a bit chubbier than hungry all the time). I had to switch to a diet of only milk and frozen blueberries for the last month of school just so I could fit into my grad dress.

    The worst is when my dad is in charge of making dinner. He LOVES to experiment with food, and his taste in food is almost completely opposite of mine. Most of the time when he makes meals, it’s either a mash-up of things I hate, or something I love mixed in with a mash-up of things I hate. He also makes a huge mess when he cooks, and I’m in charge of doing the dishes, which means smelling it the whole time while touching the soggy grossness with my bare hands. My mom likes his meals, but she’s too lazy to make anything as complicated as he makes, so when she’s home I usually get something I’ll eat.

    One thing that helped a bit was going to Disney World. I always heard about how great the food is there, so when I went, I tried a lot of things I normally wouldn’t like because I didn’t want to miss out on something if it was actually good. Most things I either still didn’t like or I only sort of liked (but didn’t like enough to have made by anyone who didn’t know exactly what they were doing), but I was able to add scrambled eggs to the list of things I will eat, and I can put more condiments on my burgers. On top of that, almost every restaurant has at least one picky eater option that’s not as fancy and touchy touchy as the other things on the menu, so on days when I wasn’t feeling up to the challenge of trying something new, I could easily find something I liked. I wish I could eat at Disney World every day. I ate tons, and I didn’t eat anything healthy the whole time I was there, but I lost weight from all the walking around I did.

    I’ve also heard that trying something you only sort of like prepared a bunch of different ways can be a good way to add more foods to your list of what you’ll eat. I think I might try that once I’m more independent so I don’t have to deal with my family harassing me the whole time.

  26. My best friend, who is also my full-time employee at my work-from-home business, has SED. (Long story.) I mention our relationship because she spends 8 hours a day at my home, and after work, we usually hang out for a while longer. So… lots of time together. I adore cooking, trying exotic new meals, and am a bit of a health nut (casual paleo, very little processed crap, etc.) So.

    It took a while for her to tell me — she was obviously embarrassed and used to being ignored or harassed. I can remember how pained she seemed when politely turning down my lunches, invites to go out, etc. She told me she was just “extra picky,” but eventually felt comfortable enough to explain to me she has SED. It is heartbreaking. How isolated she must have felt/feel!

    It seems clear to me that within her family, the sentiment is “you’ll figure it out when you get hungry enough.” She told me that her parents (with whom she still lives, she’s in her young 20s) has given up on her, and she kind of fends for herself. She quietly goes about her day, skipping dinners out or passing on snacks, with no one else in her life taking this condition very seriously.

    I’ve been doing lots of research, I want her to feel relaxed with me–I asked her to make me a list of foods she will eat, won’t eat, has never had/might try, and the “red x” foods. Stuff she can’t even smell. What I should keep stocked in the pantry so she always has a “green light” type snack. She got teary when I asked, because in 23 years, no one else has asked about her dietary needs in a genuine way.

    I cried when I read her list, with one category titled “Foods I Want To Like But Am Scared.” I can’t imagine how stressful and lonely she must feel. I’m doing my best to make her feel comfortable in my home, and this article was helpful, but I want to be a better friend, and help if I can.

    My question: Is there a way to ease a person with SED into trying something new? For instance, my girlfriend only eats plain pasta with butter, but also likes breadsticks with marinara sauce. She has expressed interest in trying spaghetti with my homemade sauce. Is there a good way to ease into this? I would NEVER pressure her. However, we’ve talked about how she would like to (slowly) try some variations on her regular options, and I want to make it as easy, comfortable, and possibly even fun for her as I can. Any suggestions?

    PS, sorry, kind of an emo few paragraphs, but I just read all the comments from previous people here, and it’s really sad.

    • Alicia, you are a kind and generous soul. 🙂

      One thing that really strikes me from your comment is how your friend is left to fend for herself at home. Eating is a very social activity. Being “left out” and feeling unsupported by family only feeds her anxiety around food, and probably makes her feel different, or even “damaged”.

      Simply sharing meals with her where there is food on the table she is comfortable with is a great place to start For example, a meal that is centered around pasta with the options to add what she is comfortable with and items you would like. Start by helping her feel normal about her eating. Encourage her to eat what she likes regularly and to ignore what others think. Before thinking about adding items to her diet, she will have to see eating as an enjoyable activity, something to look forward to. At the moment, she probably thinks of eating as an uncomfortable chore.

      Texture is often the most challenging hurdle. When she is ready to try something new, be her first exposure to new food by describing (what she shows interest in) the food’s qualities – is it crunchy, soft, smooth, sweet, tangy… avoid less appealing descriptions like slimy, gooey, etc.. and if she can only handle a new food in her mouth for a second or two, don’t make a big deal when she spits it out. It took a lot of courage to even put it in her mouth.

      I would love to hear how you progress. Both of you can e-mail me at mealtimehostage@gmail.com for support. I wish you both much success. 🙂

    • I’ll second that and say, yes, you are the kind of person more people with SED wish they had in their lives. You actually care and want to help. It can be isolating when no one wants to understand SED or just continually harrases the person, making fun of their way of eating. Your friend is very lucky to have you.

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  28. It sounds like my husband (we are in our 40s) has this to some extent. Over the years his food choices have become more and more limited, mainly packaged bland /sweet carbs. The only proteins he can stand are chicken breast with every trace of fat and skin trimmed before cooking and beef fillet. No other cuts and no ground meat. No veggies except canned green beans. Canned mandarin oranges are ok. Yogurt with cereal mixed in is breakfast and lunch. We can eat out at only one place, used to be two but one of them changed their recipe for the one item he’d order. We can order pizza from one place, but only two people who work there get the crust ‘right ‘ so we have to request who makes it. It is hard for me to get enough variety and produce to be healthy because he gets very upset when I cook meals he can’t eat…but I can’t survive on chicken breast and canned green beans! It is really difficult, and seems to get harder every day. I try and stay understanding, but the stress of this takes a toll.

    • Merika, it can be a great source of stress, especially when you feel deprived of food you enjoy and obliged to cater to your husband’s limited options.

      To alleviate the mealtime stress, be sure to provide good tasting food for yourself while considering your husband’s limitations. Beef can be prepared in a way you like while leaving a plain portion aside – same with chicken. Green beans can be an option beside another vegetable. Think about leftovers in terms of what you’ll cook and reheat tomorrow or keep aside to prepare fresh another time.

      If your husband feels pressured to eat outside what he is comfortable with, it will just make him more anxious about food. Alternatively, being able to eat food you both enjoy in satisfying amounts will relieve a lot of the mealtime frustration and give your husband (and you) a chance to relax and enjoy the meal – and each other’s company.

      It might also be worth looking into underlying causes – reflux, undiagnosed allergies, food intolerance, childhood trauma, sensory sensitivities… I’m told that the better one feels about what they eat, the more likely they are to meet nutritional needs – even if the choices are few.

  29. Hi I’m 14 and I totally agree with cam.
    “But because there is nothing he finds edible.”
    That is exactly how I feel everyday. At dinner yesterday, I didn’t eat my kidney beans. To me, they aren’t food. When my parents made me eat them, I put 2 in my mouth and had a panic attack. Luckily, I didn’t have to eat anymore. Also, I cannot stand when foods touch each other. If they do, they are ‘contaminated’, or at least to me. My whole family laughs at that. At lunch, I always have either a peanut butter sandwhich on white bread without the crust and without jelly or a ham sandwhich win only ham but I take of the ‘crust’ of the ham. Its embarrassing. I wish I was normal but I wouldn’t want to eat the ‘normal’ food.

  30. This is a wonderful thing to see. I am 15, and I can’t stomach any vegetables, most meat, most fruit, any sauce and most fish, unless it is fried which I know takes away most of the taste. It really, really is a texture and smell problem.
    I hate Thanksgiving because I only eat a couple things and, without a doubt, someone will bring attention to it. Multiple times I have gone hungry instead of eating someone’s meal, using the excuse ‘I’m not hungry.’ I am only willing to try a recipe if I like all of the major ingredients. I get anxiety when someone wants me to try something. I feel so terrible when I don’t like someones food, I just want to scream ‘It’s not you, it me!’
    My mom said to me, ‘What are you going to do when you have kids and they pick up your eating habits?’ thank you, mom, I am glad i’m going to ruin my kids life, as if I am doing this on purpose. This article has been the only thing that has ever told me my problem isn’t fake. Any one who thinks they have this, I completely understand where you are coming from and remember you did not choose this.

    p.s. is there anyway to fix this? I would like to not be an adult, still fearing social events.

    • Sydney, as a mom, it breaks my heart to hear that you feel unsupported. Texture is a huge hurdle. I can’t handle hard, chewy things or really slimy foods. The difference is few people tease me about it. Fwiw, I am very self-conscious about eating in public because my jaw clicks very loudly and I have been teased about that in the past. It’s something that stays with you for a long time.

      I don’t know that there is anything to “fix”. There is a lot of pressure to eat “healthy”, and while that is a well intended ideal, first you need to accept that what you eat today is normal for you. From there, experiment with different ways to eat different foods in a way that you find pleasant. Take all the time you need to build up your own courage. Other people can be unintentionally cruel. Remember that is their issue, not yours.

  31. I’m so glad to read this post. I’m 34 and have been accused of being a picky eater my whole life. I’m so thankful to see the others posting about how smells and textures give them anxiety. And how they avoid social events that involve eating. I’ve always made excuses like I just ate or I’m not hungry or my stomach is upset. Its easier then trying to explain how I feel or get harassed about being spoiled ect. I wish there was more media attention about SED so it would make others understand. I’m married and it’s hard for my husband who loves a wide variety of foods to truly understand the anxiety this causes and how I want so much to just be “normal” and eat “regular” foods. Is there a support group anywhere ?

  32. My 10 year old stepson has SED. He eats about 10 foods only and not one of them is healthy. He mainly eats potatoe chips, crackers, bacon, poptarts and homemade chocolate chip cookies. He only eats one item that requires a untensil and that is Raisin Bran. Most of the reponses I have read state its okay to be a picky eater, however, this child has never had anything healthy in his body. He weighs 145lbs and is only 10. Does anyone have any suggestions for my particular case?

    • Hi Ron,

      By far, the best resource to answer your questions and address your concerns is a book by Dr. Katja Rowell called “Love Me, Feed Me”. She describes, in detail, how to address selective eating, as well as nutritional and weight concerns in children.
      Also, GaviRD.com is a RD who specializes in pediatric nutrition and SED.

    • I’m a very open person, and I understand people have different likes but, in every case it truly does boil down to “mental stubbornness”. Just like a fear of anything, spiders, mice, bugs, ect… I am a true believer that anything can be overcome but, not by just accepting it and saying/thinking “this is the way it is”. That is just like answering any question with “because”. We must all face our fears if we are to overcome them. It’s almost like most of these people are saying they would die if something happened where they had to deal with eating anything they had an aversion to, to survive. How is that not being “spoiled” or “mentally stubborn”? I believe in humanity and if a human being sets their mind to something I have no doubt whatsoever that they can accomplish it. Most of these cases in these comments are simply “homeostasis” at work.

    • How is SED not being “spoiled” or “mentally stubborn”? That would be very similar to the way PTSD is considered “attention seeking”, or generalized anxiety disorder is considered “being a little nervous”, or OCD is just “orderly and organized”. Can these be overcome? I like to think so, but change is unrealistic in an environment where expectations exceed ability.

  33. After all theses years I finally found out what I am suffering from. 32 years I have suffered from this. I’ve always been embarrassed of my problem such to the point that I have avoided all the times I have been asked by a friend if I would like to go out somewhere to eat. When I found this article I started to cry I couldn’t hold in my tears. This has been such a burden in my life that I have yet been able to actually have an actual relationship. I mean I found this man in my life and I’ve held myself back so much so that the proposal he made to me of moving in together has terrified me to such an extent I don’t know what to do. Till this day I havent been able to tell him of my problem. I’ve never eaten with him and I keep telling myself I can change I really don’t want to lose him I just don’t know what to do. All my life I’ve eaten only potato chips, French fries, Cuban bread, anything that had chocolate…I cant stand to try to eat a normal lunch meal from let say Mc’ donalds. Food for me tend to smell delicious, but when I go to try it, my gag reflex goes haywire and I end up avoiding the food altogether. If I do manage to get the food down I start feeling extremely nauseous. And cant go on. I’ve been able to start slowing incorporating fruits in my life but only through milkshakes and smoothies I do.

    • Oh, Maria. ((hugs)) I truly hope this wonderful man you’ve found can accept you as you are, and support you in everything you wish to achieve, food and all. I have heard some truly inspiring accounts of love and support from spouses and friends of selective eaters.

      One in particular of a chef who accepted the “challenge” and has been tremendous in his sincere efforts to help his friend explore and experience different foods. It’s not easy to make that leap of faith and trust someone else with a vulnerability, but nothing compares to having the support of a trusted friend. I hope you find that courage to trust.

      It’s almost as difficult to accept that what you can eat right now is normal for you. If you want to look at professional help to expand your diet, look at the resources page where I’ve started a list of Dietitians and SLPs who specialize in selective eating.

      You are among thousands of adults who struggle with food. You’ll also find lots of great support in the Picky Eating Adults group on Facebook.

    • First I want to thank you so much for your reply. Its been so hard for me I just don’t know how to approach it with the person I truly care about and loved. Its been 10 years this man has been in my life and I have never found the courage of trying to tell him. I am slowly, and when I mean slowly its really slowly trying to change. Its just been so frustrating.

    • It is frustrating. Everything about SED is frustrating. And slow. Very, very slow. But even slow progress is still progress, and it’s still okay if there are long times where you make no progress.
      BTW… The Dr.Oz show recently taped a segment on SED. I’m not sure when it will air. It will be good to have a compassionate view of SED in the media for a change.

  34. Thanks so much for sharing this! This is so me! Growing up meal times at my house were stressful though my parents were pretty good about letting me have a food that I liked (usually grilled cheese or scrambled eggs) after I had eaten at least 4 or 5 bites of what everyone else was having though my parents, especially my dad, hated the fact that I often pinched my nose while eating the offending food or gagged while trying to get it down. I’m pushing 40 now & over the years my family has come to accept my food choices and at Thanksgiving and Christmas while everyone else has turkey or ham I’ll get macaroni & cheese or lasagna. They’re also good about making sure the gravy stays far away from me (that smell-yuk!) Yes, my sister & bro-in-law tease me about my carb-filled meal, but in what family do families not tease each other?!

    Pretty much all my friends just accept my quirky eating habits and tend to give me more grief about the fact that I’m not a super healthy eater but yet I’m thin. I go out to eat and they’ll jokingly try and guess what I’m going to get, because yes I tend to get the same thing every time, but I’m not embarrassed nor do I try to hide it. My biggest challenge tends to be at wedding receptions so whenever possible I try to find out the menu ahead of time so I can plan accordingly, eating ahead of time if necessary or in some cases stopping for fast food on the way home later. We have potluck lunches at school every other week & I had a colleague ask me about particular foods because she wanted to make sure there was something that I’d be able to eat which I thought was very kind. On other occasions when I didn’t care for the available food I just brought my own lunch and no one ever said anything.

    My biggest problem now is that I’ve gotten tired of eating the same foods over and over again. I actually found this blog after Googling “picky eaters” because I was having a rough day wishing I had more meal options. I’ve tried to be brave & try new foods when given the opportunity-just last night I tried avocado at a wedding (not bad), and I’ve re-tried foods that I hated as a kid. I still can’t do instant mashed potatoes (I hate the gritty texture) but I’m okay with “real” ones which was a pleasant surprise. Overall however my diet remains limited which sometimes leads to frustration and boredom but in the great course of life I know there are far worse things to struggle with.

    Thanks again for your blog and for giving me a little more insight into an aspect of my life that I always wondered about.

  35. I have 6years old son he smell first the food and if he doesn’t like smell he will not eat the food.he likes junk foods …soup with rice or champorado. si limited that I get so stress up every meal Time.please help ….is there something wrong with my child? I try to feed him different kind of food but still failed.

    • Is your child following a consistent pattern of growth? Is he alert, energetic, happy and otherwise in good health? These are much better questions to ask to determine if something is wrong. Young children are naturally cautious about food. The more you insist he tries different foods, the less he will eat. Try presenting the food you enjoy eating in a neutral, no pressure way (ie. buffet style) and let him explore the food you provide at his own pace and in his own time. Make sure there is always something he can eat on the table and trust that he will do well with eating eventually. There is a collection of great feeding resources at http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

    • Great advice. My daughter is 7 yrs old and is still an extremely picky eater. Foods she use to like she doesn’t now and seems to have such anxiety when I ask her to try a new food. We went to a restaurant for a party and she was so hungry but couldnt eat her dinner cause she didn’t like smell or taste so didn’t eat even tho she was starving. I’m wondering if she has SED. Its always stressful at eating time and I worry and get so frustrated. I thought she was being stubborn about it but after reading this post I’m wondering if its more medical condition. Thank you for this enlightening article.

  36. I’m so glad to hear that I am not alone in this topic. I’m 17 and i have suffered from picky eating or SED my whole life. Ever since i can remember I have hated vegetables and other commonly eaten foods. However I must have a larger palette because I do enjoy eating fruits, meats, and fish but only in simple and plain ways. Luckily one of my best friends is in a similar situation and we understand each other and the effects of this disorder. I never really desired to try different foods until about last year but every time i try to go out of my comfort zone i end up gagging or just washing it down with water avoiding the problem. The worst part of this disorder is that it has indirectly caused me to be slightly overweight causing a whole other range of insecurities to inflict me everyday. I often like to avoid certain social situations where i would have to eat something I don’t like but it’s hard. Also people can be very intolerant and closed minded when it comes to picky eaters and picky eaters are seen as weird and spoiled. When I was younger my pediatrician just said that i would grow out of it and that i should try new things but it’s hard for people to understand when they’ve never had real experience with these kinds of disorders. If i could i would just wish to be able to eat normal foods and be more healthy. I believe SED needs to be publicized more highly so awareness can be raised and the social stigma’s against picky eating can be eliminated. Anyways I’m so glad that i could find a place where I could express myself without being ridiculed, and that i could hear about other people’s experiences. 🙂

  37. I’m 18 and I’ve always been a “picky eater”, when I was younger my mom would ask the physician what she could do to help and he would tell her to make me try it ten times and I would grow to like it, that never worked in fact I would gag. I never blamed my mom for forcing me to eat the food because I knew she was just trying to help me, but I do kind of blame my physician because he told her that I would grow to like it.

    I like only a select amount of foods: steak-it has to be well done, lean/no fat, and kind of dry; chicken-I prefer rotisserie (only the breast) fried and grilled but if its made at home, oven baked, it has to be dry; pasta-I prefer white but I have eaten wheat, with butter, or with red sauce (has to be ragu and it has to be blended so there is no chunks) I also like mac and cheese and ramen, I like very little of the red sauce though; fast food- only certain foods (I only like one meal from each fast food place that I like); sweets- chocolate, ice cream, plain types of sweets; veggies- broccoli (only tops and has to be steamed), carrots (has to be raw), tomatoes (only the hard part, no juice), and celery; fruits-I like a lot of them. To me the amount of food I put down seems like a lot but I rarely eat fruits and vegetables, mostly I eat fast food and pasta.

    It doesn’t really bother me out in public or with friends because everyone I know already knows I’m “picky”. It only really bothers me when I go over someone’s house for dinner or something because I feel bad that I don’t like their food/won’t eat it. I look at their food and it doesn’t look appetizing so I won’t try it, I stay with safe food like the mashed potatoes or the salad (if it’s just lettuce and carrots or things I could easily take out.

    I’m actually underweight and I want to gain weight but even with the food I like being fattening I eat like a bird, usually only one meal a day, so I don’t really gain weight. I pretty much stay around the same weight since middle school, I also haven’t grown since middle school.

    After reading this blog I feel like I have this but at the same time I feel like I’m blowing my picky eating out of proportion because from what I’ve read a lot more people are worse off than me. I think I have this because I’m sensitive to the texture, the sight, and the smell. If the food doesn’t look right even if it smells right i won’t eat it, the same goes for the rest. I could taste it and on some level like it but if it looked/smelled disgusting I wouldn’t eat it. So I’m just wondering if I do have this or something else.

    • Jackie, thank you for your comment. On one hand, I am pleased to see selective eating recognized as a feeding disorder. Recognition means physicians can become more familiar with feeding issues in children and stop advising parents poorly (grow out of it, will get hungry, offer food repeatedly, etc..). This often is translated as medically sanctioned advice to pressure children to eat, which never works.

      On the other hand, I don’t like thinking of a limited preference for certain foods as a disorder. Everyone has food they don’t like, some more than others. I feel it is important to bring selective eating out into the public periphery so selective eaters can be free to enjoy what they do like to eat without constant pressure to eat like “everybody else.”

      It sounds like you are very fortunate to have the support of friends and family that can accept you for who you are, not for what you eat. That alone makes a huge difference. The absence of that support and acceptance tends to make the selective eater feel ‘damaged’ and it is so unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with anyone who prefers their food prepared the way they like it. 🙂

  38. I’m tearing up! I’m not alone! I’m 32 and have always been called a ‘picky eater’. I’m embarrassed by what I can’t eat, especially when I go out with friends and end up eating something off the appetizer menu because there isn’t anything else I can eat. Or having to put foods on my plate at a buffet and just push it around/play with it to look like I’m eating it, only to go somewhere afterwards to get something I can eat.

    Texture has always been my problem. Peas and corn that ‘pop’ when you chew them or stringy chicken. Onions and apples both have no-go textures for me. I’m so glad to know that I’m not alone and that I’m not crazy. There is actually a reason for why I eat/don’t eat certain things.

    I’m overweight and have tried for years and years to lose weight. But…with the foods I eat, I’m always being held back. I exersice regularly, but my life’s turned into a big fat case of ‘It’s not how much I eat, It’s what I eat.”

    Thank you so much for your blog! I’ll be back here and visiting the facebook page!

  39. Omg! I always thought I was just not normal! I am 23 years old and have been struggling with this forever when I was 10 I went to ashokan a weekend away with my school and they actually called my mom because they thought I was anorexic because I wouldn’t eat anything! Not even macaroni and cheese! It’s so uncomfortable and I feel so unhealthy! Always tired and stressed out! I have been trying to loose weight but dieting is so hard when I completely cut out vegetables I mean I can’t even get them to my hand without gagging I’ve actually cried when a piece of rice touched me one time! It’s so out of control and I don’t know what to do! If anyone has any ideas on who I can see for some treatment in the New York area please help me! I want to be healthy and I want to loose weight! I’m sure you all can understand how hard this is when you only eat a handful of different foods! French fries chicken fingers and pizza is not cutting it anymore! Please help!

    • Ashley,

      There are a variety of conditions that cause selective eating, but all have the same anxiety (some say phobia, a form of anxiety) in common. I would suggest you start there – either with the support of understanding friends and/or family, or a professional who understands SED.

      For weight loss, there are links under Recipes and Nutrition for intuitive eating. I also suggest Ellyn Satter Institute for Eating Competence. Both very similar models promote achieving a weight that is right for you over a certain number on the scale. Eating Competence also promotes eating food you enjoy in satisfying amounts rather than restricting your diet to foods you can’t eat.

  40. Oh my goodness, oh my goodness!!!! I don’t know what made me look up phobias, etc on new foods/not eating foods, but I did today and I am glad!!! This is my almost 19 yr old daughter! I recently told her in frustration that her refusal to try new things was bordering on the psychiatric issue! I knew there had to be something to it other than just a down and out refusal. I am going to have her read this article and maybe we will be able to have a conversation about what she is feeling. She has a limited menu, high in carbs/starches with peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly!) and chicken cooked a certain way for protein, diet. She will eat pizza and fries until the cows come home. She has dealt with teasing and comments since middle school probably. I am going to share this information with her doctor. I have always been concerned I did something to start this. She ate and tried everything until she was 2 – which coincided with our relocation. I just thought we were hitting the picky years, but then it continued, and continued. She is a teen mom and I worry about her daughter, who is now 2. She doesn’t want to try new foods either. My other daughter is picky, but will taste new foods and has a little bit bigger menu than her older sister. My husband and I have no problems eating and trying new things, cooking new and different things, but we have always had to include something my daughter would eat. Thank you for such a great article and a starting point for us.

  41. I cannot even begin to tell you how relieved I am to find out that I’m not alone! I am a fourteen year old female, and I have struggled with SED for my whole life. My pediatrician told me that it was “normal” and that I would “grow out of it.” I went to a nutricionist who told my parents that I was just being “spoiled” and “difficult.” My situation has been very uncomfortable in social situations. I cannot eat in the school cafeteria without feeling sick to my stomach. One time, I went to camp and ate toast for two weeks for every meal. I plan to take action in hopes that I will overcome this like so many others have reported. Thank you so much!

    • Oh, Madi, goodness no, you are FAR from alone.
      I applaud your personal motivation to repair your relationship with food. I suggest starting by embracing the belief that, despite what everyone else has ever told you, what you eat right now, today, is normal for you. Everybody has food they don’t like, and no amount of pressure, teasing, ridicule or embarrassment will convince anyone to like anything.
      Please discuss this with your parents and feel free to contact me through Facebook www,Facebook.com/MealtimeHostage or twitter @mealhostage for additional support or resources.

    • Please talk to your parents, they love you (it is a job requirement). Jump up and down, you need to be heard.

    • I am on the same boat, I went an entire year not buying school lunch because it was a waste of money, I would eat one thing on the tray and throw it away. Not to mention just looking at it made me nauseous..

  42. Very interesting input -thanks. My daughter has been like this since about 4/5 months old when I was encouraged to start introducing solids. She was fine to begin with but then started to refuse them. From 50th percentile at birth – 6 months, she only put on a few pounds in 7 months & dropped to about 10th percentile, it was terrifying. She saw a pediatric nutritionist & an endocrinologist & after many tests I was told ” she is perfectly healthy, she is a conundrum” – in other words ” we have no idea”. There followed years of struggles with her eating with her only being willing & able to eat the blandest of things & only one thing on her plate at a time. I felt that others were judging my parenting ability with the usual “she’ll eat when she’s hungry” or “she’ll grow out of it” It wasn’t until she was 7 years of age that she had an endoscopy carried out & we found out she has “Eosinophilic Esophagitis” I had never even heard of it. As far as I can work out she is allergic to something she ingests (or inhales) that causes inflammation in her esophagus. We still don’t know what it is as her diet is so restrictive that we cannot do the usual exclusion diet for dairy/wheat as there is very little else she could eat. At the moment stomach discomfort is controlled by her using an asthma inhaler twice a day but instead of inhaling it she swallows it. This is NOT the same as acid reflux or GERD, in fact it is often diagnosed because meds given for acid reflux do not work on EE. She is 11 now & desperate to eat other things but she can’t get them down her throat. She gags & gets very upset. She says that fruits & vegetables make her throat tight & the roof of her mouth itchy -apparently a classic sign of EE. She is now a non meat or fish eater driven by her abhorrence about killing animals for food. Adults with undiagnosed EE may only discover they have the condition when food becomes compacted in their esophagus which has narrowed due to long term scarring. If your child or you have experienced this, consider EE. Unfortunately it can only be diagnosed by an endoscopy. If anyone else has a child going through the EE/SED I’d welcome hearing from them.

  43. What an ah ha moment. Our son is 19 and in addiction rehab in part from the stress driven by this eating disorder. I draw comfort from this validation.

    • We are telling him, sadly this disorder has little public awareness. He is working with an eating specialist who has only 3 patients in this category. Our knowledge came as a result of peeling away years of anxiety and teasing about food choices. The disease of addiction was fueled with years of stress. No bell can be un rung, we move forward with knowledge and hope.

  44. Thank you, it is reassuring to read comments from adults who have flourished as daily I worry about my son and his development.

  45. Yes! I finally have a name for what I am suffering! I agree with what Cam said. That’s exactly how it feels. Though I do tend to find some foods smell delicious, but when I go to try it, my gag reflex goes haywire and I end up avoiding the food. If I do manage to get the food down I start feeling extremely nauseous.

    Sleepovers and camps as a child were excruciating and my mum always snuck in some chocolate in my bags so I wouldn’t starve because she knew I wouldn’t eat. My current boyfriend understands what I’m going through and takes me to restaurants that have at least one dish that I will eat, which isn’t a very easy task.

    As the same with Cam, I tend to go for the plain tasting foods, bread, pasta, rice. They’re safe, they’re reliable. I know that if I have them I will be satisfied.

    I don’t eat meat, and if I do it has to be processed and is only ever beef sausages or beef rissoles, or any processed chicken product. Fresh chicken is a no go. I hate the texture of it. It’s either stringy, or it’s powdery.

    I only eat a select few vegetables and I’ve only just started eating bananas and mandarins. Before then I didn’t even touch fruits.

    I find that if I stop eating a certain food for a while then I will begin to have an aversion to it. I used to absolutely love creamed corn. I was completely addicted to it. It was all I ate. After a couple of months of not eating it I refused to eat it. I was too scared to eat it again. Then once I did eat it again I fell in love with it again. But then I grew tired of it, stopped eating it, and the cycle continued.

    I am slowly pushing myself to try new foods, however it is still a battle for me every day. I’m just lucky I have support around me. It’s sad to think that there are so many ignorant people out there that think we are being spoilt little brats. I wish that was the case because that is easily fixed. One day I do hope I can go out to any restaurant and get whatever is on the menu, but I fear that it’s a long way off yet. I’ve spent 21 years the way I am, another 21 wont hurt.

  46. i just found this and i dont know how to begin… im 20 and i think i might have found what was harrasing me all those long years. I could write my story that would be long as my life, but well i dont have much time today 🙂 but as my psychologist said, “your life is like a life of a diabetic, you are always under pressure”.
    I went through everything that is written here and more.

    To everyone there with SED, little by little you can conquer your fear.
    started fighting this 4 years ago, with my beloved man who is a chef. now my menu has at least 4 new ingredients/foods.

    Good luck to everyone. you are not alone

  47. Great Article. I am an extremely selective eater, now 24 yrs old (male). Eat no meat, no veges, no fruit since 18 months old. Basically just eat bread. But surprisingly, I’m perfectly healthy. Yes tall and skinny, but nothing that would outwardly expose me as having eating issues. Yes I take a nutritional supplement that helps. The issue I notice most is that my energy levels are below that of my peers. Sit on my butt most of the day so that sorts that. Haha.

    If you don’t understand, here’s a way to think about it:
    You know that feeling when you smell and see poo. That gagging, repulsive, sick to the stomach feeling. Now just imagine that every food smells and tastes exactly like that. Now you understand.

    As for growing up with such an issue; most don’t understand. It takes a while just to have the confidence to talk about it. As a kid, most adults think you’re seeking attention when it’s in-fact the exact opposite. Camps for example are the worst. Normally great teachers turn into monsters with a kid that doesn’t mind going without, not because he’s not hungry. He’s starving. But because there is nothing he finds edible.
    Such “lessons” help you to get really good at avoiding social situations that involve food, which, if you think about it, is most situations. This of course leads to more independence and a bit of creativity when faced with a challenge.

    Yes I hate that I don’t eat a “normal” range of food. If I had just one wish. I would absolutely love to go to a restaurant with my family and friends to eat a steak or some chicken or sushi. I am happy going along to any restaurant; I just won’t eat a thing. But that situation is usually avoided. Although it’s a tiny bit awkward for me, it’s really, really awkward for everyone else. Sharing a meal together is getting to know someone. Not sharing is bad manners and simply not ok with most people. “Just try a little bit. You’ll like it!”

    Anyway, great article. Thanks.

    • Cam,

      Thank you! Yours is an absolutely brilliant explanation! I wish I knew what compels people to interrogate others about what they eat. Common respect and table manners are in a desperate state.

    • I’m 15 and lunchtimes are really hard because my friends don’t know that I eat the same thing every day and they all judge me. I used to go to the library all lunchtime for a year but I got too lonely. I miss all their birthday parties (meals out) and feel like I’m so alone. They call me a anorexic and say I’m trying to be skinny but I wish I could just eat food and not even think about it but…I just cant. Your article made me feel better so thank you:)

    • You’re welcome, Jess.
      Have a look on Facebook for Picky Eaters Association. You’ll find you have much in common with many, many people, adults and parents of kids who know exactly how you feel about most food.

    • I am 18, and struggled with this since I was a toddler. I never went to camp because I would starve to death there, I was left home a lot when I was youger because my parents were going somewhere that didn’t have anything that I could eat.
      It sucks so much. I struggle with low self esteem and I hate that all I eat is crap. I hate I cant go out and eat with my “normal” friends. I hate that I want to lose weight but I cant because all I eat is crap food. I have even thought about just not eating… but I get dizzy and shakey and feel like I am going to be sick so I eat anyway.
      I fear for my health a lot. Once my mom told me I was going to die really early in life because of my poor eating habbits. I constantly worry about what I am going to eat, how it is effecting my body, if my jeans are going to fit me every day.
      I am not over weight I don’t think. My issue is that all of my weight goes to my tummy. Sometimes I look pregnant in certain shirts. My mom’s co-worker actually asked her if i was once because I had a”noticable baby bump”

      I am sorry I am rambling in responce to your responce to this article, but reading it and your reply made me want to cry. I know that I am not alone in this but at the same time I feel so… trapped. Alone in a crowd, ya know?

    • Alex, it can be very hard when the support you need is not there for you. I hope you will consider that what you eat does not make you not “normal”. It really is okay to be comfortable eating only a very narrow range of foods. This eating thing is a journey you should take calmly, at your own pace, and without pressure to eat the same way or things as everybody else.

    • Aex,u’re not alone.I feel the same way too so much that I cant go out with my friends because the food that they eat at certain restaurants isnt anything I eat on the menu and I cant explain it to them because all I get is a scolding. I am worried so much for my health as well because I dont eat absolutely ANYTHING that is HEALTHY.I cant go on a diet because I dont eat veggies at all. I worry eveyday if Im gonna get cancer or some sort of illness in my early 20s because all I eat is PROCESS FOOD only that I recently went for a health checkup and it got so bad that I was googling 24/7 about different types of illness to see if any symptoms I have will suit it which is killing me. I hope all the best for u too and hope yr diet in the food pyramid will expand too. Its hard but I believe it can happen slowly but surely.

    • I share the same experience with you, only that I am 21 y.o. girl and still can eat meat. I observed I have this disorder since I was toddler. I really wish I could eat vegetables & most of fruits, but I dont live in fantasy. Everytime I eat chicken nuggets/corned beef/sausages I will have a severe headache. I just am glad that my friends accept me the way I am, they do not question me why I dont take a glance of veggies when they are served before my eyes (sadly my family, except my brother, dont, they still make fun of my eating habits). My eating habits get worse when I found out I am a lactose-intolerant, so I should really narrow my food choices in restaurants. And yes, this is a disorder, not a lifestyle, not a reflection of how you were treated as a child. Comment like, “why are you still alive” pisses me a lot.

    • I’m a 35 year old female who is just now discovering that there are more people out there like me so THANK YOU for your very real description of how it is to eat like this. Granted, I can eat some meats, but otherwise u described me to a T.

    • I am the exact same 36 year old female and could cry reading half of these emails coz they are so me xx

    • Thank you for sharing. I have a 13 year old son exactly like you. My heart breaks for him. Your explanation has helped me to try and understand what he must be going through.

  48. I saw a link to this post on FB and am, going to share it. I never even knew that there was a specific name for my childrens’ food issues, I accept it as part of their autism and sensory issues. But you are so right that there is a HUGE difference between being a picky (and often spoiled) child and having SED. I have 5 kids in total, one with severe food intolerances who was also very picky but he is now 8 and eats most things without too much fuss.

    The autistic ones, especially the youngest, will starve rather than eat something they cannot. Great post.

    • I wish this was available to me when my boy was young. I will forever have parent guilt because i couldn’t help him. Now as a twenty year old he has a fear of socializing.

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