12 Things Selective Eaters Want You To Know

Author note: Selective eating was added to the 5th edition of the DSM-V in May 2013 as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

 

“You didn’t eat the peas,” “Why don’t you try the casserole?” “You need to eat healthier,” “You eat like a two year old.” Do you believe that these comments are helping? You may want to think again after hearing from the other side of the table, where your selective eating dinner companion is seated.

 

picky girl
12 Things Selective Eaters Want You To Know

1. Treat me with the same respect you would show a “normal” eater. I am not spoiled or manipulative, I am anxious and very cautious. Resist the urge to make comments about what I’m eating, or to try to get me to eat in a way that YOU prefer. I am quite capable of choosing what I’m comfortable with from what’s available.

2. You know that nonsense about offering a food 10, 12, 17 or 20 times? Forget that noise. If I think food looks like something I might want to eat, I’ll have a go at it, otherwise, I’ll try it when I’m ready. Accept that I may never want to. Telling me “you’ll like it”, “just try a little”, or “you don’t know what you’re missing” will not convince me to eat something that, to me, does not look like food.

3. I have a very sensitive sense of taste and smell. Food can be downright overwhelming, frightening even. I don’t want to look, smell or touch anything that frightens me. I most certainly don’t want it in my mouth. Let me decide when I’m ready to try something new and let me spit it out if I change my mind.

4. It is absolutely NOT OKAY to bribe me with dessert for eating my veggies. This just reinforces what I already know – that vegetables are icky. Let me eat dessert WITH or BEFORE the rest of the meal. Often, starting the meal with something pleasant helps me to relax. Nobody eats well under stress.

5. Embarrassing me (or allowing others to embarrass me) based on my eating habits doesn’t encourage me to eat. I really don’t want to be the center of attention. This only makes me feel uncomfortable and less likely to want to eat in a social setting.

6. Please stop reminding me that I’ve had the same food repeatedly over the past few days (or weeks). I already know that I will get bored, and I may already be bored with it, but right now, it’s the only thing I can eat. 

7. Don’t force me sit at the table or insist I take one bite of everything on my plate. I should not have to earn your love by pleasing you with what I eat.

8. Do not take away what I am comfortable eating in the hopes of forcing me to eat something different. I will not eat because I’m hungry. In fact, I would prefer to be hungry rather than eat something I can’t. Please include me in social eating events by ensuring there is something on the table that I can eat, even if it’s just a basket of rolls. I do not wish to be catered to and I am amazingly easy to please.

9. I don’t want to hear about starving kids in some far-off corner of the world when I refuse to eat something. What I eat or don’t eat does not take food away from anybody anywhere on this planet. There is no need to take my food preferences personally. I am trying my best to be respectful and pleasant during the meal. Perhaps you could do the same?

10. Do not define me by what I eat. Do not judge my parents by the variety of my diet. The less said about my eating, the better. I eat to sustain myself, not for your judgement or approval. Go play mommy wars somewhere else.

11. I may not always make the healthiest choices. I am fully aware of this. Please stop assessing the nutritional quality of my diet. It’s embarrassing, and makes me feel guilty and self-conscious. If I was interested in knowing which nutrients are lacking in my diet, I would seek facts from a knowledgeable professional. I don’t recall asking for your opinion.

12. This is just the way I am, I am not trying to be difficult. When you support and advocate for me, you show me that you love and accept me for who I am, not what I eat. It’s difficult for me to trust you when you act like my most interesting quality is the food on my plate.

 

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93 responses to “12 Things Selective Eaters Want You To Know

  1. Thanks for this I not sure but I think I have SED. I’m 15 and I’ve been fussy as I’ve been conditioned to call it all my life. It’s hard to go on retreats and stuff because I’ll see everyone eating normal food and people will ask arnt you hungry and I’ll say nah I’m fine but I’m actually starving but I just can’t bring myself to eating it. I get these comments so often from friends, family and teachers from my school and it’s down right annoying that they blame me and my parents for something I can’t control. People need to be more aware of this eating disorder.

    • Grace, I hope you know that what you eat is no one’s fault, and no one’s business. FWIW, the question “define healthy” in terms of food, and in general has been posed to healthcare professionals, educators, and parents alike, and to date, there is no agreement. Try to ignore the opinions of others and take food at your own pace, and on your own terms. Trust yourself to be able to seek the food you need.

  2. Thank you for writing about this.
    I think my stepson (14) is somewhere on the continuum of picky eating and the selective eating disorder. (A 2 family household makes this issue even more difficult.) I no longer worry about catering to him and I try not o feel guilty about what I cook. When I don’t make something he likes, he is welcome to make himself a peanut butter sandwich (or something else). And mealtimes are more pleasant for everyone.
    I am interested in your thoughts: he will eat almost anything that is a sweet. Our current rule is that if you do not eat what is served for dinner, you do not get dessert. Based on your experience, is that reasonable or are we causing more harm? ( He is not deficient in desserts, as he eats them at other times.) He would likely then make his own complete meal…

    • What seems like little things make a big difference to our cautious eating mealtime companions. Something as benign as having a loaf of bread and butter (peanut or otherwise) on the table with a meal that is too challenging for your stepson speaks trust and acceptance in volumes. He is still welcome to the food you offer, and can still leave the table fed.

      For the same reason, I wouldn’t hold dessert hostage for other food. This practice tends to elevate the status of dessert and makes the food you want him to eat less appealing. Often, serving dessert with the meal can be quite comforting for a selective/ picky eater, and help them relax around other less familiar foods. You can expect some fascination with desserts at first – let it ride. Once dessert is established as just another food, sweets tend to lose that pedestal status and the sweet tooth looses its influence on food selection.

  3. my daughter is now 12 years old and is a very selective eater. I worry myself sick about her. so glad I got to read this post as I am guilty of a few items listed. I have processed what I read and will avoid doing those things in the future

    • Motherhood is the fine art of worrying… some days it sure feels that way. If you ever want to chat with someone who knows how your shoes feel to walk in, the Contact page is nice and private.

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  5. I’m living with ARFID, and it’s honestly the worst. Tough love isn’t going to work. Bribing us won’t work. People just don’t understand. I’d LOVE to eat healthier, but the only foods I can eat are Fried Chicken Tenders and Pizza. Ugh, some people commenting about their kids are incredibly frustrating..

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  7. Couldn’t agree more with this post. I lost count of the amount of times someone told me ‘try this you will like it’ or that I would be incredibly unhealthy if I kept on eating the way I do. I just wish people would leave my food issues alone, I don’t see how it bothers other people what I eat. Its my problem and I deal with it the only way I can, usually by eating the same things over and over again until I get so bored I cannot eat it anymore which forces me to change to a different set of the same things over and over again for a while.

  8. THANK YOU for this article! It is really comforting to know that i am not the only one that had problems with eating for the whole life. Every situation eating outside and with other people are like nightmares.

  9. “The less said about my eating, the better.” All of the article, but especially this quote. We have one adult friend who repeatedly asks our teenage son if he wants certain things each time he visits. We have explained time and time again about his SED. Our friend’s excuse? “I’m just being courteous.” My fed-up reply the last time this happened. “No, you’re not. You wouldn’t constantly ask my husband if he wanted peanut butter knowing he’s deathly allergic to peanuts and refuse to accept his explanation. We brought food our son can eat and he ate before he came. If he wants something everyone else is having, he’s perfectly capable of asking if he can have some too. All you’re doing is making him and us mad and uncomfortable.” Needless to say, we see this person less often. In fact we just avoided a situation where we knew this would happen as he and other friends would be eating at a restaurant that didn’t have any of our son’s safe, eat anywhere, foods. Our son would have been prodded by this person to “just try it, you might like it” and be the focus of unwanted attention rather than left in peace to partake in non-food related conversations around him.

  10. This article has changed me, my husband, my daughter and our family mealtime and I am so incredibly grateful!! Parenting Beyond Punishment posted your article on Dec. 16. It totally changed my thinking after I read it, so I shared it with my husband. He found the article to be very well written, but not as optimistic about it as I was. He is a very supportive and encouraging husband and pledged to help me anyway he could. I took all of the advice into consideration and planned my meals accordingly. I did not make special items for my daughter and I did not fix her plate. I set all the food choices out on the table in serving bowls and we told her she could have whatever she wanted and as much as she wanted. We did not ask her to try anything and we did not suggest what she should eat. My husband and I were amazed to see that what our daughter used to fight and argue about she actually wanted to try. For the past 4 weeks our 7 year old, reformed picky eater, has tried practically everything on the table, whether she liked it or not, of her own accord and has showered me with compliments about the taste of the food and how much she is enjoying mealtime. And when she’s done, she’s done! My husband has seen the dramatic change in our daughter and the peace we now enjoy at mealtime. Lately he has been getting the serving bowls out and setting the table because he wants to be apart of the progress!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Blessed be 🙂

    • Kellie, thank you so much for sharing your experience! It thrills me to know that mealtime battles have ended at your table and that your daughter is well on her way to becoming a competent eater. Blessings to you and your family. 🙂

  11. I’m a selective eater, moreso at some times than others. I wish people would understand that it really isn’t about what you like. It’s about control and lack thereof, self-consciousness, anxiety, and so many other things. I am at the point where I just claim food allergies most of the time. It makes everything much easier and people don’t push as much.

  12. I have a child who has struggled with severe skin sensitivity issues (and a neice with these exact food issues) and I understand that criticism from well meaning but uninformed people doesn’t help. While I understand some of what you’re saying, what I see missing is the need to get the child passed this issue. Yes we need to be sensitive, caring and extremely patient, but I believe that the achievable goal is to help them become better eaters. And I say “better” eaters because this eating is so limiting, restricive and less healthy.

  13. YES! YES!! This is amazing and speaks to my soul. Especially #3… it just sums it all up. I’m sensitive to food. If you were able to hear twice as well as everybody else, you’d probably get a headache if I started yelling at you, right? Same thing with food.

    If I had one thing to add to #8:

    “If you don’t have food for me, I’m good. I’m used to going without or with a minimum of food. If I were truly on the brink of starvation, I’d bring something or eat something while I’m driving to spend time with you. I’m not there for the food as much as I am there to spend time with you. Please focus on our relationship more than the food that is eaten (or not eaten) when we are together.”

  14. At the risk of making the folly of Arguing With Strangers On The Internet…

    I’m a 32 year old woman with selective eating habits. Certain textures are just… ugh!! I can’t have them in my mouth. They physically make me feel ill, to the point where if I don’t spit it out, I risk vomiting. But those textures and my tolerance levels are constantly in flux because — oh joy — the root of my selective eating is that I have fibromyalgia, and some days I’m so hypersensitive to certain sensations, they throw me into a state of over-stimulation and cause a symptom flare.

    I want all of the people here who are angered by this article to think about what it would be like to have your whole body suddenly gripped by deep muscle pain, not unlike the way it feels when you’re coming down with the flu, all because you didn’t see that raw tomato on your sandwich and the slimy seed part touched your tongue. If you can’t imagine it, just have someone punch you repeatedly in the spine the next time you chow down on something – it’s kinda like that.

    As a child, we didn’t know I had fibromyalgia. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 28. My mom just thought I was a picky eater, and she caught a lot of flack because instead of making me cry and gag and suffer through a food that physically HURT me to consume, she let me have cereal or peanut butter and jelly instead. Even when we were homeless and living in a van, there was always at least pb&j (because it was cheap and it kept without refrigeration), and I could eat that. I was a child. I couldn’t articulate that it wasn’t hyperbole, it really DID make me feel like I was going to throw up when I was forced to eat things I didn’t like. And I extra couldn’t explain that the sensitivity to some things could come and go (which I now understand was probably because my fibromyalgia was acting up at different times). But instead of deciding that being alive longer gave her more intimate knowledge about how it felt to be inside my body, my mom trusted me when I told her, “I don’t like that today, I want pb&j instead, please.”

    It’s easy to get frustrated with children. Let’s face it: even the smartest ones don’t know all the things and adult does, and generally speaking, their vocabularies are limited. They haven’t been around long enough to learn a deep appreciation for communication, or to hone any kind of skills in that regard. But rest assured that every person on this planet can personally and accurately attest to how they physically feel in the moment. If your child tells you something feels or tastes yucky, or it makes them feel yucky to have it, for the love of your CHILD, LISTEN TO THEM!!! They are giving you valuable information about what’s happening inside their tiny, developing bodies. What they’re saying might be a child being obnoxious, or it might be a sign of something more serious. Autism, diabetes, fibromyalgia, psychological issues, supertasting, allergies, intolerances…your first clues about all of these could be your child saying “that food is yucky!”

    And take it from me, heavens forbid it IS one of those things, your kid is going to be facing a lifetime of catching flack from unsympathetic assholes who won’t even try to understand (some of which will probably be doctors, by the way), and you’re going to spend a lot of time consoling them over that fact. Maybe try being one of the few people who believes them, instead of part of the group that makes them feel inferior/broken/ashamed/anxious/the-myriad-other-awful-ways-people-who-don’t-believe-us-make-us-feel.

    Maybe your kid’s an obnoxious little brat who won’t eat anything green because….reasons. Maybe your kid is trying to tell you that there’s something more serious going on in their bodies. How you determine the difference is kinda up to you, and since I don’t have kids I can’t really tell you what I would do. But I can tell you what my mom did; it’s all right there. Maybe something she did will inspire you. Because I can also tell you that while it took me ten years to find a doctor who would believe me and help me, she was the one I trusted to hold me together through it all. Because I knew I could count on her when it really mattered.

    Just some food for thought.

  15. Excellent article. I would add: “please realize that I may be hungry an hour or two after mealtime because I didn’t eat as much as everyone else. Please let me get something to eat and don’t let me go hungry just because I ‘should’ have eaten more at dinner”. I’d say that people that are opposed to this article have control issues and the kids are the victims. I have 6 kids and 2 of them are very picky, and some only moderately so, and 1 that will eat anything. I don’t force them to eat what they don’t want. I keep healthy alternatives available that they can grab themselves. Sometimes they grow out of it. My oldest picky eater tries a lot more things now that she is older but certainly not because she is forced. She has a healthy relationship with food.

  16. Thank you so much for this! I have severe anxiety and am a selective eater and my parents don’t get it (especially my dad). They think I’m just being picky. My dad criticizes how I eat. I ask for a few simple foods to be kept in the house at all times (food that I can always feel safe eating) – cucumbers, pretzels, bread and peanut butter, and pears (also sometimes chicken, but it depends). When we don’t have these things and I’ve been feeling especially anxious and honestly can’t bring myself to eat much else, I often go to bed painfully hungry. And my parents will tell me “But there’s food in the house!” But honestly there might as well be nothing because I CAN’T make myself eat it. And so I go to sleep starving in a house full of food. And of course there are certain foods I can NEVER eat that they insist on buying and making me try anyway (bananas, for one). And when friends come over and eat a better dinner than me, my dad will always compare my eating habits to theirs and I don’t think anything upsets me more than that.

    The only bright side is I’ve decided I will never make my child feel this way about what he or she eats. As lost as they’re getting enough nutrients (and there are always multi-vitamins that they might be able to take), then I will just gently encourage them to eat what they can and what they feel comfortable with.

    I almost want to send this to my dad, because there is a HUGE difference between SED and just being picky, and he doesn’t seem to get that.

  17. Can I suggest that the author add a short paragraph explaining the distinction between being a picky eater and having SED at the beginning of the article? I know there’s another post linked at the top, but I didn’t notice it on my first read and I would bet the majority of readers didn’t either. A lot of the negative responses you’ve been getting seem to come from people who aren’t aware that there’s such a thing as SED, and look at the phrase “selective eater” as a politically correct way of talking about spoiled children who won’t eat their vegetables. Since SED isn’t something that’s in the public consciousness like other eating disorders (as you mentioned, it was just added to the DSM), more people would come away from this article educated rather than enraged if you added that clarifying note in a more visible place.

  18. Something that has helped with my SED son is having a small vegetable and fruit garden that he has planted. He will go out and eat kale, tomatoes, raspberries from the garden and then he is familiar with them when it is served at the table. As he has gotten older, he has also really enjoyed cooking with me. I let him select a recipe and we do it together! I have seen his anxiety decrease dramatically since we have had our conversations about different flavors, food combinations while working side by side in the kitchen. I then have a reference for him when we encounter new foods. “Hey remember that creamy lemon sauce we made with the chicken? Well this one feels like that in your mouth but tastes more like stew than lemony” He had oral motor delay and texture is a big ick factor for him.

    When he was a tiny baby, toddler and Kindergartner I was really anxious about his eating because he was way below growth percentiles. The bargaining and coercion never worked and made meal time worse for all of us. He is still small now but he is healthy and he makes more food choices now that he is hitting his early pre puberty years. This article helped remind me that this is not about picky eating for him, more anxiety about new food and its new smell, taste and textures. I see his anxiety come out in other new situations as well. As his Mom, I want him to truly know and feel that he is safe and loved for with me no matter what. I have to keep my anxiety in check about his growth and development and just let him be who is meant to Be outside of me! We encourage him to reconsider his quick No responses but then back off as soon as it is clear there is no room for discussion – which used to be 99% of the time and is now about 70%. Slowly slowy there is improvement but it has to be at his pace and comfort level. Thank you for this article and for your compassion.

  19. This was a good read for me! I am a selective eater and have been since I was a child. When I had children, I decided I was going to try to offer food, but put no pressure on them to eat it beyond a simple taste. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it and I never trick them to eat more because I want them to trust me when I say they won’t have to eat it if they don’t like it. I really hoped they wouldn’t be picky about their diets like me, and because I didn’t know if it was a nature vs nurture issue, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t something I taught them because I’m selective. With my first daughter, this worked marvelously. She’s actually unusual in how open she is to trying food. She likes vegetables, and asks for broccoli for desert after dinner. When my second child came around, I tried the same approach and I’m finding it’s not working. I would say that she is displaying prime indicators of having SED, though I do wonder if part of the issue is that we are living with my parents right now, and my parents definitely had a hand in making me a selective eater. So, I honestly can’t factor our nature vs. nurture, as my first daughter was never around them when she was younger. BUT, I need to re-evaluate how I’m approaching her meal times and set ground rules for my parents who are getting worse about pressuring her to eat and making her obvious anxiety worse.

    So, I guess what that all boils down to is thank you for the reminders about things I’m starting to do that just make things worse.

  20. I think the people who disagree with this article have never had a child with Selective Eating Disorder. Its like being able to appreciate what a migraine feels like when you have never even had a headache! I have been so surprised at peoples responses to this article. Its been written by one of the only people who is well researched and extremely well respected in the area of SED. Its not being written about the normal child who naturally goes through a stage of picky eating. Picky eating is NOT SED. Most childrens food choices can be moulded, using suggestion, example, health education, but not SED. I have a degree in Psychology and worked for many many years as a counsellor so when I had my first child, who would not eat, I too thought I as the mum should choose my sons meals. If I say eat that vegetable then hes going too. Well this ill-informed attitude is one I no longer hold (although I have been the first to admit that I didnt know everything- which is one reason I am so surprised at some of the responses to this article from people who clearly do not understand, or have any knowledge of Selective Eating Disorder), because I have researched this condition, I have spoken to many health professionals, we have been through feeding clinics, had professional eating specialist abandon therapy because SED is not picky eating.
    My SED boy only eats 3 foods at the moment. He would rather starve than eat other foods. He is desperate for this to not be the case. He is hungry a lot. But his blood works are pretty good. He is a healthy weight, and does extremely well at school. We are now extremely relaxed around food. Food should not be something that detrimentally affects his life. Because we have relaxed around this, we have a child who can sit at the table surrounded by food, go to restaurants, go to friends houses, and not be stressed. We have a boy that is alive, who eats his 3 foods, who is bright, intelligent, physical and sociable. He fulfills every aspect of his life and we are extremely proud of him.
    As a parent I am extremely proud of the fact he does extremeley well in every aspect of his life. So what if he only eats 3 foods. He is polite, amenable, inquisitive, knowledgable, sporty, socialable, funny… he even got Head of his School for fullfilling every aspect of his life so successfully.
    I honestly think the people who have made quick and unthoughtful statements about this article may need to do a little research. Empathy is about putting your feet in other peoples shoes. Remember we are talking about children whom is physically impossible to feed them food that is deemed NOT SAFE. If a plate of poo was put in front of you, could I make you eat it! NO.

  21. My parents never forced me to eat anything, but instead they challenged me to. “Eew, that’s gross, I bet Steve would NEVER eat that!” “OH YEAH!? WATCH ME!”

  22. The problem is that #9 is true. There are so many kids who would love to eat PERIOD. They go to bed hungry all the time. This is a middle class and upper middle class problem or what some people term a first world problem. I agree that teliing them that there are kids starving isn’t going to motivate them to eat. However, I think they should know that they are lucky to have a choice about food or about eating/not eating. I think if a kid is a picky eater, the money that would have been used to for the food they won’t eat should be donated to a food bank or to a SAVE the Children type fund. and let the kid feel good about donating that money by being part of the donation process. We had a kid at church who is 4 present $24.00 in change he had collected to the person who runs the food pantry. Make our picky eaters understand that they have it good in that they can choose, and that we’ll give money for those who don’t have the luxury of being a selective eater. Make “the starving kids” a good thing but not mentioned at the dinner table.

    • Except that selective eating is not restricted to the affluent. Wealth does not prevent dysphagia, oral motor delay, autism or anxiety.
      Teaching kids to be generous and to help those in need is one thing. Using shame and guilt to force children to eat just makes them feel bad about eating, and about themselves as human beings.

    • How will this help? My son doesn’t pay for our food. Also, he’s too young to truly understand how others may suffer. He is kind, caring, and respectful of others, but this concept might be way over his head.
      No amount of explaining, comparing, or relating would cut through my son’s anxiety.
      And to be clear, he doesn’t want just junk food. He loves black bean burgers but he used to not even be able to be around cereal with milk on it. I finally threw away his Halloween candy yesterday because he wasn’t interested in it. He’s not being a spoiled brat. If there is “scary” food around, he wouldn’t eat even if I offered him ice cream, or cakes, or cookies. So with that in mind, how would your plan help us out again? How is his eating problem clearly a first world problem?

    • Completely. My son does not eat ice cream, cake, chocolate, lollies etc. This is not about food being good or bad, healthy or unhealthy… its about getting calories into my child regardless of whether it is deemed junk or not.

  23. I absolutely disagree with this!!!!! I am the step mother to three beautiful children, When I came into their life almost 4 years ago, the oldest was 9, the middle child 6, and the youngest one was 3. Among the three of them, they did not eat ONE SINGLE VEGETABLE!!! Not even corn!! And we live in the Midwest!! This was all because their biological mother had the same approach as this article. So, the youngest only wanted to eat enriched white starchy foods and as a result was constantly having sugar crashes. He was not getting enough protein in his diet tp support his muscle development. The middle child, when I came into her life only liked very high fatty foods and lots of sugary items. So, now she has lots of cavities, she is significantly overweight and also has an issue with her liver as a result. Finally, the oldest one when I first met him would only eat high protein, fatty foods, and enriched carbs. Now, 4 years later and with my insistence these children are able to eat vegetables, all three children eat a wide variety of vegetables and are much healthier. The youngest now will eat protein and he is not allowed to eat a bunch of enriched carbs which now prevents him from having constant sugar crashes.
    I am sorry, but I think the way we raise our children today is terrible. We are not here to cater to our children. At some point they have to go out into the real world and be a functioning adult. A highly functioning adult needs to have the ability to adapt to various settings and situations. Teaching a child to be a functioning part of a family is how you teach them for this world. If you continually cater to them you are sending them the message that the world is suppose to do this as well. What if your child grows up and gets employed by a company that has him/her traveling all over the world where they have to sit down and eat a meal that is prepared for them by a complete stranger and it would be the ultimate insult to not eat their food? How have you taught your child to handle this situation? There are a large number of situations in which a person is exposed to a wide variety of foods. If their pallet is trained and they are able to role with “the flow” it will prevent them from being in a very awkward situation.
    My oldest, will still time to time give us a hard time about eating something. For example, just the other night he gave us a hard time about eating edamame. After insisting that he must eat it before he could go play his video game, he finally gave in and ate them. Guess what, he LOVED them. He polished off every single one of them. Now that he has had them, know that they taste good, he can go anywhere and eat edamame!!! You have to train a child’s pallet. Someone said they are not born hating food. No, but they are born only drinking milk. Their pallet has to slowly learn to have a taste for certain foods.
    Stop catering to your child and set the expectation that they are a part of your family and not the “sole focus”. Make your environment about the family, not just about the child. This is why we are on such a slippery slope as a nation. Because we are raising a bunch of kids who think they are entitled to everything. You are teaching your child nothing about appreciating the fact that they have a hot convenient meal to eat. Imagine if all they had to eat was the a can of beans and a can of spinach. What would you do then? Let them starve because you don’t want to offend them.
    I love my kids and they know it. But, they know that there are certain things that they are not just entitled to and they understand that what is most important is to be a part of a family. We encourage, we support and as parents sometimes we have to show a little tough love.

    • VegaGirl, there is a significant and distinct difference between a picky eater (your children) and a selective eater (what this blog is about).

      I understand your confusion and why you feel this article only enables and promotes picky eating. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder was only just added to the DSM this year and research into this eating disorder has only just begun.

      Yes, it is an eating disorder. Treating it requires an approach different from dealing with a picky eater. A picky eater will get hungry. A selective eater will go days without food, sometimes into starvation, because there is nothing available they CAN eat. It’s not a choice. It’s not stubborn will. It is a lack of ability to tolerate textures, to chew and swallow certain foods. To be blunt, if spinach was all there was to eat, my son would not survive.

      Unlike feeding a picky eater, it is my responsibility to provide enough food for my child so he consumes enough calories for his growth and energy needs. Our family meals are not about being rewarded for eating their vegetables and very much about appreciating the time we spend together around food.

      Tough love is not the correct approach for selective eating. Trust me – myself and thousands of other parents around the world have tried the tough love road, and come dangerously close to needing medical feeding intervention. It is irresponsible and cruel to withhold food from a child who cannot eat what’s on their plate.

      By being respectful of my son’s eating ability, which is not at all the same as catering, both my kids will grow up to have bodies that are right for them. They are already confident in their food choices – whether their diets are broad or limited. Neither one eats to please me or anyone else; they eat because they are hungry, and they stop when they are full. As for when they grow up, I already see strong indications that suggest they will continue to eat food they both enjoy, and will likely fare better nutritionally than those who are easily swayed by the latest healthy superfood or diet craze du jour.

    • VegaGirl, tough love is something you need wisdom to administer. And by what you describe, you’re really missing the point; your kids were poorly trained at the dinner table before you entered their lives, and now they’re receiving some guidance. Good for you, really. But you make the classic mistake of not seeing the nuance here: if your edamame-hater had been a true Selective eater, he would have starved himself rather than try the food you forced on him. My daughter does this; she will go hungry rather than have food that she can’t tolerate. Your stepson will cave to pressure and try something different. Selective eaters might try a new food once every few years, and only get more worked up from the pressure, instead of caving and capitulating. Be happy, very very happy, that your stepchildren were in the poorly trained category, because I know rigidity frequently has consequences that would harm someone with a disorder.

      Entitlement is an entirely different conversation that doesn’t belong here. Selective eating is as visceral as gender identity, perfect pitch, and whether or not you’re right- or left-handed. You’re born this way, or not.

    • This comment and several above anger me to no end. To suggest that my son’s issues are the result of my permissive parenting is absolutely ridiculous & obviously the comments from someone who has done zero research on SED and doesn’t understand the anquish my son feels at not being able to eat ” normally” He truly wants to but with SED your brain sees & smells food differently. If I handed you a plate of warm dog poo covered in cat vomit and promised it tastes good & is good for you would you try it? Of course not! That is the same thing in their eyes. And saying if I only “made” him eat better he would? ugh! First that would be the equivalent to major torture for him, second you would get thrown up on. This attitude only causes more shame. My poor son is so embarrased and ashamed it hurts my heart. I have been lucky in that my son has not been bullied for his issues by his peers & thank goodness most people he has met don’t have your narrow minded, shameful opinions

  24. I think something a lot of people forget is that in all but third world countries people have the luxury of being picky eaters, so long as they get the vitamins and nutrients their body needs to function. In all reality, even a selective eater like myself will be forced to eat fish if the world went crazy tomorrow- but for right now, let me and my peanut butter sandwiches, hamburgers and french fries, and steak and mashed taters be who we are. Perfect for each other, lol.

    Also, I’ve found that if it’s just put in front of me with no comment, I’m more likely to try it on my own. If anyone says anything about me ‘trying’ something, or asks me if I like something I’ve never had, my automatic answer is no. I’ve tried several new foods in the past year or so, but there are some things I won’t go near- namely types of seafood, strange smelling veggies [like greens and beans], and cheeses that stink.

  25. This nearly moved me to tears. I can hear my son saying each and every one of those things. I try to not make an issue of his eating, but sometimes I lose it (adding fuel to that fire is the fact that I’m a wellness and nutrition coach and am super passionate about food and eating well).

    This is my official wake-up call to just back off. Thank you.

  26. Find support on Facebook. Picky Eaters Association. Over 800 members and growing daily. Nothing but understanding and support.

  27. I have a intellectually disabled little girl who will only eat beige foods, that’s pasta, bread, banana, chips etc. I do worry she isn’t getting the goodies she needs to grow healthily. It has taken a while for me to break the habits of savoury first. Now i just put everything out and let her pick which order she wants to eat.
    Unfortunately her boggy eating has not been affected by her only beige food preferences.

    • Beige food is a popular choice, not only because it’s bland in colour, but because beige typically describes food that isn’t full of surprises. No squirty juicies, no sudden changes in texture… it’s all very predictable.

      You’re doing well letting her pick and choose from what you offer. I hope this is also creating a pleasant mealtime atmosphere for the whole family.

      If she does appear curious in a new food, by all means, talk about it. Describe how it feels, what to expect, why you enjoy it – (sweet, refreshing, delicious) and then let her sneak up on it at her own pace. My son surprises me constantly with his brave new attempts, and his increasing level of comfort around food in general.

  28. People need to be respectful of others. My son is a selective eater and much of this applies to him. He is also incredibly healthy and gets great checkup results at the pediatrician despite his eating habits (including becoming a strict vegetarian at a young age which was his own decision). I had an important realization about a year ago- we had to leave him overnight with a good family friend while we were out of town, I was very worried he would eat nothing or that our friend would be stressed out trying to figure out what to feed him so I made a list of every single food he will eat (and included the recipes for the ways he likes them prepared). After creating the list I realized he will in fact eat a variety of foods but that I can mentally get stuck in the ‘he won’t eat anything’ rut and fail to think of all the things he does like and therefore prepare the same items over and over. Also, I found it very useful to pay close attention to what he doesn’t like- for instance, broccoli with cheese? He would never touch that but roasted broccoli with no sauce? He will eat a plate full! So it’s not always a ‘I hate broccoli’ situation if you pay close attention instead of being frustrated when a child refuses to try something.
    I feel like the basic idea we must keep in mind is that we must respect children, they are people too. (And respect does not mean spoil or coddle or ‘cater to’).

  29. Selective eating due to psychological reasons (NOT ethical issues or food allergies) is an eating disorder that requires treatment. Following the rules above is not helpful, because the person who wrote them is being influenced by their eating disorder. These rules are intended to make it easier for the selective eater and avoid conflict. Ask yourself if you would also follow a set of rules made up by your anorexic child. No you wouldn’t, you’d send them to therapy and force them to go through with it.

    • I understand what you’re saying, however comparing selective eating to anorexia is like comparing potatoes to shoes.

      There is a psychological component to SED, but there is also texture, pressure to eat “healthy”, an unhealthy social focus on obesity, and a societal belief that diet can prevent or even cure disease.

      Therapy is sometimes helpful, but in most cases, can end up doing more harm than good, especially when SED is treated similarly to an eating disorder that is characterized by a distorted body image.

    • Thanks for your reply! I think it depends on how far selective eating goes. It’s like the difference between wanting to lose some weight and becoming anorexic. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the behaviour is still harmless (= “fussy”) or compulsive (= dictating your life). I’m not a psychologist, but I think if selective eating turns into a phobia of certain smells or textures and the person eats very unhealthily because they avoid most foods, then it’s serious. Whether to treat it like an eating disorder, a phobia, or an OCD, that’s for the therapist to decide.

    • It may shed some light to look at some stats (research into SED – or ARFID as it’s now known in the DSM-V, is just beginning).

      It is estimated that 1% of selective eating cases are based on a phobia of food.
      About 25% are related to OCD.
      The remaining cases are anxiety related (approx 20% related to feeding practices in childhood where the child had a small appetite and was expected or forced to eat beyond satiety, the rest are texture issues – and a host of contributing factors – super tasters, delayed oral motor skills, coercive feeding practices in childhood, allergies and intolerances, the feeding environment, shaming comments…the list is long.)

      The bottom line is selective eating is poorly understood, as is the psychology around eating in general. Therapists who make treating and supporting selective eating their livelihood do a great deal of detective work to get to the heart of the matter before deciding on what avenue of treatment is appropriate, or if treatment is even required.

    • Selective eating may have some psychological components but selective eating is more often related to taste or textures. Some people are “super tasters.” Some people have issues with some textures. I would say that comparing selective eating to sensory processing disorders is more accurate than comparing it to anorexia. There is a vastly different process in anorexia than selective eating.

      My husband is a selective eater. He has always been a selective eater. He’s now 42 years old. He does try new things and he has added foods over time. He is very fit and his medical check ups are great. His blood pressure is perfect, his cholesterol is perfect. He rarely becomes sick. He is a healthy weight (as defined by bmi).
      He’s not out to avoid conflict but he doesn’t need anyone nagging at him to change the way he eats. He’s obviously not malnourished. He doesn’t need therapy.

      There is no comparison there to the child of a friend of mine that suffers from anorexia. She restricts calories to dangerous levels. Has blood work showing organ failure for starving herself. Her issues are not at all the same as someone with selecting eating and conflating the two is a disservice to both.

    • continuing what mealtimehostage said…

      I get what you are saying but when I was a selective eater as a child, things like bribery, making a joke of it, making me try something, etc made me dig my heals in even more. On the other hand, if the foods were presented in a no pressure way, I was more likely to try them when other people were not watching me. Do you really want someone to sit there and watch you eat.

  30. This is all so true. I am 14 and I wish I had the courage to send this post to my mom. Maybe then she could understand how i feel every meal.

    • I was pretty a pretty selective eater growing up. My husband is a very selective eater. Our daughter is 14 also, I’ve made it a point to never force her to eat food. Sure sometimes we eat somewhere and then have to stop and pick something up. I was worried that she wouldn’t get enough food to eat when she went to summer camp. I put extra money on her store account so she could buy snacks if she was hungry. I leave food choices up to her although I do say things like you need to eat some protein ( but I don’t care what it is – she often eats lunch meat or peanut butter if she doesn’t eat what I want). People who only see a glimpse of what she eats I’m sure think she eats horribly. But taken on the whole, I think she eats pretty well just not the same way as most people. I know from experience that nagging about food just creates additional issues.

      It’s hard I think to walk the line of supporting a selective eater while still feeling like you are doing enough as a parent to encourage healthy eating. Both of my selective eaters know that I understand their specific aversions well enough that if I offer a taste it won’t be something that they would knowingly hate. They both continue to surprise me. Both have added new foods over the years without me forcing them.

      Would it be worse to share the article with your mom or not? A lot of judgement gets thrown at the parent of a picky eater. Clearly they have done something wrong – that’s what people tell you all the time. Some people eat everything. Some people are very selective. It’s just the way it is.

      Hang in there. My husband always says the best thing about being an adult is that no one can force you to eat things you don’t like anymore. We had that conversation about green beans. His mother claims he ate them at her house (he fed them to the dog). I love that she gives me grief that I “don’t make him eat more.” He’s an adult. He gets to make his own decisions. My daughter may not be an adult but she also makes her decisions within reason – her idea of a complete meal may not look like mine but that’s ok.

    • Please send this to your mom! Realize this is hard for her too but you do need to be heard & understood.

  31. I think this “article” is dangerous and even potentially damaging. I have cared for “selective eaters” who where catered to almost the point of deth from severe vitamin deficiencies . I have known children who only ate what wanted and their physical, and mental development was hulted or severely slowed because of am imbalanced diet.
    And to tell parents that they should bend to their child’s food deands is not safe.Children have to be parented. Parenting includes teaching them about good nutrition but also to make sure that like it or not they are eating and growing and getting everything they need. Children needs are more important than their wants. Children don’t know what is best for them that is why they need parents. Being a parent means you have to be I’m your kids corner even when they are not even if they hate you for it or it makes them uncomfortable, unhappy or even a little scared.

    • Melissa,

      If you read the article, number 8 states “I do not want to be catered to” – I don’t know how you read this article and understood it as “bend to the the child’s food demands.”

      Catering puts pressure on the parent (to please the child with food) and pressure on the child (to eat the food as a show of gratitude.) Stop catering, it doesn’t work. I believe I am very clear on this.

    • I would also like to point out that this article is not completely catered to children and not toward children in a “picky” phase. I for one am an adult selective eater, one of many in the Picky Eaters group on Facebook. Selective eating is NOT solved by forcing or pressuring someone to eat something. It is NOT a result of poor or inconsistent parenting. It is about the brain processing food as fear and isn’t solved by getting a little kid to eat his veggies.

    • I don’t have this disorder or a kid with this disorder and eat a very healthful, varied diet. I’m HUGE on nutrition. Now that we got out of the way… I think you’re confused on picky eating versus Selective Eating Disorder. Not to be snarky, but if you weren’t confused, you’d understand parents aren’t slacking on teaching their kids or bending to their kids wants. If you regularly care for children, you should read up on this so you can distinguish between picky eating and Selective Eating Disorder because I do think completely separate sets of “rules” needs to be applied to children in each category. One (picky eating) is about control, the other (SED) is a medical condition.

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  33. I very respectfully disagree with nearly everything in this post. Unless they have a significant health issue or allergy, children are not born disliking foods. It is our job as parents to teach them about healthy, well-rounded nutrition. And that is accomplished by exposing them to various foods throughout their childhood and encouraging them to TRY those foods.

    • Allison, sadly the best intentions of parents who encourage children to try food before they are ready is one of several contributing factors to selective eating.

      Parents who cannot fathom that a child may have distinct likes and dislikes for taste and textures, (as well as allergies, oral-motor delay, GI issues…) often take a child’s slow progress to warm up to new foods personally, and respond by pressuring, (bribing, threatening, coercion, even encouraging to eat or praising when they do). This creates anxiety around eating that can have lifelong consequences.

    • I don’t agree with #7. I think that sitting at the table as a family is important and that trying something once is ok. If you’ve had it before then I won’t make you try it again just because it’s a month or 6 months later but I think that one bite shouldn’t be an issue.

    • Sitting together at the table is important, but gathering around the table for a meal is, oddly enough, not about the food. Connecting with family and making meal times a priority has nothing in common with forcing a child to remain at the table for hours until they swallow every last bean.
      Children will sneak up on food in their own time, much faster actually when they aren’t pressured to eat.

    • My daughter will initially sit down at the table, have a few mouth full’s and then she is off milling around. Food for her is just fuel and not a social thing right now. With her disability we have to make allowances for her lack of understanding of this cultural idea. She will however sit at the table and clear her plate if she is the only one sitting there and it’s something she loves to eat. We invite her sit at the table but don’t insist on it, however nice it would be to have her join us.

    • Allison,
      I was a selective eater as a child. I didn’t start out that way but when I was about three I got sick on cooked vegetables. After that, anytime I smelled them or tried to eat them I would physically get sick. My parents continued to TRY to get me to eat them as they did with other foods. That made me hesitant to try the other foods because if they wanted me to eat vegetables that made me sick, maybe the new stuff would too. It wasn’t until middle school, long after they stopped trying to get me to try things, that I finally got over my nausea, even then it was slow going. There is a difference between presenting an opportunity to try something and encouraging someone to eat something with bribery, punishment, harassment, etc. In fact, I often tried things at friend’s homes because there was no pressure. I wasn’t their kid, they didn’t need to make sure I got my veggies in.

    • I totally agree with Allison! Speaking as a nurse, and the mother of three adult children, I’ve faced the “I don’t want that” wars. But teaching your child good nutrition is much more important than giving in to their whims of only liking one specific food today. What a ridiculous idea, and what a ridiculous way to raise your child!! They are testing their parents, and their parents are coming out losers.

    • Wow, Nancy. I expected more compassion and understanding from a nurse. Your ad hominem manner suggests that you are misinterpreting the parents’ intentions.

      Parents of selective eating children are guiding their children through mental, developmental, and physical challenges. Like it was explained earlier this is a very different animal from the picky eater who would rather eat something else. Selective eating children and adults are genuinely anxious around food. Perhaps this article will help you understand that parents are not simply giving into their child’s dietary whims, but actually go to great lengths to create an environment that is conducive to eating.
      http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/htf/iwfr1.php

    • I’m so glad that you didn’t have my daughter as one of your children or else she would be dead. Yes, I’m serious about that. My daughter has this problem and her grandparents and some of her aunts were just like you thinking that we were giving into her whims. She ate decently from every food group but would not eat everything. They thought if she went without eating she would get hungry and eat and they soon learned that it was a fallacy. Last year she had her soft palate fixed to help with speech and maybe with her eating issues maybe some foods were easier to eat than others. We were supposed to be there overnight but we spent a week there because she wouldn’t eat no matter what we gave her including ice cream, pudding, jello, chocolate milk, etc.. the treats that she loved. They sent her home when they thought she would at least hydrate herself and she ended up in the ER being put on a feeding tube. After two weeks of that we were able to get her onto a liquid diet and now more than a year later she is finally eating solid foods at every meal. The ENT at our children’s hospital had never seen any child react like she did and he is not a spring chicken as people say. She has gotten better after working with a feeding therapist and her foods have slowly increased but it will be a long journey but will worth it. Yes, there are some parents that give in to the whims of their children but unless you have been through what some of us have you have NO right to judge our parenting.

    • Actually, children ARE born not liking lots of foods. It kept them alive way back when. If they liked eating everything, they would have been eating poisonous mushrooms and berries.

    • I wish there was a like on here but there’s not so I guess I’ll comment. I’m so glad that I read a comment from someone with common sense. The while time I was reading this article I couldn’t help but thinking how it was just garbage! I literally know people who would feed their children chicken nuggets and French fries for every meal because “that’s all they will eat,” according to this article, this is okay. I THINK NOT!!! How on earth does anyone think it is okay to teach children that going through a drive thru for every meal because they don’t want to broaden their horizons and try new things is fine? SERIOUSLY PEOPLE…….you are the parent, YOU are supposed to know what is best for your child, I’m sorry but your 2 year old just isn’t capable of knowing these things yet! They may have a tantrum or 2 but no-one ever said parenting was a relaxing ride on a cloud! They will thank you later when they actually have an extensive array of foods that they will eat and they are not 500 pounds from eating fast food all of the time! C’mon people! Get with the program and stop treating your children like little princesses that everyone is going to cater to because IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! If you can’t do your job as a parent….well, there is always birth control!

    • Michelle Carter,

      I doubt you “literally” know anybody who feeds their “child chicken nuggets and french fries for every meal”. It’s laughable that you believe YOU alone know what everybody else should be eating. If you did, you would know there is nothing wrong with chicken nuggets and french fries and neither will create a pattern of weight gain that leads specifically to 500lbs. In fact, research has demonstrated that proximity to fast food outlets has no effect on obesity – at all. And, btw – birth control doesn’t magically erase already existing children – except maybe in your personal rainbow and unicorn fantasy land of sanctimony. I give your comment full marks on the Dunning-Kruger scale.

    • Michelle, this website is about parents struggling to feed their children because they have Selective Eating Disorder. Its so easy to judge when you are not in that situation but I am always surprised when people are unable to grasp that picky eating is monstrously different to selective eating.

      Have you ever watched your own flesh and blood starve?? Try and imagine it, Michelle. Your child is in front of you at the dinner table, for the 6th night in a row he is hysterically crying and refusing to eat what you have put in front of him. What do you do? Do you wait another night? He’s lost kgs, he’s moody, pale, he’s already underweight, he can’t concentrate… what would you do Michelle? Would you let your child starve before you searched for something to feed him? Denying a child food is called child abuse and some parents have gone to prison for it.

      It took years of acceptance for us to have a happy, healthy 10 year old who might only eat hot chips, pop corn, mints, pizza bread but no topping and the occasionally Crunchie. Michelle I don’t know if you have children, and I’m sure if you do you are doing a great job. But honestly you can not understand or realise the hell of not being able to feed your child. If you did then you would not comment as above, or articulate IN CAPITALS! I think every parent of a child with SED has met people that share the same opinion as you. In fact there is a good chance that I might have held the same opinion as you if I had a child who would just eat the dinner I provided. But the difference between you and me is that if I had read a blog on selective eating, I would have researched the condition and would not have written a comment based purely on ignorance.

  34. I would add Please don’t tell others about my picky eating. I will tell them when and if I’m ready. Allow me to claim I’m not hungry, already ate, or whatever I want. I particularly do not want to explain myself to perfect strangers or people I just met.

    This is awesome article by the way!!!!

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  36. Mmm, I do all those things wrong with my picky eater. Problem is, I usually force her to try one bite, and then she loves it and eat the rest. But the next night it’s back to square one where she doesn’t want to eat anything, until I force her. I would never force her to eat something I know she would not love. Certain things like peas I don’t even dish up for her.

    • We ask, but don’t force, a ‘taste’ of each item. In other words it is general policy to taste what someone has prepared for you … but no-one is ever forced, strongly persuaded, guilt-tripped or otherwise pressured into tasting foods.
      The same goes with the nutritional balance, my boys know well enough that their bodies really need some protein, carbs and fruit/veg each mealtime and that I am concerned if they don’t … but this means that they will themselves go and get a bread roll or something from the fruit basket to ‘fill the blanks’ or – occasionally – we offer an alternative protein. Like tonight, the fish burgers I had bought were very potatoey and mashed potato is something my autistic lad just cannot stand the texture of, so my husband offered to microwave him a couple of hot dog sausages. A representation of a protein even if not a high quality one!
      However my boys do not have huge issues about eating, just a couple of sensory issues that can often be overcome, so my advice here does not apply to children who have serious issues with food. Serving dishes are what I recommend most strongly, each person serving themselves with what they feel able to eat and each person at least considering their bodies nutritional needs.

    • Helen, I am also a big fan of the serving bowls and help yourself philosophy. As parents we try to feed our kids the best way we know how. If we find something that works, we tend to stick with it. When that stops working, we adjust our strategy until it works again – much like you mentioned – substituting a hot dog your son would enjoy instead of insisting he eat the gooey fish that you know he can’t handle.

      That’s being considerate with feeding. You and I both realize he’s not being stubborn or manipulative and you aren’t spoiling him; that particular texture is not presently within his scope of ability. Maybe it comes later, maybe never, but withholding food he can eat certainly isn’t going to create a love for gooey textures any sooner.

      It sounds like you have a good feeding strategy that works well for everyone in your family. 🙂

  37. Having been a selective eater as a child, I remember many many standoffs with my father at the dinner table and the knot in the pit of my stomach nearly every night. It taught me with my son (who was somewhat selective) that things went much better when I simply served meals and made no comment on what he ate or didn’t eat. (Although I will admit that #6 drove me crazy sometimes.) Now he’s a very adventurous eater, more than me!

  38. I LOVE this article. My only reservation is that for folks like, oh, say, a know-it-all mother in law, the article comes across as so angry or resentful in some lines that certain of those well meaning people the article addresses will be so defensive they won’t hear the message.
    Don’t get me wrong, those folks fire me up, too. Especially now that my selective eater is going one of her food strikes… but if they think I’m being snarky when I try to educate them, they are less likely to listen. KWIM?

  39. I really needed to read this post today! My son’s selective eating is becoming even more selective and I have been feeling so much stress about it lately. Reading this post, I can just hear him saying these things. Thanks for the insight!!

  40. I absolutely ADORE this post! As a parent of a selective eater, there are even reminders in this post that I’m guilty of doing every once in a blue moon. Thanks so much for educating the masses!

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