Could picky eating be an eating disorder?

A new study is being conducted by researchers at the Duke Center for Eating Disorders to determine if picky eating is actually an eating disorder. What does it mean, and how can parents deal with their picky eaters? Find out.

Picky eater

Fussy eaters

Everyone has experienced it at some time or another: A person — young or old — who has a laundry list of things they won’t eat (or worse, a short list of things they will).

Michelle Gamble-Risley, president of 3L Publishing, says that her six-year-old daughter has a very short list of things she will eat: yogurt, chow mein, white rice, clam chowder, cream of wheat, pancakes and fruit.

“We deal with it, but keeping her focused on what is actually not bad for her on that list. So, I will take her for special lunches of clam chowder at Boudins and cater to her tastes by making it an adventure,” says Gamble-Risley.

But could that pickiness actually be an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia? A new study is looking at the possibility. Researchers at the Duke Center for Eating Disorders are researching whether picky eating could truly be the sign of an eating disorder. The study is looking at adults who eat restrictive diets.

Is picky eating more than preference?

Still in its infancy, the study is looking for volunteers who identify themselves as “picky eaters.” They must be 18 years and older and not have a medical condition, food allergy, current pregnancy or any other medical problems that affects eating.” Could picky eating be a greater issue?

With the study still in its infancy, the data doesn’t exist yet to say definitively. However, some experts say that’s unlikely. “I think that’s a little over generalized to say that just because someone is picky when they are little that they are going to develop an eating disorder,” says Jodi Krumholz, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition at The Renfrew Center of Florida, who is not involved in the study. As for picky eating as an eating disorder itself? Krumholz doubts that as well. “Picky eating is a very, very common thing with children.”

Dealing with a picky eater

For parents with a picky eater, meal time can be a challenge. Krumholz says that it’s important not to overreact, such as by trying to control the food their kids eat.

For younger picky eaters, Krumholz says that hiding nutrition in foods is okay. But as kids get older, that can lead to serious problems. “I feel like as they get older that really leads to trust issues,” says Krumholz.

Parenting a picky eater

Looking for some foolproof ideas to help you feed your picky eater? Krumholz offered these techniques for dealing with your picky eater:

  • Don’t overreact.
  • Try to make food fun.
  • Get kids involved in food preparation.
  • Use positive reinforcement.

Read more about picky eaters:


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