Adult Picky Eaters UK

For Picky-Eating Adults in the UK and worldwide

When Is A Food Not a Food? August 16, 2007

Filed under: General — Claire @ 4:58 pm

Thoughts on Reading Jane Kauer’s PhD 

A feeling common to many picky eaters is that whole swathes of items considered by the rest of the population to be foods just don’t seem like food to us.  I know that almost everyone else in the world would count an apple as a food, but to me, you might as well ask me to eat a brick, or a blanket, or a plank of wood.  This is what I’m up against.

Being omnivores, humans need to learn a great deal about what is a) edible, b) safe and c) socio-culturally acceptable.  This learning process begins at the point of switching from a milk-based diet to solid foods.  Apparently, young children first being weaned are fairly accepting of new foods.  As they mature, however (around the age of 2 years) they become more conservative in their food selections (Satter, 1990).  In the USA (for that is where the research has been done), children under the age of two will put virtually anything in their mouths.  Over the age of two however, children apparently start to distinguish between food and non-food categories, though they don’t assign the value of “inappropriate” until over the age of five years (Rozin et al., 1986b).

So is it appropriate to say that picky eaters have an over-extended “non-food” category, and an underextended “food” category?  Over- and underextension are very common patterns in the development of children’s categories (check Stephen Pinker’s Blank Slate if you’re interested).  In ordinary circumstances, however, children’s assignment of items to the food/non-food categories is informed by sensory information, observed behaviour of others and explicit learning, and will generally develop into something approximating the patterns of assignment of their cultural environment.  Why did this not happen for us?

An additional factor in making distinctions between food and non-food items, according to Jane Kauer, is “beliefs about the food itself”.  There does exist research on how children categorise objects according to their edibility – Rozin et al. (1984, 1986a, 1986b) – but I have yet to ascertain what these “beliefs” might be, or how they might be influenced and applied.

In terms of socio-cultural influences on children’s food selection, it appears that while adult demonstrating behaviour may be effective, it is peer behaviour that has the stronger influence (Hendy et al., 2000).  If most of us had “normal” peers, why then was their influence not effective?

Another point to note is that picky eating in childhood, while perfectly common, is of concern to medical professionals because of the stress it may place on the parent-child relationship (Satter, 1990).  Could it be that it was this stress that diverted us from growing out of this fairly normal developmental phase? 

Hendy, H.M., & Raudenbush, B. (2000).  Effectiveness of teacher modelling to encourage food acceptance in pre-school children.  Appetite 34, 61-76.

Rozin, P., Fallon, A., & Augustoni-Ziskind, M. (1986a). The child’s conception of food: The development of categories of acceptable and rejected substance.  Journal of Nutrition, 18, 75-81.

Rozin, P., Hammer, L., Oster, H., Horowitz, T., & Marmora, V. (1986b).  The child’s conception of food: Differentiation of categories of rejected substances in the 16 months to 5 year range.  Appetite, 7, 141-151.

Satter, E. (1990).  The feeding relationship: problems and interventions.  Journal of Paediatrics, 117, S181-S189.


Picky Eaters Gone By August 15, 2007

Filed under: General — Claire @ 11:02 am

It has been postulated anecdotally that Selective Eating may have a genetic component.  To my amazement, it turns out that an uncle of mine (who has lived abroad all my life) also has a degree of pickiness, and a great uncle too, who died before I was born.  Which proves nothing of course, but got me thinking.

If Adult Picky Eating is not a new phenomenon (and some of you are in your 50s and 60s, I know), however did picky eaters from earlier generations manage?  Could it be that they were simply not expected, pre-globalisation, to eat or try anything like the variety of foods we are exposed to in the 21st century? 

Was it easier for them to have to turn down fruits and vegetables only in season, instead of all-year round?  Or was it harder in those days to maintain a diet of mainly bread and potatoes, when there were fewer available alternatives to supplement one’s diet with?  

Did anyone even have to know that these people didn’t like curry, before it had migrated out of its native land?  I wonder if they could have even passed unnoticed. 


Light Relief August 14, 2007

Filed under: Picky Eating in Popular Culture — Claire @ 10:31 pm

This is a tale that is dear to my heart.  As a child I really identified with it.  The ending was very disappointing to me though.  To find out in the end that no, there wasn’t someone like me out there after all, it just confirmed my outcast status.

But then again, perhaps we can take heart from the moral of this tale.  If the relentless Sam-I-Am represents the twin realities of nutritional requirement and social pressure, we see how these factors combine over time to make the character try the eggs and ham.  Of course, we know that trying is only the first step, but even though it’s a big step, and a difficult one, I know from my experience where it can lead.  As in the story, it can lead to liking, and to confidence with the food in question.  Which I guess is where we’d all like to be, more or less…

What do you say?


What Would Constitute a “Cure”?

Filed under: Reducing Pickiness,Treatments — Claire @ 12:35 am

Following on from the previous post, I also think it’s worth considering what would constitute a “cure”. 

I can live with not wanting to eat haggis, squid, black pudding or jellied eels, quite frankly.  Plenty of “normal” people don’t really fancy offal,  brussels sprouts or sushi.  I could live with that. 

What I’d view as a cure would be to get to a place where I can try things with abandon, without the gagging thing.  I don’t have to love everything, but loving a few more things would be great.  I’d like to be at a point where the notion of Five A Day didn’t make me feel excluded from the human race.  At present, one a day constitutes a triumphant rarity for me.

It’s been mentioned elsewhere that a very common feeling amongst picky eaters is that most of our excluded foods simply don’t seem like food to us.  I’d like to get to a point where I can feel in my heart (and my mouth) that apples are food, regardless of whether they’re a food that I like or not.

That’s what I’d like, how about you?


How Do You “Cure” Picky Eating? August 12, 2007

Filed under: adult picky eating — Claire @ 9:35 am

This is a question I suspect a lot of people would like an answer to.  Unfortunately, I don’t know of any proven “cure”, though there are lots of things a person could try.  A lot of us haven’t tried any form of formal treatment beyond our own efforts, which I imagine is partly because the medical profession doesn’t even acknowledge our problem.  If you have been to a doctor, they might have suggested a nutritionist – as if the problem stems from nutritional ignorance – whose best advice is probably “eat fruit and vegetables”.  Doh! Like we hadn’t thought of that!  Like if it was that easy we’d still be having a problem!  On top of this, thinking we were the only one, and being met with little sympathy or advice from doctors, probably discouraged us from hoping that there was anything that could be done, or that the medical profession really gave two hoots about it.

There are a couple of things though that I have heard people talk about in relation to this – I haven’t personally tried any, and I know that the rate of success is very variable.  I think this is because we are a diverse group, and selective eating is not a unitary phenomenon – one’s level of success with a given treatment will depend on the cause and nature of one’s problem, which is not the same for all of us.

So here are some suggestions – you will probably have thought of them already, but just in case:

* My personal view, as a psychologist of sorts, is that NLP is a dangerous, disingenuous, charlatanistic thing and I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.  Makes me think of Scientology, to be quite frank.  Your mileage may vary, so don’t let my view influence you.  I just can’t bring myself in all conscience to recommend it.


Ramblings on Terminology August 11, 2007

I’m not exactly fond of the term “picky eating”.  The word “picky” is a bit too close in meaning to the word “choosy”.  And I don’t know about you, but there’s very little about my eating that would constitute choice.  “Picky” seems to be the American version of what I was always labelled as: a “fussy eater”.  But “fussy eating” doesn’t seem quite right either, even if we all know what it means.  I mean, I never made a fuss about not eating stuff. I just quietly refused.  I would only cry if people would be mean to me about it.  And even then, I didn’t want to make a fuss, I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.

So what other options are there?  Well, there is “food neophobia” – being phobic of new foods.  In a sense this is quite good, although I’d query the phobia aspect in what I would think of as the true sense:  I don’t feel afraid of fruits and vegetables.  I don’t start shaking, sweating, or feeling sick at the sight of them.  My heart doesn’t start racing, my breathing doesn’t get rapid and shallow.  I can have fruit and veg on my plate quite happily as long as I’m not expected to eat them.  I can even eat a dish that’s had them picked out of.  I can imagine them quite happily too, the idea of them really doesn’t bother me.  I just have a big problem with putting them in my mouth, with having them in my mouth, with chewing or swallowing them.  Maybe some of you feel differently.

The one I like the best is Selective Eating Disorder (SED).  Granted, it still has a connotation that choice is somehow involved, but it’s better than “picky”, it’s more formal, more adult, more official-seeming, and somehow feels less judgemental.

What do other people think?


On Being Men, Women, & Children August 10, 2007

Filed under: adult picky eating — Claire @ 10:22 pm

I’ve touched on this elsewhere, but thought I’d post on it again.

In childhood, being a picky eater is hard because even if one isn’t actively punished for not eating stuff, even if people are tolerant and accepting, one does still come away feeling….inadequate, different, bad, not understood.  And even though I’d say my experiences weren’t as bad as many, I still spent a fair amount of time, both at home and at school, sitting at the table in front of a plate of food I knew I couldn’t eat if my life depended on it, long after everyone else had finished and left the table. Ironically, unlike for normal people, it made no difference to me that it had gone cold and congealed.   It was inedible to start with, so it was not possible for it to be any less edible cold.  I got the distinct impression that adults did not grasp this fact, but I lacked the ability to explain it to them.  I wanted to be good, I wanted to be like other children, but I just couldn’t.  And no-one seemed to get this either.  People just think you’re stubborn, obstinate, spoiled.  But you’re really not. 

It’s hard as an adult to explain it to non-picky people, let alone as a child.  Part of the reason it’s hard is because most other people haven’t heard of it as an actual condition – if we think we are the only one, so it seems do our families, friends and doctors.  No wonder they don’t understand.  No wonder we felt like freaks.  No wonder most of us received zero help or understanding.

But as an adult, being picky is hard for a whole other set of reasons too.  Most people have heard of pickiness in children, but never in adults.  As such, pickiness is seen as….childish.  It also can make you somewhat vulnerable in the context of social eating.  There’s a whole set of anxieties that can surround it.  None of this feels terribly….adult.  It doesn’t really fit with being competent, secure, or in control, or many of the other things that we associate with adulthood. 

And, as many picky guys have said, if you’re a man, it’s not just that it feels childish, but it feels unmanly too.  Which must be doubly hard.  So here’s a big salute to all you picky men out there.  I hope this can be a place where you can support eachother.  There is strength in numbers for definite.