This Woman Only Eats Potatoes, Bread, and Milk (Yes, Really!)

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How Do Picky Eaters Get That Way?

Fear of new foods, or food neophobia, is common in children between 2 and 5 but little was known about the number of adults affected until Duke University launched the Finicky Eating in Adults (F.A.D.) registry in 2010. In its first year 29,000 picky eaters signed up.

For most adult picky eaters, food aversions appear to begin in childhood. Many report that they had difficulty breastfeeding or transitioning from first-stage baby foods, and nearly all believe they are wired differently from other people when it comes to food. A 2007 British study of identical and nonidentical twins concluded that about 80 percent of cases of picky eating are inherited, while 20 percent arise from environmental factors.

Severity, however, varies widely -- from adults who avoid certain foods or tend to make special requests ("hold the onions," "dressing on the side") to extreme picky eaters who eat 10 or fewer foods and suffer significant social stigma as a result. Only a relatively small percentage of picky eaters fall into the latter category, and they gravitate toward bland, processed carbohydrates and grains and generally shun meat, fruits, and vegetables.

Researchers believe sensitivity to smell and texture as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder or personality traits like shyness may play a role in adult pickiness. And the American Psychiatric Association is considering adding Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder to its 2013 diagnostic manual. -- K.K.A.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2012.


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