Daniel Dawson abhorred olives as a child. Their bitter flavor turned him, well, bitter. Now he’s the senior editor for Olive Oil Times, a trade publication dedicated to all things olive oil.
“Once I decided that I didn’t like a food item, I had a zero-tolerance policy for it,” Dawson, 29, says. “My experience rediscovering the taste of olives a few years back caused me to reconsider that policy.”
Children are often described as picky eaters when they’re averse to trying different foods. Steak? Ew. Chicken? Ew. Vegetables? Double ew. While kids often seem to grow out of it, not everyone does. And some picky eaters aren’t just picky, but grappling with an eating disorder.
“It’s not necessarily the case that people are going to grow out of being hesitant about these specific foods,” Dr. Sam Scarnato of the The Center for Nutritional Psychology says.
So, how does one conquer the picky eating monster? Treatments for children and adults will differ depending on the severity of the situation, but experts say everything from repeated exposure to foods and consulting with medical professionals could best address problems before they spiral out of control.
Treatments for children and adults will differ depending on the severity of the situation.
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Where does picky eating come from?
Scarnato comes across picky eating daily, and finds it runs in families. If a parent or caregiver balks at broccoli, they shouldn’t be shocked when their child refuses green veggies too.
Health coach Dianna Carr, who manages Be Well Health Coaching LLC, says maybe these adults weren’t exposed to many different foods as children, or they had a traumatic childhood experience like choking on a certain food.
Sometimes it’s about genetics. “Some people are genetically predisposed to be super-tasters,” Jenna Griffin, founder and CEO of Generations Nutrition & Wellness says. Super-tasters have an acute sense of taste and experience bitter flavors more intensely.
“This may lead them to avoid certain healthy vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc., because the bitter taste is overpowering,” Griffin adds.
But when does picky eating transition from not liking the taste or texture of a food to a potentially serious medical condition?
Medical and sensory issues like anxiety, chronic constipation, allergies or even post-nasal drip could contribute to picky eating. In those cases, Scarnato says recommendations will vary depending on the outcome of a medical assessment.
Another factor? Money. “Families who are on a lower budget, they’re not going to venture out and buy a whole bunch of different foods that their child isn’t going to eat, because they’re afraid then that they’re wasting food,” Scarnato says.
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The different kinds of picky eating
The spectrum of pickiness ranges from those who can eat foods but don’t, to those who struggle with an eating disorder.
Nicole Peicher, 23, is on the can-but-doesn’t-want-to end of the spectrum. The Miami resident lived off chicken nuggets, pasta, chocolate and Cheetos growing up. Friends stored chicken nuggets in their houses for her.
Children are often described as picky eaters when they’re averse to trying different foods.
Peicher has a companion in Thomas Hammock. “I was known as the ‘Chicken finger kid’ at the local restaurant in my hometown because that’s all I’d eat there,” says the 35-year-old Birmingham, Alabama resident.
In college, Peicher ultimately sought advice from a nutritionist to take control of her diet. She tasked herself to eat a new food, such as a fruit or vegetable, every day.
Now she experiments with variations of her old staples – like breading chicken with almond flour as an alternative to a fried chicken nugget. She shares recipes on her Instagram page that offer healthy alternatives, and sells healthy desserts.