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Do adult picky eaters suffer from disorder?

September 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
We all know kids who won't eat their vegetables. But what about adults? Is it just a matter of personal taste? Or is picky eating a sign of an actual eating disorder that needs treatment? Experts are helping adult picky eaters in new ways."Cream of Wheat, cottage cheese, and noodles and anything that was bland and white, they said that's what I would eat and I wouldn't eat anything else," said Stephanie Schwab, a picky eater.

As a child Schwab only ate white food. As an adult she's a bit better but still omits entire food groups.

"I am kind of like Sally in 'When Harry Met Sally,' when I'm very specific about how I order. 'I want this and I don't want that,' and so that can get a little bit tiring sometimes," said Schwab.

Some researchers believe highly restricted diets may be a form of eating disorder, even though the finicky eater isn't concerned about weight.

Dietitian Lisa De Fazio says their limited food choices usually interfere with their social lives.

"Many people avoid social interactions and dinners. They panic going to weddings," said De Fazio.

It also impacts health.

"The main nutrients that are lacking are potassium, iron, B12, vitamins A and C," said De Fazio.

"They're not getting the vitamins and minerals that they need. They're not getting the calcium they need, so it impacts growth," said Dr. Nancy Zucker, a psychiatry professor at the Duke Center for Eating Disorders.

Up until now, little research has been done, although University of Pittsburgh is launching the first-ever national public registry for adult finicky eaters.

"What we're trying to do is to learn more about what picky eating is like in adults," said Zucker. "What it persists, how it impacts their functioning and so, hopefully soon we'll have some answers in terms of the number of people it affects and how impactful it is."

Hoping finicky eaters like Stephanie Schwab can find good-tasting substitutions to get proper nutrition.

But if not ...

"Just to try to go with the flow," said Schwab. "And recognize that there's always going to be something on the menu that you can order or you can always accommodate yourself in your own kitchen, and so you know, in worst-case scenario you're hungry for a couple hours then you go home and eat something at home."

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