Selective Eating Disorder
Selective Eating Disorder (SED) (also known as picky or fussy eating, or perseverative feeding disorder) is an eating disorder that prevents the consumption of certain foods. It is often viewed as a phase of childhood that is generally overcome with age. Children may not grow out of being a picky eater, however, and may continue to be afflicted with SED throughout their adult lives.
The British Journal of Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry states that:
Selective eating is the little studied phenomenon of eating a highly limited range of foods, associated with an unwillingness to try new foods. Common in toddlers, it can persist into middle childhood and adolescence in a small number of children, most commonly boys. When this happens social avoidance, anxiety and conflict can result.
Sufferers of SED have an inability to eat certain foods based on texture or aroma. “Safe” foods may be limited to certain food types and even specific brands. In some cases, afflicted individuals will exclude whole food groups, such as fruits or vegetables.
The University College London’s Institute of Child Health (UK) relates that:
Typically a child or adolescent with selective eating will be within the normal range for both weight and height, and show no abnormality on physical examination. Sometimes selective eating can come on after a period of normal eating, but for many there may be a history of early feeding difficulties or problem with weaning. Eating a highly restricted range of foods is a common feature of toddlers – up to 20 per cent of children below the age of five years are faddy and the problem persists to the age of eight years in about a third of these. However for some young people the problem persists into middle childhood, adolescence and even adulthood.
SED is common in young people with autistic spectrum disorders.
This disorder should not be confused with “Food Avoidance Emotional Disorder” (a childhood avoidance of food brought about by emotional difficulties and not related to body image) or anorexia nervosa (a disorder characterized by a fear of food due to issues related to body weight). SED shares similar characteristics with “Food Neophobia”, an avoidance of the consumption of novel foods.
￼Causes, treatment and research
Dr. Bradley C. Riemann, the clinical director of obsessive compulsive disorders at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee, says: “For the most part it’s not trauma or memories that are the problem. It’s more about taste, texture, smell and sight. It can stem from an incident. Say you’ve gagged on meat before, you may develop a fear of choking and become scared of eating anything chewy. It has also been linked to OCD and a fear of dirt and contamination over how the food has been prepared.”
Resetting patterns of behavior is commonly done using cognitive behavioral therapy. Dr. Riemann explains, “Exposure also works well. Say a person eats only soup; we’ll put noodles in it and then work our way up to chicken.”
Research is currently under way at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
SED can be caused by an extra sensitive taste sensation.
In 2007 a UK television show called “Farm of Fussy Eaters” was created to “follow the emotional journey of eight people as they confront their food demons at The Farm of Fussy Eaters. The eight participants all have terrible relationships with food but they’re determined to conquer their fears with the help of (the program’s) three experts.” The expert panel consists of a dietician, Geoffrey Beattie (a psychologist) and a chef.
A show on BBC 3 premiered in 2007 which also deals with SED, called Freaky Eaters, it follows the daily eating habits and inherent lifestyle difficulties of several SED sufferers.
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