Picky Eating Is A Mental Illness
For the majority of my childhood and my entire adult life I have struggled with a pretty serious case of finicky eating. I have always been able to admit it, in fact on most occasions I would happily announce my preferences in fear of being forced to try something out of my comfort zone. I write this blog now in hopes that someone like me will find encouragement.
The truth is picky eating has now been given an official name: Selective Eating Disorder. It may not be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but I personally agree that picky eating steams from some type of mental trauma in a person's life. It can vary in all ages and I like how Wikipedia put it - "Selective eating should not be of a concern as long as there are no negative effects on social, physical and emotional development."
I laughed out loud when I read that sentence. How many picky eaters are not affected socially when everyone wants to go to a restaurant and that person knows that there is nothing he or she will eat there? (For me it is any type of sandwich shop...even to this day) What about when picky Joe is at a party and the only thing there is to eat is something he is afraid of? How many picky eaters are not affected physically because all they want are the same things over and over again causing malnutrition, weight gain and possibly health problems? What about the emotional trauma of realizing that you are not like everyone else and it takes some explaining before you even have dinner with new friends?
I want to share my background so that you might better understand my personal break through. When I was in third grade our teacher made us watch a video about choking and how to preform the heimlich maneuver. There was one part in the video in particular that really got to me. It explained what to do if you were choking and completely alone. The video then showed a man thrusting himself onto the edge of a table to dislodge a piece of hot dog. I remember thinking "What if I am not strong enough to do that?"
This prompted a rebellion towards food. Not only did I become a picky eater for life, but initially I wouldn't eat anything at all! I slowly became hungry enough to drink the broth from ramen noodle soup, leaving behind the noodles. I remember my family being worried and saying things to me like "You know if you don't eat you will die!" I think a lot of parents might blame themselves if they found they have raised a picky eater, but I truly do not blame mine. In fact, I clearly remember my mother trying to force me to eat steak and I would feed it to my cat when she was not looking. As time went on I began eating breads and sweet treats while despising all things green and most proteins. I found it easier to say no to certain foods, and my family was just happy I was eating. I did find flinstones vitamins in my lunch box every day from my still-concerned mother.
I did not grow out of it. Instead I found it easy to fall into a repetitive routine of eating the same things over and over. Pasta became my only food group and my friends (and even their parents) became accustomed to my habits and accommodated me.
It is not until now, almost in my thirties, that I have had a desire to break the old habits and try to regain the nutrition I lacked all those years. It is a daily conscious effort I must force myself to make. I know so many of my picky comrades will read this and say: "Great! Now I have an official excuse - My pickiness is a disorder." But can I please encourage you to think about it for a minute. We rarely think about why we eat what we do and if you tried to determine what led you to finicky eating habits, you might begin to break free as well. As I type these words I am enjoying a bowl of homemade guacamole that I made and whole grain crackers. (Not many picky eaters will ever be able to say that, and I certainly never expected to!)
I truly believe that analyzing my past and the reasons for my "Selective Eating Disorder" has helped me overcome so many fears about food. I am now DAILY trying brand new things. My cooking has become more creative and my husband has become more grateful! My life is slowly letting go of the limitations that socially, physically and mentally held me back. Every day is a brand new opportunity full of so many choices. I fear that so many picky eaters will stay just that way forever because they were never quite brave enough to make a different choice. I read once that you have to try a food at least 7 times before you can decide if you like it or not.
Set goals. Read labels. Cook for yourself - That last one is important. I think if I had always had someone to cook for me all the time I would have never had the courage to add that extra spice or veggie just to see. It takes time. It takes trying. I pray for you to have the strength to want to change.