Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Should Picky Eating Be Treated as a Disease?

Most folks who know me rank me as a picky eater. That's why this Washington Post story on adult picky eaters caught my eye:

Pass them on the street and you'd never know the quirks they harbor. But invite them over for a meal or join them at a restaurant and the truth emerges. Some find pasta and oysters too slimy. Others can't bear chewy meats, gritty berries, rubbery cheese or mushy tomatoes.

There are those who shun "foreign" or spicy foods as a category, or all produce with seeds (especially okra, which when overcooked marries seeds with slime, making it a true picky-eater nightmare). There are the dairy-averse (ice cream is often a notable exception) and condiment-phobes, who wouldn't consider defiling their food with mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise or relish.

Some finicky eaters will not mix foods on the same plate, or they insist on finishing one item entirely before starting the next. Others refuse to eat anything at all with their hands, whether a sandwich, peanuts or pizza.

Smell is usually the reason I won't eat something. I can't stand the smell of lobster, for instance. To me, it's like boiled vomit. I can't stand to be in the same room with it. Coffee is similarly noisome. I have had to take coffee for its stimulant in emergency situations, but my preferred caffeine vehicle is diet cola.

And believe me, I know what this guy is talking about when he nixes coconut:

Anti-hunger crusader Shore occasionally forces down spinach or corn when dining with some of the nation's top chefs who support his charity. But at a friend's wedding dinner last week, he ignored the gazpacho, ate only nuts and cheese from the salad, enjoyed the steak but nixed the German chocolate cake because "I've never been able to stand coconut."

Coconut actually produces a gag reflex in me, when it's still crossing the threshold of my lips.

I'm not nearly so extreme as some of the folks mentioned in the article, who can't even go to restaurants. I just have to make sure that no pickles or green peppers are included in my sandwiches.

The article takes an interesting turn when it talks about folks who seek treatment for their picky eating.

Although it is not known how many American adults are picky eaters, a growing number are seeking treatment, says Bradley C. Riemann, clinical director of obsessive-compulsive disorders at Milwaukee's Rogers Memorial Hospital, which treats numerous patients with eating issues.

"All of a sudden, in the past six months to a year, it is bursting out more than I have seen in my entire 18-year career, partly because there is so much public awareness of obsessive-compulsive disorder," or OCD, Riemann says. "Typically, this is not OCD-related but there is a fear reaction [to specific foods], disgust, and it is affecting their lives."

But picky eaters can become seriously ill or depressed, says Riemann. "The line between food preferences and disordered eating is whether it hurts their quality of life."

Illness and depression due to picky eating? When there are so many other good reasons to be ill and depressed? My food pickiness hasn't affected my life, other than to irritate some family and friends (to whose irritation I'm usually oblivious), so it's hard for me to comprehend.



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