Understanding Selective Eating (and when to seek help)

Do you (or your child) eat a limited range of foods? 
 

Restricted food selection, fear of trying new foods, liking certain foods based on sensory properties -  all describe picky or selective eating. 

 

We don’t want anyone to feel guilt or shame for being a selective eater! Eating differences and fear of trying new foods is a normal adaptation for human survival. 

 

However, if selective eating is interfering with normal growth and physical health, or it’s preventing you from doing things you’d like to do (for example, eating at parties or restaurants) - working on selective eating with a dietitian at Dr Daisy & Co may be very beneficial. 

 

If you're unsure about whether or not you (or your child’s) selective eating warrants professional support, we recommend consulting with one of our dietitians during a free discovery call.  

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Selective eating is a continuum of traits, preferences, and behaviors. At one end of the spectrum, we find ‘adventurous eaters'. In the middle of the spectrum is ‘normal selective eaters,’ and on the other end of the spectrum are ‘extreme selective eaters' or ARFID (ARFID stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). 

 

Selective eating is a normal and expected developmental phase in childhood. Most children willingly eat a wide variety of foods from the time they are introduced to purees and until they approach toddlerhood. 

At around the age of two, many toddlers begin to present with food neophobia, or fear of trying new or unfamiliar foods. They also develop healthy fears about a lot of other things too, like touching a hot stove or running too far away from caregivers. The neophobic stage typically persists until around age five, at which time most kids begin to outgrow it and adopt a more flexible eating pattern again.  

But some kids stay picky. Children who have sensory sensitivities, kids with anxiety, and kids who are neurodiverse (that is, kids who are autistic, ADHD, have sensory processing differences, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are more likely to continue to be highly selective. Also, kids who have food allergies or gastrointestinal disorders, like reflux or constipation, are likely to be more extreme picky eaters. 

 

When is selective eating a problem? It depends. Selective eating and even some food rituals can help with eating an adequate quantity of food. This is good because eating enough food is a bigger priority than food variety.  Narrow food choices may be perfectly okay and pose little to no health threat for some. A thorough nutrition assessment with us can help determine whether or not your or your child’s selective eating is a problem. 

What we do at Dr. Daisy & Co

We use a variety of techniques and models to help selective eaters become more relaxed and confident around food. 

 

Some of the models we use:

  • CBT-AR (cognitive behavior therapy for ARFID)

  • Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) therapy 

  • Food Exposure Protocol for Selective Eating and ARFID

  • Responsive Feeding Techniques for parents of picky eaters

 

Parents, if you’re worried about your child’s eating, or observe that your child’s eating is becoming more and more selective over time it’s a good idea to seek support. Commonly, well-intentioned, worried parents react to their child’s food rejection and limited “kids’ diet” with approaches that ultimately back-fire. Due to a lack of information/support, and the plethora of conflicting or bad advice regarding “picky eating” that exists, it’s quite understandable that many parents and caregivers start down the road of counterproductive feeding strategies.  

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Pressuring kids to try new foods, bribing, withholding favorite foods until they’ve eaten other foods, or hiding/disguiding new foods into familiar foods are just some examples of tactics that tend to evoke more anxiety and eating resistance from children and make mealtimes a major source of stress for families. This cycle causes selective eating to intensify and continue well beyond the early elementary age. If you’re in this boat, we’re here to help, without blame or shame! 

Together, we will support you and your child in re-establishing trust in the feeding relationship and help to feel more open to trying new foods and fill nutritional gaps where necessary.