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Picky Eating a Psychiatric Disorder?

Picky Eating a Psychiatric Disorder?
mkosut/Flickr

You know how you always thought there might be something wrong with that friend who eschews Brussels sprouts and onions in favor of white bread and peanut butter? Well, it looks the American Psychiatric Association agrees.

"Selective Eating Disorder," the medical term for adult picky eating, is under consideration for inclusion in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), due out in 2013.

Researchers at Duke and the University of Pittsburgh are currently conducting a national online survey of picky eaters to determine the causes and severity of the disorder. "People who are picky aren't just doing this to be stubborn," Duke's lead researcher Nancy Zucker told MSNBC's LiveScience. She went on to explain that these finicky eaters often reject food not because of taste, but rather because they find the look or smell unappealing or have negative physical or emotional childhood associations with food.

In the last five months over 7500 people have completed the survey, first self-identitfying as finicky eaters ("I only eat white foods." "I find a lot of foods disgusting") before going on to answer detailed questions about childhood eating habits and current food-related preferences and concerns.

Zucker told LiveScience that the researchers will do a formal analysis of the data in early 2011 but that early results indicate that "selective eating disorder is separate and distinct from other disorders." The article went on to report that

Selective eaters tend to like similar foods, with an emphasis on the bland and processed. They love salt, French fries are a favorite. Bacon is the only meat many of them will eat. Fruit, vegetables, and alcohol are snubbed for the most part.

On pickyeatingadults.com, an online support group that boasts over 1700 members, a woman named Maria, who describes herself as 51 years young, claims never to have eaten meat, fruit, or vegetables. "I've subsisted on carbs and grains -- mainly bread, potato chips, French fries and milk," she says before going on to site impressive cholesterol and triglyceride numbers that seem to belie these eating habits.

Though such limited diets are a health concern, Zucker says that for many fussy eaters the effects of the disorder are psychological, preventing them from getting jobs or having active social lives.

And now we feel bad for making fun of our cousin who only eats chicken fingers.