Are Picky Eaters Mentally Ill?

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Are you very selective about the foods that you are willing to eat? You may be more than just a bad dinner guest; you may also have an eating disorder.

The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a growing movement among researchers and psychologists to better understand and treat those who are identified as picky eaters. As part of this effort, experts are now debating whether picky eating should be added to the definitive manual of mental disorders.

“Doctors once thought only kids were picky eaters, and that they would grow out of it. Now, however, a taskforce studying how to categorize eating disorders for the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due out in 2013, is considering recognizing for the first time a disorder to be called ‘selective eating’ that could apply to adults as well as children,” the Journal reports.

On top of this, the Journal reports that researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched an online survey to learn more about selective eaters. According to Duke’s Web site, the study hopes to determine whether selective eating habits have any negative impact on the eater’s personal life or the well being of his or her family.

So what exactly qualifies as Selective Eating Disorder for adults? According to the Journal, “Some will only eat foods with one consistent texture or one taste, leading some medical experts to speculate that picky eaters have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.” The implication here is that you may be mentally healthy even if you decide you hate broccoli, but your health is more in question if you refuse to eat anything that remotely resembles broccoli. Apart from being a bit eccentric, this kind of selective eating habit could lead to “nutritional deficiencies” that hurt your heart and bones.

The possibility that this condition could end up in the diagnostic manual is more than just symbolic. The manual is considered the definitive tool for psychiatric evaluation and insurance companies are much more likely to cover treatments for a condition if it is in the manual. But this raises a further question. Even if selective eating does become a verifiable disorder, will people be willing to spend out-of-pocket money to treat it? Would you?

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