The Extreme Picky Eater: When a Parent Should Worry

link between anxiety and refusing to eat

There’s picky eating and then there’s picky eating. 

When picky eating tendencies cross the borders of what’s considered “typical” and start affecting your child’s growth, weight, mood, and family mealtimes in a drastic way, it’s likely time to seek help. Dealing with extreme – or even moderate – forms of picky eating can feel hopeless and isolating. It also causes worry, stress, and sometimes panic for parents, as well as anxiety, fear, and social isolation for the child. In fact, a recent study in the September 2015 issue of Pediatrics showed that (after screening caregivers of over 900 children aged 2-5), children with severe forms of selective eating were much more likely to experience elevated symptoms of social anxiety, anxiety. and depression. 

It was also found that moderate forms of selective eating were associated with symptoms of separation anxiety and ADHD. Although these findings likely aren’t terribly surprising – especially to parents of extreme picky eaters – they will hopefully create more awareness and perhaps pave the way for more appropriate screening tools and intervention strategies for those kids who struggle with selective eating. 

It’s important to realize that most toddlers and young children go through a “picky eating” phase (or several) and that it is, for the most part, typical. Even though “normal” picky eating isn’t cause for concern (and doesn’t typically affect growth or nutritional status) it can easily be made worse (and enter the realm of “extreme” picky eating) if healthy feeding practices aren’t followed. 

If well-meaning parents intervene in an unhealthy way (perhaps bribing, forcing, hovering at mealtimes etc.), typical picky eating can easily escalate into more extreme forms of picky eating and psychological issues may ensue. Here are some blog posts that may be helpful for parents of typical picky eaters: 

47 Resources for Parents of Picky Eaters

Picky Eating: 3 Strategies that WORK

6 Ways To Deal With Your Picky Eater

6 Game-Changing Questions to Ask Your Picky Eater at Mealtimes

EXTREME PICKY EATING

Katja Rowell, MD and Jenny McGlothlin, MS, SLP wrote a very helpful book Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating which guides parents on how to deal with more severe forms of picky eating. In it, they define extreme picky eating as “not eating enough quantity or variety to support healthy emotional, physical, or social development; or eating patterns that are a significant source of conflict or worry”.  Sound familiar? 

Picky eating isn’t a one size fits all.Your child may have been labeled a “problem feeder” or “selective eater” and you may not know exactly what that means or whether it’s accurate. In their book, Rowell and McGlothlin outline the various types of extreme picky eating. Unfortunately, there isn’t an official classification system for extreme feeding difficulties in kids, but these labels help parents to better understand their child. 

Read the whole post over on Sarah’s YMC blog 

 

Sarah Remmer
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