“Sufferers often keep quiet about it, because they don't want to draw attention to the limited way they eat,” says food writer Bee Wilson, adding that they often don’t seek help and prefer to live around their limited tastes rather than attempt to change them. “Lots of people have no idea that adult selective eaters even exist,” she adds. They share their problems and seek reassurance on private Facebook groups
with thousands of other members, and websites like PickyEatingAdults.com
Wilson conducted extensive research in this area for her latest book, First Bite: How We Learn to Eat
, and says she suspects there has been a rise in selective eating among adults in recent years. “Based on my interviews with people who run feeding disorder clinics, there's definitely a rise in picky eating among children, and therefore probably among adults too.” She cites a 2015 study
of a random group of nearly 500 Americans, in which 35.5% described themselves as picky eaters.
Wilson’s theory behind the apparent increase is that in previous generations, traditional home cooking exposed children to a wider variety of flavours, but today, she says: “the industrial 'kid food' for sale in supermarkets has a very homogenous palate of sweetness and saltiness. For kids who are reared on these foods, it's hard to develop a liking for real home-cooked food.”
For others, selective eating habits arise from a traumatic experience with food as a child, such as choking, or later in life following a bad illness that makes them fearful of certain foods. Selective eating habits can also be associated with other mental health conditions, such as OCD and autism.
The problem is gaining recognition among health professionals. In 2013, adult selective eating was added to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
, the universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis, as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). It’s also known by some people as SED.