Fussy eating, which tends to surface between the ages of two and six, is usually something kids will grow out of – but what happens when these issues with food extend into adulthood?
Around 80% of the families I see in my clinic and workshops are struggling to increase variety in their children’s diets. However when adults are diagnosed with selective eating disorder, this can be genuinely debilitating as it not only affects the sufferer’s health and wellbeing since they’re not enjoying a varied diet, but it also takes a toll emotionally by making socialising hard and putting a strain on relationships.
Why Causes Food Fussiness?
Difficulties with food in childhood can begin due to a number of factors: oral motor delays, sensory issues, gastrointestinal disturbances, low-muscle tone or food-related anxiety disorders. When no intervention occurs and children aren’t given strategies to deal with these physiological or psychological issues, negative food associations can start to build up and actually get worse with age. For instance, a childhood episode of vomiting or choking could go on to cause a lasting fear of one or more foods.
It’s common to find that children who present with fussy eating, often have a parent who is a selective eater. Here are five ways to tell whether you’re a fussy eater and what you can do to improve your diet.
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5 Signs Of An Adult Fussy Eater
1. They’re in diet denial. Most fussy eaters would argue that they eat a relatively healthy diet – they would probably tell you they’re getting their five portions of vegetables a day when in reality it’s barely one. Chances are they pick the veggies off pizza, they consider potato salad to be healthy and they’re very particular about the way things are cooked.
2. Don’t share or sit down to eat with others. We all have that friend who doesn’t like to share meals, whether it’s a Chinese, curry or tapas – fussy eaters can’t afford to give any of their limited food choices away. Often fussy eaters don’t really enjoy eating with others for this reason.
3. They can easily list what they have for breakfast/lunch/dinner every day. Since adult fussy eaters don’t tend to enjoy much variety in their diets they can usually tell you what they had for breakfast last Tuesday – because it’s the same as what they had for breakfast this Tuesday too.
4. They suffer from social anxiety. When you think about it, food is a huge part of many social activities. For those who are very selective about what they eat, events like weddings, barbecues and work dinners can be understandably stressful and sometimes humiliating so adult fussy eaters tend to avoid these situations whenever possible.
5. They don’t like to cook and don’t really take any interest in food whatsoever. For foodies, it’s hard to imagine missing out on the huge enjoyment cooking and eating delicious food can bring – but for some people food is the exact opposite and brings nothing but stress and anxiety.
If this sounds like you, do not despair – the first step to changing your habits is acknowledging you need to change.
Often for parents, realising that their children are mimicking their attitudes to food is the motivation they need to seek help. I would always suggest getting expert advice from a dietician or nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your diet but below are some ideas to help increase the variety in your diet – and hopefully bring back some of the fun surrounding food.
6 Tips To Bring Back Fun In Food
1. Go wild in the aisles. It might sound strange, but go and get touchy feely with the vegetables at your local supermarket! Even if you don’t buy them or end up trying them, a good first step is getting familiar with different fruit and veg – they really do come in all colours, shapes and sizes.
2. Commit to trying one new food every day – even if it’s just a mouthful. It can take your tastebuds 10 or more attempts to adjust to a new flavour, so take it slowly and don’t give up. Check out my book for simple, quick and easy recipe ideas.
3. Make healthy food swaps. Instead of a regular pizza, try a healthy version made from vegetables like the Sweet Potato Pizza from my book or this Cauliflower pizza base with Homemade Tomato Sauce without all the sugar, salt and nasties of commercial versions. If you’re a fan of pasta dishes, try our delicious and simple Mac ‘n Cheese or Supercharged Spaghetti Bolognaise. If you have a sweet tooth and find yourself often reaching for sweet snacks – try some nutritious alternatives like: Healthy Banana Bread, Chocolate Almond Scones or my famous Black Bean Brownies!
4. Enroll in a beginner’s cooking class. Step out of your comfort zone, learn a new skill and maybe even make some new friends. Gaining a better understanding of food and taking pride in preparing dishes helps both children and adults to become more open to trying new things. And you might even enjoy it!
5. Set up a tasting. Enlist the help of a partner or trusted friend and get them to prepare various foods you know you don’t like but you’d love to be able to enjoy. Have fun with it and treat it like a Bushtucker Trial if you like!
6. Plant a veggie garden or window box. Even if you’re not a fan of carrots, I promise you one that you’ve grown with your own green thumbs will taste so much sweeter.
To learn more about Mandy Sacher please visit the Wholesome Child website. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes, and you can connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook.