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Do Picky Eaters Have an Eating Disorder?

Several articles can be found online claiming that “selective eating” is being considered for the updated Diagnosis and Statistical Manual as an eating disorder like Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. The American Psychiatric Association is due to publish the DSM-5 in mid 2013. Reports on this addition to the DSM vary. One article I read claimed that it is the American Psychological Association not the American Psychiatric Association considering the change; however, it
is understandable that someone outside the field might mix up APA with APA.

A blog on the American Psychological Association website skeptically commented: nowhere on the American Psychiatric Association’s draft DSM 5 website on eating disorders is the term “selective eating” or “picky eating” mentioned (searches for such terms also turned up nothing on the draft DSM 5 website). It seems like quite a stretch that a disorder not even listed in the draft version of the DSM-5 would make it into the final version.

Most articles claim “selective eating” will be a disorder in the Not Otherwise Specified section of Eating Disorders. I would find it surprising for “selective eating” to even be listed in the “Conditions requiring further study” appendix. However, I did find on the American Psychiatric Association’s draft DSM 5 website a proposed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder that would include individuals who do not eat enough/show little interest in feeding, individuals who only accept a limited diet in relation to sensory features, and individuals whose food refusal is related to aversive experience. The term “selective eating” is not used, but it could refer to picky eaters.

More research is being done on the phenomenon of picky eating, including the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University, who have created a national public registry of picky eating. The registry gives people a place to report their personal (possibly unusual) food preferences. Most children go through a phase of personal food restriction; some adults never outgrow this. More bland, pale-colored foods tend to be favored by picky eaters (think pasta, cheese pizza, mashed potatoes). Most picky eaters seem to enjoy chicken fingers and French fries.

Distress to oneself or others is a required hallmark of most disorders. I have not known anyone who was caused great distress by picky eating behavior; however, picky eaters may be uncomfortable in social situations that center around food and may have difficulty at restaurants. Others who try to prepare or serve food to a picky eater may experience distress trying to conform to the restrictions of their loved one.

One of the pickiest eaters I know will try new things if it is presented (physically and psychologically) to him in the correct way. Children that are encouraged to try new things regularly can have more diverse dietary habits than most adults. I wonder how much new was presented to now picky adults when they were children. Picky eating can also be a mild obsession with food. Each of these origins would call for a slightly different treatment. I also wonder if “selective eating” will be covered by insurance and to what degree.

Has someone else’s or your own picky eating caused distress for you? Do you think selective eating qualifies as an eating disorder? Do you think we should leave the picky eaters to their eccentricities?

Also Read:

How Can Parents Prevent Picky Eating?

My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus

Common Eating Disorders Defined

July 23rd, 2010

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(Page 1 of 1, 4 total comments)

Marlene Macbeth

What is the next step we should try to help our picky eater? My granddaughter has had feeding issues from birth with not apparent physical diagnosis apparent. As an infant she could only breast feed on one breast without unusual positioning. Today at 3.5 she will try some yogurt or smooth type foods but she exists on a diet of pediasure. We have tried everything to coax her and have even forced her when she stopped drinking pediasure for a time. Any suggestions or places we could go to get her evaluated. I know it is a sensory based disorder but the therapists who have been helping her are stymied.

posted May 30th, 2011 12:23 pm


My dtr started her limited diet at age 2. Now, at 12, it has been ten years of stress, anxiety and heartache for the family. It is very isolating. Whether it stems from OCD, over sensitivity, etc., it evolves into a family problem. It affects everyone. Three meals a day, 365 days per year - always trying this and that, offering this and that... and it's hard to get any help. Yes, it should be considered for every diagnostic manual out there.

posted Apr 8th, 2011 2:00 pm


I've actually been caused great distress by being a picky eater. I fall into that category of "individuals who do not eat enough/show little interest in feeding" as well as being very picky in what I will eat. Half the time when I know that I need to eat, I'll feel like crying or will cry because it's so difficult for me to eat anything. I've had this problem since I was a baby and since it's always caused me to be underweight, I'm developing health problems from it. It's not a "normal" ED because I don't have any body image issues. I have been diagnosed with EDNOS. I definitely think picky eating, food neophobia, etc. needs to be studied more and that when it causes distress, like in my case, it at least needs to be labeled as EDNOS. I'd be happy to see it mentioned in the DSM 5.

posted Oct 14th, 2010 1:52 pm


My daughter is a picky eater since she was a toddler. Know she is 14 and still eat the same things,like grill cheese sandwich and pasta alfredo (home made only) for breackfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, I am tired of cooking the same things over and over.

posted Oct 12th, 2010 8:36 am


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