Extremely Picky Eaters Fear Trying New Foods

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Krause's food preferences, as well as those of many who participate on his website, are very similar to seven-year-old Erin's.

A typical lunch for Krause includes Lance peanut butter crackers or a bag of potato chips, and a glass of milk. For dinner, it's a grilled cheese sandwich and French fries.

For very picky eaters like himself, Krause said trying different foods doesn't make sense.

"The intelligent side of my brain will tell me that it's food, but the side of my brain that's going to accept me eating something that I really don't have a control over will say, 'You can't eat that' ... it doesn't look appetizing to me," he said.

At the grocery store near his home in Virginia Beach, Va., Krause tried a new food, a croissant. He immediately gagged. "That's an example of what happens when I try [new foods]."

Sometimes, there's a visual component to Krause's fear. "Spaghetti might look like a plate full of worms to me," he said.

Don't think that picky eaters are being snooty about their palates. Adults well into retirement, who struggle to feed themselves because of their fear of foods, put heavy strains on their bodies and their relationships -- even marriages. Two, in Krause's case.

"It wasn't the only reason the marriages didn't last, but it was certainly part of the reason for the failure," he said.

Picky Eaters Associate Bad Feelings with Eating New Foods

Dr. Nancy Zucker is an assistant professor at Duke University's School of Medicine, and runs its Center for Eating Disorders. The center is just beginning to study food neophobia and how someone who might suffer from this condition reacts to new foods.

Zucker said, "We would look at [a] plate of food and say, 'oh look at this lovely food adventure, I wonder what this would taste like. They would look at a plate of food and be like 'DANGER, DANGER ... This could be way too much stimulation, this could be awful.'"

These bad feelings associated with food are far from the average kid wanting their favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich day in and day out.

"That's just normal. That's just exploration and sort of finding your preferences, but you know, a picky eater is one for whom that variability just doesn't shift," Zucker said.

For some picky eaters, new foods will make them physically ill, and for others, the food simply tastes bad to them. Trying desperately to break Erin of this intense reaction, the Grahams took her to see Dr. Zucker for an intensive five-day program -- a picky eater rehab of sorts.

When Erin first heard about the Duke program, she pushed her parents to enroll her. Even at her young age, she knows her difficulties with food are affecting her social life. "I'm hungry when we go out for dinner and there's nothing I like at, or at birthday parties I don't have something to eat because they mostly serve pizza."

Her father added, "The fact that she recognizes that it's not normal and she wants to get better is really the big reason why we're here."

Zucker explained that when kids are picky eaters, meals become stressful for the whole family. The first two days of Erin's "rehab" were spent trying to change her thinking about new foods.

"The work with Erin has been about kind of retraining her experience with food," Zucker said. "Giving her tools to relax her body and relax her mind and not let her thoughts get in the way of what she does."

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