Picky Eaters: When Waffles and Fries Are All You Eat

Picky eaters say they suffer from isolation due to the condition.

August 9, 2010, 5:43 PM

Aug. 10, 2010 — -- Bob Krause hates Thanksgiving, and not because of that all forced family time.

Krause, 63, calls himself a picky eater -- one who won't eat anything that's served at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or any other dinner, for that matter.

Krause survives on little more than grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and waffles. And, like other picky eaters, Krause hopes that a registry of adult picky eaters, recently begun by Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh, will bring attention to a problem he believes should be considered a medical condition.

The registry, dubbed the Food F.A.D. Study, or the Finicky Eating in Adults study, has already attracted more than 2,000 participants. According to its website, the survey and registry was created to learn more about adults who describe themselves as picky eaters.

"Much of the research on picky eating has been done in children," reads the site, which is run by Dr. Nancy Zucker at Duke University Medical Center along with colleagues at Western Psychiatric Institute in Pittsburgh. "We know very little about what picky eating looks like in adults – and whether such eating habits cause any problems for either yourself or your family."

Krause says he knows all too well what picky eating can do to a person's social life. Now on this third marriage, Krause said that his first two ended partially because of his picky eating.

"I absolutely think picky eating is a type of eating disorder," said Krause.

Pickyeatingadults.com, an online help group created by Krause, has attracted other picky eaters – more than 1,500 – who have confessed that their own eating habits have cost them not only life partners, but also jobs.

"I've seen all sorts of extremes in the group," said Krause. "One thing we all do share is that our eating has affected us to the point that it will cause social embarrassment."

One woman who identified herself only as "Kathy" wrote to Krause telling him that she has turned down "dream jobs" because she feared she would have to explain her picky eating to co-workers. Another woman wrote to Krause that she "just wants to be normal" and is too scared to go away to college for fear that her peers will notice her bizarre eating patterns.

Do Picky Eaters Have a Medical Disorder?

In addition to Thanksgiving, Krause does anything he can to avoid sit-down banquets and weddings where he might have to explain his picky eating. His website even features a list of the best excuses to get out of events that require eating in public.

Krause called picky eating "the great secret" kept by many who suffer from it. He said that he would just "not go" when invited to his ex-wives' families' homes for meals.

"It was a horrible situation," he added.

Marla Lopez, a 51-year-old real estate investor in Idaho, says she faces the embarrassment of her condition every time she attends business meetings, where she often only eats bread.

"Basically I eat French fries, potato chips, corn chips, cheerios , baked potatoes and a ton of milk," said Lopez, "And plain ice cream."

"I just have never eaten meat, fruit or vegetables in my entire life," said Lopez, adding that on the few occasions she was forced to eat a bite of meat she threw it up immediately.

"The biggest frustration is that people don't understand and think that I'm just looking for attention," said Lopez. "I'd give up everything to be able to eat normally."

"Do people really think I want to show up at a business meeting and only eat bread rolls?" she said.

Lopez, who, like Krause, is participating in the Duke survey and registry, said she hopes for "some kind of validation of the condition."

"It's very difficult to explain what you're going through to people, and it's hard to feel like a freak all the time," she said.

Lopez and Krause each have theories on why they are picky eaters, and both say they believe it has some sort of genetic or neurological origin. They also associate their picky eating with obsessive compulsive disorder, but say that the true cause won't be known without proper research.

Zucker, the doctor leading the study, was not made available for an interview, but psychologist Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia studies picky eaters and says that the survey really could provide some relief for individuals who are suffering from their relationships with food.

Do Picky Eaters Have a Medical Disorder?

In addition to the social consequences picky eating can have on a person's life, Pelchat said that there are also more traditional negative health consequences that might be avoided if a cause of picky eating -- or a cure -- was discovered.

"Many of these adult picky eaters are obese," said Pelchat. "You think if you're picky and there's nothing to eat, you might be thin but many of these picky eaters eat very high-caloric items. They just don't eat anything that is low in caloric density."

Both Krause and Lopez claim that they are healthy. Krause admits being 25 pounds overweight but says that he does not have more health problems than his father did when he was 63. Lopez, who has two children, said that she has low blood pressure and low cholesterol, and that despite concerns from her doctors both her babies were born healthy and she was able to breastfeed. For them, the social discomfort is the worst part of their picky eating habits.

Pelchat said that she hopes the Duke study will help determine what differentiates a severe picky eater to simply a person who is finicky about food. That will make it easier for insurance companies to determine what to procedures and therapies to cover, should they accept picky eating as a medial disorder.

Until then, picky eaters like Krause and Lopez will continue their battle with the food groups they find revolting.

"Tomatoes," said Krause, an expression of disgust coming through in his voice, "Are public enemy No. 1."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events