Extremely Picky Eaters Fear Trying New Foods

Anxiety over the taste of unfamiliar food causes stressful meal times.

ByABC News
September 24, 2010, 3:51 PM

Sept. 27, 2010— -- For Amy Graham, cooking meals at home in Kansas City for her three children is a daily nightmare, especially when she has to follow the strict demands of her young daughter, Erin. Even breakfast is far from simple.

"Mamma, make French toast ... Can you cut it?" said the seven-year-old, and then after her third slice, "I want more!"

It's not unusual for a growing girl to want a big breakfast, but for Erin, this will probably be her last full meal of the day. Erin is an extremely picky eater, and suffers from what doctors call "food neophobia" -- fear of trying new foods. French toast is one of the very few things Erin can stand to eat.

"Do you ever like the dinner I make?" Graham asked her daughter.

Erin's answer? An emphatic "no."

Food neophobia is a new field of study for researchers. They have no idea how many people suffer from it. It hasn't even been officially classified a disorder by the medical field, but it's starting to more serious than previously thought.

Most kids love pizza, plain chicken breast, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, hot dogs, and cheese. Erin won't eat any of those, except American processed cheese. In fact, Erin won't eat any meat, vegetables, pasta or salad. She is even choosy about desserts.

The list of foods she will eat is brief: waffles, pancakes, some fruit, grilled cheese sandwiches -- with only American cheese, of course -- chips, French fries, crackers and lots and lots of peanut butter, but only a specific kind.

Erin's fight with food has her parents constantly intervening. Her father, Eric Graham, tried in vain to reason with his daughter at the dinner table on spaghetti night, usually another kid favorite, but Erin's plate remained empty.

His tactic was to make a deal with her: he would give her a piece of bread if she would eat half a cherry tomato in exchange.

"Erin, just do it and be done, and after you're done, you can have a piece of bread, okay?" Graham pleaded.

Erin struggled with the tomato and could barely keep it down. This is a typical night at the dinner table for the Grahams.

Amy Graham believed her daughter has been a picky eater since birth, saying that Erin "always had a different relationship with food." The Grahams' other two children, nine-year-old Ella and five-year-old Freddie, don't seem to share the same eating habits as their sister.

The Grahams Try Desperately To Break Erin of Her Picky Eating Habits

Erin has been to several doctors, all of whom have given her mother advice that ranged from "she'll outgrow it" to "just starve her," meaning not letting Erin have a choice of what's on her plate.

"I tried to say, 'This is what's for dinner, you gotta eat ... if you're hungry enough you'll eat,'" Amy said. "I don't want to be this way, 'cause she's hungry."

Some people might not understand why the Grahams have such a hard time getting their young picky eater to try new foods, but Erin's mother knows how serious her daughter's demands are.

"People just think I'm specially making a meal for her all the time and it's my fault," Graham said. "And if I showed her who was boss, she would eat and the fact of the matter is no, she won't."

Erin's peculiar eating habits are not a unique case. Bob Krause, 63, is a lifelong picky eater and founded a website called PickyEatingAdults.com. Within a few weeks of its launch in May 2003, the site had 1,400 members. Today, it has over 7,000.