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Friday, September 9, 2016

The Plight of Picky Eaters

I was reading Real Simple magazine today and I came across an article about picky eating by Jennifer King Lindley. On page four of the article, I came across something that left me dumbfounded:

If you have a spouse or a friend who remains picky as an adult, ordering grilled cheese at a business dinner, try to muster up a little sympathy. "No one would choose to be an extreme picky eater. It's painful and embarrassing," says Lucianovic. (They're referring to Stephanie Lucianovic, author of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate.)

Why was I so shocked by this simple statement? Because they were talking about ME. And in my whole life no one has ever addressed the issue of picky eating as anything more than something I needed to outgrow. I can't tell you how many dinners I've endured where I felt extremely uncomfortable and judged because of what I did and did not want to eat. I've cried in a Chinese restaurant about this. I've turned down a warm invitation to an Indian family's house party because of this. Stephanie Lucianovic is right. It's painful and embarrassing. And Jennifer Lindley is right. A little sympathy can go a long way.

What I'm getting at is this: Unless the person is your four-year-old child, leave picky eaters alone.

"Just try it! You'll like it!"
"You don't like your foods to touch? It all ends up the same place!"
"You would never make it at my house."
"You would never make it in a foreign country."
"That's all you ordered?"
"That's the most boring salad I've ever seen."
"You don't like tomatoes? You need to get over that."

It may seem banal to say any of these things to your buddy over the dinner table, but you don't realize that your buddy hears this everyday. And when you're told that there's something wrong with you everyday, it can be quite damaging.

There are LOTS of adult picky eaters out there. There are support groups for picky eaters. There's an eating disorder called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder that's basically characterized by "apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating." (quote taken from this article.) Research shows that picky eating can be a result of past trauma. If I told you that I'm a picky eater because my dad committed suicide when I was seven, you might think twice about judging me for it. Now, I have no idea if that's true, but it should cause you to pause and think.

So here's some training on what to say when you're at dinner and your friend orders chicken strips for the millionth time.

Nothing.

Don't say a dang thing about what they ordered. Ever. They will be expecting some kind of comment. They will be braced for impact. You will say nothing. And then they will relax. They will realize that maybe the world isn't a terrible place. And they can eat their dang chicken fingers in peace.

It's hard and weird to be a picky eater. Please don't make it harder and weirder. Maybe I'll eventually like more foods. Maybe I won't.

Love,
Asia, non-eater of fish, tomatoes, curry, peaches, pickles, jalepenos, olives, sushi, hummus, jelly, beans, jellybeans, avocados, mushrooms, mayonnaise, squash, pears, and lots more.

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