Why You Shouldn't Pressure A Picky Eater

unhappy child sitting in front of a bowl of food
Image by mathgun

The researchers say survey participants clearly found some foods aversive, not merely unpleasant. This likely intensified their feeling of being trapped and made to do something disgusting if they were asked to eat that food.national license

Forcing a picky eater doesn’t help, survey results indicate.

In a large national survey, adults who struggled with picky eating habits as children overwhelmingly said they benefitted more from positive and encouraging strategies their parents used than forceful or coercive approaches.

The research involved people from a generation that struggled with food avoidance before it was identified in 2013 as a psychiatric condition called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

The researchers say their findings, appearing in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, provide guidance for both families and behavioral health professionals for developing best practices to deal with extreme food aversions.

When picky eating is severe, it is diagnosed as ARFID. The condition is characterized by health problems such as weight loss and nutritional deficiencies and it can also lead to social and emotional problems when mealtimes become a source of shame, friction, and/or conflict.

“It’s not surprising that positive approaches were favored, but it is surprising how overwhelming that position was among this group of adults,” says Nancy Zucker, professor in the Duke University’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Zucker is co-senior author of the study with Guillermo Sapiro, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

Zucker, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders, says the broad consensus is validation for the current treatment approach that emphasizes positive interactions: “It is robust confirmation for what had been out there in the literature and reinforces the concept that children feeling forced or pressured to eat is not helpful.”

AI sorts the data

The study launched more than a decade ago as severe food avoidance was gaining attention and research into the disorder was limited. The online survey was aimed at adults who self-identified as current picky eaters to help understand their perceptions and experiences.

More than 19,200 people were included in the survey; 75% were female and 25% were male, and 89% were white. Respondents were asked to describe the food presentation strategies their parents or caregivers used that they found to be helpful or not helpful in increasing food variety.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Survey participants were subsequently classified as either likely having an ARFID diagnosis or not, based on their degree of impairment from food avoidance. Those who reported that eating problems led to significant weight loss, nutritional deficiency, interference with job functioning, and/or interference with social relationships were categorized as likely having ARFID.

Interpreting the narrative responses from the huge cohort of participants created a logistical challenge, which the researchers solved with artificial intelligence tools.

Using a computational tool to characterize the perceived helpfulness of parent feeding strategies, the researchers applied an algorithm to interpret the meaning and/or sentiment of survey responses to characterize them as helpful or not helpful.

“From a technical perspective, this study used an AI application that understands language, not just words and sentences, but concepts of paragraphs, which was imperative here,” says J. Matías Di Martino, co-lead author with doctoral student Young Kyung Kim. Both are in Duke’s department of electrical and computer engineering. “By getting the positive and negative emotions, it enables us to analyze the comprehensive memories of nearly 20,000 people.”

What helped people with ARFID?

The researchers found that 39% of the themes regarding helpful strategies mention a positive emotional context, such as using food to teach cultural or nutritional lessons, being flexible about the approach to food, providing plenty of “safe” foods, helping with food preparation, or presenting foods from specific food groups.

Forty percent of the helpful comments noted the importance of structure around eating. Clearly defined expectations around eating were deemed to be helpful in the context of distinguishing between feeling “forced” vs. being asked to do something.

While positive and encouraging strategies were perceived as helpful in improving attitudes towards food and minimizing social discomfort around eating, many adults still struggled with a degree of avoidance/restriction. The researchers note that parents are perceived as having a positive impact despite their children’s food avoidance persisting into adulthood.

The researchers say survey participants clearly found some foods aversive, not merely unpleasant. This likely intensified their feeling of being trapped and made to do something disgusting if they were asked to eat that food.

“To our knowledge, there is no published research that identifies effective feeding strategies for those with ARFID,” Zucker says. “Figuring out the best way to feed a child with severe food avoidance can be exhausting and stressful for parents, so providing guidance is essential to improve the social and emotional eating environment for their children and reduce the distress that both parents and children have at mealtimes.”

The study received support from the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Duke University, Original Study



More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

MOST READ

baseball player w;ith white hair
Can We Be Too Old?
by Barry Vissell
We all know the expression, "You're as old as you think or feel." Too many people give up on…
climate change and flooding 7 30
Why Climate Change Is Making Flooding Worse
by Frances Davenport
Although floods are a natural occurrence, human-caused climate change is making severe flooding…
made to wear a mask 7 31
Will We Only Act On Public Health Advice If Someone Makes Us?
by Holly Seale, UNSW Sydney
Back in mid 2020, it was suggested mask use was similar to seat belt wearing in cars. Not everyone…
coffee good or bad 7 31
Mixed Messages: Is Coffee Good Or Bad For Us?
by Thomas Merritt
Coffee is good for you. Or it’s not. Maybe it is, then it isn’t, then it is again. If you drink…
nordic diet 7.31
Does The Nordic Diet Rival Its Mediterranean Counterpart For Health Benefits?
by Duane Mellor and Ekavi Georgousopoulou
Every month there seems to be a new diet doing the rounds online. One of the latest is the Nordic…
protect your pet in heatwave 7 30
How To Keep Your Pets Safe In A Heatwave
by Anne Carter, Nottingham Trent University et
As temperatures reach uncomfortably high levels, pets are likely to struggle with the heat. Here’s…
is it covid or hay fecer 8 7
Here’s How To Tell If It's Covid or Hay Fever
by Samuel J. White, and Philippe B. Wilson
With warm weather in the northern hemisphere, many people will be suffering from pollen allergies.…
inflation around the world 8 1
Inflation Is Spiking Around The World
by Christopher Decker
The 9.1% increase in U.S. consumer prices in the 12 months ending in June 2022, the highest in four…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.