We all have foods we don’t like. Everyone does. Lately, though, I have begun to see eating, or lack of, on a continuum. Here are the categories, which I have named: preferential, picky, and restrictive eating.
Based on my definition, most people would fall in the preferential eating category. We all have foods we don’t like, but there may only be a handful of them. Some of us may not like many vegetables, choose not to eat meat, or not like the flavors of a certain type of cuisine. We have preferences.
The next stop on the continuum is picky eating. A picky eater would be someone like myE. She has always been more choosy about what she would eat, even with baby food. Picky eaters are the ones that, although there are foods they don’t like, the list of those foods is shorter than the list of foods that they will eat. And, while there are many things picky eaters won’t eat, there is usually a pattern or reason for their choices. It may be the texture or flavor of certain foods that they don’t like. Although it is difficult to have a picky eater in the family, there are options and ways around it.
Then, there’s O. He’s is what I would call a restrictive eater. Restrictive eating occurs when the list of things you like is much shorter than the list of things you don’t. And, while this aversion to certain foods could be based on texture or taste, it might also be based on color, size, shape, etc.
One example…O will only eat penne pasta. Even though all pasta tastes the same no matter what the shape, he will only eat penne. The same is true for chicken nuggets. Owill only eat nuggets a specific brand of dinosaur-shaped nuggets or those from McDonalds. This is what I would call restrictive. This is one of the biggest daily challenges for O, and for me too.
Another thing that makes a difference for O is the temperature of the food. It can’t be too hot or too cold. And, this can change. Things he ate straight from the refrigerator last week, he may need warmed up a bit this week.
Choosing not to eat specific foods based on these criteria does not make sense to most of us. For those of you who are thinking, “She is exaggerating” or “Surely, he would eat if was really hungry,” read this article. One of my friends, who is also a sensory-mama, posted a link to it on Facebook recently. It explains restrictive eating beautifully.
One of the biggest concerns about the restrictive eating is nutrition. Is O’s body getting all that it needs to function adequately? Even though O is growing, has continued to maintain a healthy weight, and his brain is developing, it is still a concern in the back of my mind. On the positives side, on O’s list of preferred foods are a variety of fruits and milk!
What can make this food struggle even more difficult is when the store is out of the brand of chicken nuggets that he will eat. I’ve tried other brands, but they were “too squishy” or “smelled funny” and he refused to eat them. It is also difficult to go out to eat spontaneously, unless we go to McDonalds, which is the only restaurant where O will eat food that was not brought in his lunch box.
I’m convinced that even though O doesn’t eat that many foods, he thinks about food more than the rest of us do. For us, food is just food. It’s not a stressor. There’s nothing about it that causes us anxiety. But for him, there clearly is.
What can I do? Will this always be an issue?
Even though it’s something that causes him anxiety, we have to work on it, eventually. He is being introduced to and trying new foods at preschool. This is difficult for him, but he does it, shaky hands and all. I have been gathering resources on this topic for the past several months, mostly about how to introduce new foods and approach this whole issue of eating. I think I have enough information to get started. It will be a long process and there are multiple steps. But, I think I’m ready. Maybe.