The Adult Picky Eater

Everybody dislikes some foods. For most, it isn't a problem. It becomes a problem when you like such a short list of foods it's hard to get the nutrients you need. It is even more of a problem if you feel singled out, shamed and criticized by others for your food preferences. Your picky eating most likely comes from too much food pressure when you were a child, lack of exposure to unfamiliar food, or both. You, like many children, may have been especially sensitive to taste and texture. However, you could still have learned to like a variety of food had you been repeatedly exposed to unfamiliar foods without pressure to eat them.

To help yourself, begin by addressing your attitudes about eating. You are entitled to like what you like and to feel good about eating what you eat. Say to yourself, "It is all right to eat this. I just have to sit down and enjoy it." Once you learn to be kind to yourself about eating, work on protecting yourself from food pressure. Be matter-of-fact and unapologetic about saying ''yes, please,'' and ''no thank you.'' Don't complain and don't explain.

At mealtime, it is socially acceptable to:

  • Pick and choose from what is on the table
  • Decline to be served.
  • Eat only one or two food items.
  • Leave unwanted food on your plate.
  • Take more of one food when you haven't finished another.

It is not socially acceptable to:

  • Draw attention to your food refusal.
  • Request food that is not on the menu.

Once you have learned to say no, you can learn to say yes. At that point, you can begin sneaking up on new food and learning to like it. Provide yourself with regular, repeated, and unpressured opportunities to learn to like new food. Always give yourself an out: Pair familiar food with unfamiliar, foods you like with those you don't yet like, don't force yourself to eat if you don't want to. Ever-so-gradually, you can sneak up on the new food and learn to like it.

For more about eating competently (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review other resources.

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