"Freaky Eater" Intervention

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Playing Diagnosing the Cause of Extremely Selective Eating

As far back as Tiffany can remember, she has had a strong distaste for certain foods, specifically meats and vegetables. Ever since her early childhood, her diet has consisted primarily of cheese pizzas, bagels, French fries and other simple carbohydrates.

Tiffany labels herself a “freaky eater” because unlike the typical picky eater, she says she wants to try new foods but her hypersensitive gag reflex makes her physically incapable of swallowing them. “I enjoy smelling the food. It’s the texture, the mushiness, that makes me gag, and the thought of trying the food triggers anxiety,” she says.

Over time, Tiffany’s restrictive diet led to a vitamin B12 deficiency and a low blood platelet count, which caused her to have high-risk pregnancies. “My biggest fear is my health problems will progress,” she says.

Psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow suspects that Tiffany has avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, also known as selective eating disorder. While there may be a psychological component involved, Dr. Dow says there also can be a biological explanation for the condition.

Dr. Dow explains that an estimated 25 percent of all people have an enhanced sense of taste due to an abnormally high number of taste buds. These so-called “supertasters” tend to be extremely picky eaters; in addition, they can have an increased risk for developing nutritional deficiencies, as they often avoid vegetables and other bitter, nutrient-rich foods.

“The best treatment, if you are a supertaster, is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy,” Dr. Dow says. “It’s called graded exposure therapy, which is a really fancy way of saying, ‘baby steps.’”

Watch Dr. Dow use graded exposure therapy to help Tiffany overcome her unhealthy aversion to eating new foods.