Celebrity chef Curtis Stone has divided parents with his controversial advice about fussy eaters, with some agreeing with his tough approach and others claiming that he doesn’t understand the true depth of fussy eating. But while withholding food from picky children might work in some instances, it certainly wouldn’t work with adult fussy eaters.
Thirty-seven-year-old Michelle says that she has always been a fussy eater and won’t eat anything she perceives as "soggy." "There have been a few awkward social situations where I haven’t been able to eat the dinner a friend has cooked. Recently I was given roast beef, mashed potatoes, and peas — I can’t stand any of it so just pushed it around a bit," she says. "I’d rather go hungry than eat something I don’t like."
Likewise, Claire says that her 25-year-old boyfriend is a fussy eater. "He won’t eat any vegetables, or anything that’s not processed — he only eats packet noodles and very salty things," she says. For Claire, her partner's fussy eating is a nightmare, but she can’t force him to eat by withholding food.
Nutritionist Virginnia Thomas notes that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that adult fussy eating is a huge problem. In fact, she thinks that we all probably know at least one person with fussy eating habits. "Just think about going to dinner with friends and how many times someone says 'Oh I don't eat...,'" she says. Thomas says that in some cases, adult fussy eating is a type of disordered eating.
"[Adult fussy eating] can be caused by another disorder such as OCD or an issue with their digestive system where certain foods just don't sit right. If they were fussy as children, this can simply carry on into adulthood and negatively impact on relationships," she explains.
So what is the best way to deal with an adult fussy eater? Thomas says that tackling fussy eating in adults and children is a long slow process. “It is about repeated exposure to the food. It takes us between seven and 15 times before we like or dislike a food,” she says.
While hiding vegetables is one strategy that works (putting beetroot in a chocolate cake or cauliflower mashed in with the potato) Thomas says that it doesn't get to the heart of the issue because the person is not aware they are eating it.
Thomas suggests that in some cases, counseling might be useful. “If the avoidance is caused by a previous negative experience such as vomiting after eating the food due to a tummy bug and then always associating the food with being unwell, then seeing a counselor may help,” she says.
Non-fussy eaters might think that picky eating is a bit of a “first-world problem,” but some fussy eaters passionately believe that their eating habits are actually a part of a psychological condition that should be taken seriously.
Picky Eating Adults Support (PEAS) is an organization for people with “different tastes.” They provide an on-line space for fussy eaters to share their stories, and have made it their mission to raise awareness about this condition to help to people deal with their problems with eating.
PEAS founder Amber hopes that the group will help to normalize picky eating and welcomes newcomers to join the group. "There are thousands of other people just like you who have issues with food. You don't have to feel like you are all by yourself anymore. No one will shame you or make fun of you here. We are kindred spirits and want to make you feel comfortable," she promises.
Fifty-year-old Julie says that PEAS has helped her to overcome the shame of being a fussy eater. "My family supports me more. Sometimes it's still a problem, such as offhand comments,” she says. “But for the most part I feel accepted now."
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.