Picky Eating and Social Anxiety
Recently came across this article in Time that is interesting and useful regarding Picky eating and social anxiety and depression: http://time.com/3981050/picky-eating-health-risks/
I worry that this article will scare already frustrated and frightened parents, which is not my intent. I do think this information is important. I hope this helps increase awareness of how problematic picky eating can be (as a symptom of larger anxiety perhaps or as it's own issue) and I hope that motivates pediatricians to understand that these kids and their families need more support. I am quite certain that most picky eaters do not get referred to a specialist like myself and this makes me disapointed in our approach to health, becasue picky eating, while common, is often not normal nor completely benign.
This link between children who are moderately to severely picky in their eating and social anxiety and depression does not surprise me at all. I have worked with so many kids who are picky eaters and many, if not all of them respond with hightened anxiety around new foods, non-preferrred foods, and mealtimes- true anxiety, not just "bad behavior." It's heartbreaking, because you can see the child is physically anxious (or at worst, straight up scared) of the likelihood that he or she will be forced, cajolled, and/or strongly encouraged to eat certain new foods. And it's equally as heartbreaking to watch parents struggle with watching their kids feel anxious or scared and yet also feel so angry and frustrated with them that he or she won't just eat the foods that are served. And in many cases, I've seen this same dynamic spill over into other areas of the child's life. Often these kiddos also seem to have sensory differences, but sometimes they do not; they are just highly anxious. Dealing with the world can be overwhelming for these kids and often they retreat or seem highly disorganized, or hyperfocused on what they can control and what they do enjoy.
I often think about the irrational things that make me anxious: spiders and large bugs like cockroaches for example. I know mostly these are totally harmless but no matter how much my husband forces, cajolles, or strongly encourages me to leave a bug alone or just pick it up and carry it outside, I just can't. I imagine that my severe picky eating clients must feel similarly about new foods. This thought always helps me approach my clients with a deep sense of empathy and it's why I'm so adamant about using a combined approach that couples sensory strategies, emotional co-regulation, behavioral strategies, and consistency, rather than ever using a punative or hardline behavioral appoach. This combined approach just feels more humane to me. It also helps bring parents and kids together, rather than furthering the frustration and disconnect. And it works.