Is My Kid’s Picky Eating a Problem?

Picky eating can be a normal part of childhood as toddlers and young children assert their independence. If kids are growing well and socially engaged, parents can be reassured that picky eating is likely a phase that will pass. But sometimes, it goes too far.

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID, is a relatively newly described eating disorder estimated to affect 3-4% of the population. Typically showing up in childhood, ARFID is essentially extreme picky eating that persists and impacts physical health and psychosocial functioning. Those with ARFID may eat only a few foods—pasta with butter, chicken tenders, and potato chips, for example—
and, with such a limited diet, may develop nutritional deficiencies. These kids are at risk for growth deficiencies as they struggle to take in enough food to reach their expected weight and height. ARFID can also place undue burdens on families around food. Parents may report that the family can’t eat outside the house because their child will only eat one specific food prepared in a certain way. Some with ARFID struggle with fears around food and eating and often can point to a specific triggering event, such as a
choking or vomiting episode or a severe allergic reaction that preceded the restrictive eating. Many report a heightened sensitivity to tastes or textures which cause food aversions. Others display a simple lack of interest in eating. Whatever the reasons for the food restrictions, the consequences can be serious and widespread, potentially affecting nearly every organ system and often requiring medical attention.

Luckily, there are psychological and medical interventions that can help treat ARFID, and new research in this area is leading to exciting new treatment options. If you think your child has ARFID, talk to your healthcare professional, who can for further assess your child and help you find the appropriate treatment.

Leslie A. Kaplan, MD, CEDS (Certified Eating Disorder Specialist), helps adolescents and young adults overcome eating disorders. Utilizing two decades of experience in various clinical settings, Dr. Kaplan joined the Calabasas Pediatrics Wellness Center to assist young people in the clutches of eating disorders become their best selves.