Are Your Children Picky Eaters?

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Picky eating may be more serious than you think.

According to the title of a story in the Washington Post, “Your kid’s picky eating may not be so harmless after all.”

The story is based on a study conducted at Duke University, which found the following:

“[E]ven children with moderate selective-eating problems were found to be associated with elevated psychiatric symptoms of depression, social anxiety and generalized anxiety. Moderate selective eating was also associated with symptoms of ADHD and separation anxiety.”

The article further clarifies:

“These aren't children who don't like eating their broccoli, the study's author notes. But rather, for these kids, selective eating creates difficulty in their home life and, in severe cases, inhibits their ability to eat with others.”

Of course, some kids grow out of their picky ways; but others don’t. And as some of you have no doubt discovered, when severely picky eaters become adults, it can be a real source of contention in relationships. Adults who are extremely selective about food and drink can end up restricting the diets of those who live with them (who wants to cook two separate meals?). They can also end up curtailing social activities with significant others, since many restaurants or dinner parties may not serve a type of food they like.

Picky eaters are typically hurt when those whom they love complain about their selective diets. But the latter probably have good reason to be upset. After all, traditionally, picking eating was considered a form of gluttony.

We usually associate gluttony with overeating, but that’s only one form the vice takes. The broader definition of gluttony is an inordinate desire related to food or drink. That can include overconsumption, but it can also include overselectivity regarding the type or quality of food and drink.  

A memorable passage in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters captures this other meaning of gluttony:

"My dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled by it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished—one day, I hope, will be—to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile ‘Oh please, please ... all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast’. You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance. In a crowded restaurant she gives a little scream at the plate which some overworked waitress has set before her and says, ‘Oh, that's far, far too much! Take it away and bring me about a quarter of it’. If challenged, she would say she was doing this to avoid waste; in reality she does it because the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want.”

If picky eating is indeed a form of gluttony, then it’s not merely a particular character trait to be endured, but a vice to be overcome through struggle and effort.

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