Selective Eating Issues

Russell Hemmings

So, what is a Selective Eating Issue? (SEI)

A person who selectively eats will only consume anything that they consider to be ‘safe’ or ‘acceptable’ to them. A selective eater will avoid food with a particular taste, smell, texture or colour. Some experience anxiety at the very thought of certain foods, and simply cannot bear to touch or have them near them

For reference, there is a term you may have heard recently, and that’s “Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder” or “ARFID”. This is the professional characterisation of the issue. As my approach is centred around a more holistic and tailored to the individual, I like to steer clear of the broader medical terminology and stick to “Selective Eating Issues” or “SEI” for short.

I’m often asked, “what is the difference between being a ‘fussy eater’ and people with SEI?” The key differentiator is that people with SEI potentially have a very complex and multi-layered relationship with food, they may have a phobia about certain foods, a very restricted diet, sensory aversions to certain tastes and textures or even swallowing or gag reflex problems. Fussy eating on the other hand, is unlikely to negatively impact a person’s life to any great extent.

So, how do you know if you, a loved one, or a child may have a SEI?

The core symptom of SEI is anxiety. People with SEI often become distressed when they are encouraged to try different foods, either because of a phobia, or the fear of choking or vomiting as a result of eating it. They also tend to exclude themselves from certain social situations. Frequently SEI is characterised by an aversion to entire food groups such as all fruits, vegetables or pulses.

Are any of the following behaviours a concern for you or someone you care about?

  • • Anxious around mealtimes
  • • Avoiding particular types of food
  • • Not eating enough food to be nutritionally healthy and satisfied
  • • Displaying a lack of interest in food or lack of appetite – sometimes missing meals altogether when distracted
  • • Taking a long time over mealtimes
  • • Only eating certain textures of food and maintaining a limited range of options
  • • Avoiding eating in social scenarios
  • • Fears choking or vomiting
  • • Weight loss without lifestyle change
  • • Stunted growth in children
  • •Developing nutritional deficiencies

Could now be a good time to connect with Russell?