Your Life: Treating picky eaters

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Children are known for being picky eaters.

While many children will grow out of it, it can be a debilitating problem for others if not treated.

We have all heard of toddlers who only eat food that is white or won't taste different foods because of their textures; many kids grow out of it.
But when an older child's range of food is so small that it causes daily life interruptions and family stress, it is a problem experts say needs to be professionally treated.

For 12-year-old Isa Boix, one of the most bland foods, plain Greek yogurt, nearly causes her to gag.

"I would rather eat seaweed for the rest of my life than have a taste of Greek yogurt," Isa said.

Isa's father enrolled her in a clinic with Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard of CHOP when it became clear her food limitations were causing extreme mood swings, social anxiety at school, tension at home and concerns about her health.

Her diet consisted of just pasta, mashed potatoes and rice.

"It was a growing sense she wasn't getting the vitamins she needed. There was always a level of anxiety because if we were going outside the house, would they have something she is able to eat?" Isa's father Trino Boix said.

"Picky eating is not an anxiety disorder, it's an eating disorder. It's interfering with your ability to be like other kids or have the same experiences as other kids," Dr. Dahlsgaard said.

While watching Isa during a session isn't easy, there have been improvements.

Dr. Dahlsgaard likens herself to a sports coach helping kids practice and practice until they can do it on their own.

She helps them recognize sweet, sour, and savory while praising them when they try new things or grow to like something they previously wouldn't eat.

"The basis of successful treatment for picky eating is eating. It's not talking about it, it's not going back and trying to find the cause of it, it's practice," Dr. Dahlsgaard said.

Both Dr. Dahlsgaard and Isa agree that the old technique 'just try a bite to see if you like it' simply doesn't work.

"Normally for me, I take around seven bites of a food before it gets better for me," Isa said.

Isa is now eating hamburgers, steak, fruit, and even a pepperoni calzone.

Dr. Daalsgaard says the most common misconception is that picky eaters are spoiled. She said that just isn't the case.

For more advice on how to help your picky eater and when to seek professional help, head to my Facebook page.

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