HAVERTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — Millions of people are picky eaters, but when children have extreme limits on what they eat, it can cause all sorts of issues. Experts at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia now have new insights on what causes the disorder and what the best way to treat it is.
The research says parents can be trained on how to get their kids to eat. It involves selective rewards and patience. The research says picky eaters are basically disgusted by many foods — it’s not a mental health issue or the parent’s fault.
Ten-year-old Brendan Gust is eating broccoli and other foods that used to never cross his lips.
Here’s what his diet used to consist of. “Crackers, Goldfish, one brand of American cheese and one brand of yogurt,” Kelly Gust, Brendan’s mom, said.
Gust was worried about nutrition and family meals were difficult and stressful.
“It kind of made me feel bad,” Brendan said.
Desperate for help, the Havertown family turned to Katherine Dahlsgaard at CHOP.
“The technical name for it in the field is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder or ARFID,” Dahlsgaard said.
An expert in treating extreme picky eaters, she says parents usually get blamed unfairly.
“I think picky eaters are born, not made,” Dahlsgaard said.
Traditional therapy involves coaxing children into trying things they don’t like with some kind of reward.
“Let’s set a clearer target goal,” Dahlsgaard said.
Dahlsgaard also teaches parents how to do food challenges at home, which is just as successful, according to a study she just completed.
“Good parenting is you get your child to do things they don’t want to do all the time,” Dahlsgaard said. “It’s called teeth brushing and going to bed. Food is the same thing. Initially, it’s going to be experiencing a lot of whining and resistance. That’s OK.”
“She really gave us tools to use at home,” Kelly said.
Gust says it took a while, but Brendan eventually started trying new foods with a reward system that gave him extra screentime.
“He’s now more willing and wanting to try new foods now on his own without us pushing him to,” Gust said.
Most recently, he’s eating meat and even combinations he used to avoid like spaghetti and meatballs.
“I didn’t really like it at first then I got used to it,” Brendan said.
“It’s all kind of crazy how far he’s come,” Gust said.
How do you know if a child has a food intake disorder? Experts say when the behavior is disruptive to the child and family, that’s when treatment is advised.
Experts say it’s important to limit snacking. Hunger at mealtime improves the chances that children will eat what they’re served.
For more information on the do’s and don’ts on picky eaters, click here.