One puzzling aspect of eating disorders in general is that some people’s bodies can deteriorate in as little as six months while others may show no symptoms even after 10 years with an eating disorder.

Whether picky eating is dangerous is uncertain. “It depends,” says Kronberg, who is a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association. “Clearly there are some disadvantages and some potentially destructive results, but other people seem to adapt.”

10 Secrets to Helping Young Picky Eaters

1. Don’t use food as rewards or bribes.
2. Kids eat what adults eat.
3. Eat family meals together.
4. Eat a variety of veggies.
5. Say, “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it,” at every meal.
6. Don’t allow snacking. It’s OK to feel hungry.
7. Eat slowly.
8. Avoid processed food.
9. You should try a food multiple times before deciding whether you really like it. It may require seven to
12 tastings to be sure.
10. Try variations. Raw kale may seem weird, but you probably wouldn’t notice it pureed in a smoothie.

Sources: Dietitian nutritionist Jessica Crandall and French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the general manager at Denver Wellness and Nutrition-Sodexo, says picky eating can result in nutritional deficiencies and long-term health complications. Avoiding food groups like fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber, can cause greater abdominal adiposity, or stomach fat, which can lead to complications like diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. It can also raise the risk of colon cancer. Hard-core picky eaters, she says, “are absolutely putting themselves at risk for nutritional deficiencies.”

Even so, how selective eating affects life span is hard to say. “As a nutritionist,” ­Kronberg notes, “I have to believe that
the more we give our body what it needs, the more it will respond to us. Is the selective eating these people do in their best interest? Because that’s the way their brains and bodies are organized from way back when.”

There’s no simple explanation for what makes picky eaters different. Oversensitivity to certain textures seems to be a factor, says psychiatrist Nancy Zucker, who is director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders.

Selective eaters may be turned off by foods with slimy or gelatinous textures — like cooked spinach or Jell-O — says Dr. Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist. The slippery bits inside a fresh tomato can be repulsive. And they do not like surprises. “They may like nuts and they may like brownies,” says Pelchat, “but not nuts in brownies.”

In some cases, picky eaters may have a more sensitive sense of taste. In others, there can be a fear of anything new.

Despite the social stigma associated with being an adult picky eater, those with the disorder cannot eat the foods they find repulsive. When asked whether they would consider taking a pill that would make them able to eat like everyone else, most surveyed said they would not, reports Pelchat. “When I look at food, I don’t see food,” says Lopez. She finds foods such as hot dogs, escargot, pizza and spaghetti inedible.