What is ‘picky eating’? Dietician explains signs and causes

In childhood, picky eating is common. There, however, are times when one should be concerned. “Picky eating may leave out important nutrients needed for child’s growth and in adults, it may lead to deficiencies or serious eating disorders,” said Lakshita Jain, certified clinical dietician, and founder of NUTR.


One big reason for picky eating is diet trends which require you to remove certain foods or even a whole food group. Picky eating on milk and wheat have become common and in the long-term, may lead to deficiencies, diet guilt and in some food disorders, she said.

Four signs to look for

*Avoiding entire food groups
*Impacted growth and weight gain
*Exhibiting anxiety, worry or obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies
*Lack of hunger


It is normal for your ‘perfect’ eater to become more ‘picky’ around 15-18 months. Most children really don’t need very much food, since their growth slows at this stage, said Jain.

“Parents are responsible for what foods and drinks are offered to children, when meals and snacks are served, and how the food is presented. Introducing different food in early stages of life makes the food plate varied. Remember, picky kids become picky adults,” she Jain.

food, healthy diet Excluding vegetables and fruits from your diet can lead to certain deficiencies. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Food disorders

Picky eating doesn’t lead to food disorders, but eliminating a certain food to look good and lose weight can, noted Jain.

Three most common food disorders:

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is a common eating disorder especially in young women to avoid weight gain. This means vomiting (purging) or excessive exercising and fasting after heavy meals. They eat their meals properly but then vomit to throw out the food, mentioned Jain.

Anorexia Nervosa

It is a “life-threatening eating disorder” where the person has distorted body image and unwarranted fear of being overweight. He or she has below-normal weight through starvation or too much exercise.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Individuals find the very sight of food makes them feel sick, anxious or afraid, and will often restrict their intake to just a few ‘safe’ foods. “Often miscategorised as picky eating, ARFID is a serious condition that can affect people of all ages and has serious impacts on health,” Jain said.

Ways to avoid picky eating

Start slow

Add one food item to a meal and don’t introduce new food unless comfortable with the last one.

Don’t pressure eat

Don’t get pressured by parents or peer groups to eat a certain food. Instead, take your time and enjoy the substitute and have a small portion of new food.

Cooking method

Change the form of food you don’t like. For example, if your child is picky eating on green vegetables, make it in puree form and add it in dals, sabzi or knead dough with it.

Consult a doctor 

Taking help from a professional will be a healthy way of introducing new foods, said Jain.

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