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The Effects of Picky Eating & ADHD
Research suggests that the population of children with ADHD is larger than initially thought. ADHD affects 3 to 5 percent of school-age children or more than 2 million school-age kids in the United States. The vast majority of these children are boys, but the sex ratio is more significant among preschoolers. These children are characterized by symptoms of ADHD such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. However, aside from these common problems of having an ADHD brain, there's a far more unsettling struggle a child with ADHD can sometimes encounter.
One of the exacerbating traits of ADHD is that it can sometimes affect a child's eating habits. Several studies have shown the connection between picky eating and ADHD.
What Are Picky Eaters?
Picky eaters are kids or adults 🙋♀️ with selective eating habits where the foods consumed are limited in variety, taste, or texture. The main issue with being a picky eater is that it leaves the child lacking the necessary nutrients needed for day-to-day life.
Picky eaters also tend to be passive about what they eat. This means that they are reluctant to try new foods, and if forced to, it will take them longer than usual to do so. The underlying problem with selective eating habits is that the nutrition they get from their meals is relatively low. The nutritious foods are sometimes skipped for something more familiar in taste.
There are lots of children, even without ADHD, who can struggle with picky eating. They are sometimes more inclined to foods that their taste buds find favorable, such as sugary foods and meals that they are already familiar with.
Sometimes, negative association with the food's color, characteristics, texture, or appearance may cause some children with ADHD to never try eating them at all 🥺. For example, when a child with ADHD doesn’t like the smell of a fully pasteurized milk cheese, their sensory defensiveness might not let him taste anything that can be associated with cheese in general.
ADHD and Picky eating can be associated with the brain's dopamine activity. Children with ADHD are prone to have low levels of this neurotransmitter. This means that children with ADHD usually prefer food with high levels of fat or sugar because they cause a “dopamine surge.”
Of course, the dopamine level is not always the cause, but it is associated with selective eaters.
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Picky Eating And Other Eating Disorders
Selective eating isn't exclusive to children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There are instances where these children grow up, but they still have the eating habits they developed when they were young.
Being picky with what they eat might mean that special meals are often part of the food preparation. After all, parents want their children to eat. However, if selective eating won't be addressed early on, further psychological problems may emerge. 😭
There are specific comorbidities that can be associated with picky eaters. Sometimes, selective eating can be symptomatic of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. These children may obsess over certain foods while restricting their consumption of other available food sources. Picky eating is also associated with depression, social anxiety, and even worsening ADHD symptoms.
Note that selective eating doesn’t automatically mean the child will have the mentioned mental health disorders. But, a long-term deficiency in nutrients brought about by picky eating may lead to other health problems. 😨 This is why parents of children with ADHD must address picky eating habits before they turn into something more serious.
Preventing Selective Eating: When Kids Only Eat These Certain Foods
Doctors believe that picky eating can be minimized as long as parents know how they can handle their children's selection in foods. For instance, parents can take control of the situation by reducing exposure to favorite foods in exchange for exposure to new flavors, textures, and healthy snacks.
Below are several steps that parents can take to prevent selective eaters from having a bad association with food in general, especially if it is an ADHD child:
- Many clinicians suggest that parents should engage their children in meal preparations, and they should let them get involved in deciding what to cook for breakfast, lunch or dinner 🍲. This will give them an idea of what is going into their meals, so they don't give negative association to specific foods.
- Some doctors suggest that playing games during meal times will benefit kids with ADHD because it distracts their brain from focusing on food qualities. 😉 This way, parents can encourage their children to try new things without getting anxious about whether or not they will have sensory issues with the meal they will have. Just be cautious in your game selection 🛑: make sure that it doesn’t increase the risk of choking. Also, playing games may take their attention away from any food, causing them to not eat at all.
- Try to introduce a healthy selection of food to help your child get all the prescribed nutrients they need, especially if they won't eat certain vegetables and fruits. These kinds of food are suitable for the brain because it contains fiber, carbohydrates, minerals, and other micronutrients that can help prevent future problems with selective eating.
- Doctors also recommend using reward charts 📅 to encourage picky eaters to try different things. Children should be given stars or stickers for trying new foods and eat a certain number of healthy meal stuff before having their favorite snacks.
- As much as possible, serve a variety of food during breakfast. Offer meals with enough protein, nutrients, carbohydrates, and even sugar. This way, kids can have options on what they want to eat, and they won't get the chance to get agitated with picking certain foods.
Dealing with kids - or even adults - who are picky eaters has its struggles. However, it is good to remember that kids will learn to try new things in their own time, and they will soon get used to seeing different foods that can be part of their healthy diet. The sensory experience they will eventually encounter can be helpful for them to explore more of their palate's preference in satisfying their hunger. As they grow older, kids will ultimately overcome the fear of trying new things, and they will start to enjoy their time with food. ❤️
ADHD and Picky Eating: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Is picky eating a sign of ADHD?
Picky eating is not an official sign or symptom of ADHD. However, experts agree that the two are strongly connected as many kids with ADHD are also picky eaters.
How does ADHD affect a child’s (or adult’s) eating habits?
Experts found a link between dopamine and picky eating. As it is, many children and adults with ADHD have low dopamine levels. Due to this, they might prefer sugary foods because they can trigger a dopamine surge. Besides this, ADHD symptoms, like sensory overload and being easily distracted can also affect eating habits.
Why is it important to address picky eating early on?
It’s crucial to address picky eating early on because it can affect the child’s nutrition. Being picky can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can then lead to health issues. Moreover, picky eating is associated with other mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, and anorexia nervosa.