Particularly picky eater needs help eating fruits and veggies

Originally Published: October 24, 2003 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 12, 2008
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Dear Alice,

This may sound a little weird but... I've never eaten an apple, never tried an orange, won't eat a salad, won't even taste a grape. I'm scared of fruits and vegetables. I don't know what it is, I haven't touched a fruit or vegetable since I was force fed baby food by my mom. When I was 8, I was pressured into trying a banana and I threw it right back up.

To make matters worse, I refuse to eat animals, this is more recent. I've been vegetarian (I guess you would call it that, but I don't eat vegetables) about a year now. I eat Boca burgers and meat substitutes and take one-a-day vitamins, but that's now 3 food groups that I'm lacking.

I want to be healthy. I don't wanna die when I'm 30 years old, but I just can't make myself eat fruits/vegetables. Is there ANYTHING that I can do??

Dear Reader,

Eating from all of the major food groups, predominantly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in particular, is important to maintaining a healthy body and mind.

Kudos to you for wanting to expand your eating patterns. When a negative experience or trauma in relation to food and/or eating is experienced at a young age, it is common to end up avoiding situations and/or foods that were associated with that event/person/food/time. With education, support, and time, you can learn to expand your options, enjoying additional foods. The way to do this is to incorporate new foods gradually, until you feel comfortable with the balance, variety, and moderation found in a healthy eating plan.

To help you work toward this goal, let's explore some possible strategies:

(1) You can start by recording your observations with a food journal. Notice and describe how you feel before, while, and after trying a bite of a fruit or vegetable. You might find, to your surprise, that you really enjoyed the food — for its taste, texture, aroma — beyond what you were feeling.

On the other hand, this activity may yield certain feelings as memories begin to surface and flood your consciousness. This is common when emotions and feelings have been subdued and/or repressed. Your challenge is to alter your associations from negative to positive, replacing the emotional connection with pleasurable reinforcement instead. Again, the purpose of the food journal is to allow for reflection, and to monitor your consistency and progress.

(2) You can also set a goal of tasting one new fruit and/or vegetable daily, every other day, or once a week, whatever timeframe is doable for you. It may be fun to choose among a variety of fruits and vegetables — native or exotic, chewy or crunchy, sweet or savory — the options are limitless. Clearly, you don't have to eat the entire food. You can slice a cucumber into small pieces or have 1/2 of a berry. You can cut it, look at it, smell it, lick it, pop it in your mouth, let it melt, chew it, and swallow it. Gradually, at least some of these veggies and fruits can become part of your daily eating pattern. You probably won't like everything you try and that's fine. People are different, with preferences that extend to what they eat. Start small and be patient with yourself, as the process of working through your ingrained eating preferences may not always be comfortable and can take time.

In addition, being a vegetarian does not designate a person as unhealthy. Many individuals are able to fulfill their daily protein, iron, and calcium requirements from a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle. The key is food selection and combinations. However, considering your current, extreme food restrictions, a healthy vegetarian eating plan is premature — and taking daily multivitamins to make up for your lack of variety, balance, and moderation does not substitute for getting nutrients from food, which is healthier. If you're a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with the nutritionist at x4-2284 to discuss how to eat a more healthful vegetarian eating plan that you can live with. You may also want to consider seeking the help of the Eating Disorders Team at x4-1717 to help expand your eating options.

Taking time to reflect on your childhood associations with the help of a mental health professional may further ease and expedite the process of adopting fruits and veggies on your own terms that are comfortable to you. If you are at Columbia, you can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at x4-2878.

Alice

August 31, 2004

20738
Dear Alice,

Re: the guy who does not like veggies or fruits. My sister and I do not eat fruit. I have met only one other person like this (not eating fruits). I think it has more to do with...

Dear Alice,

Re: the guy who does not like veggies or fruits. My sister and I do not eat fruit. I have met only one other person like this (not eating fruits). I think it has more to do with the texture of things. Now that I have graduated with a degree in physical therapy, I realize that my sister and I (and perhaps your other writer) could have a mild problem with tactile defensiveness, which I think that pediatric therapists recognize now and try to interceed.

Thanks,
Toby

May 9, 2004

20707
Dear Alice, I am a 32-year-old male and I am the same way. I had never heard of anyone having the same problem. Just to let the 17-year-old male know that he won't die when he's 30. I am an...
Dear Alice, I am a 32-year-old male and I am the same way. I had never heard of anyone having the same problem. Just to let the 17-year-old male know that he won't die when he's 30. I am an otherwise healthy person. Six feet tall and 200 lbs and I work out 4 - 5 times per week, so it has not stunted my growth. Although I do realize fruits and vegetables are very important, it is a completely psychological response because whenever I try to eat any fruit, I will gag! I take vitamins and drink a lot of fruit juices. I find that if I mix a vegetable into another mouthful of food, I can get it down. I want to wish him good luck.

November 21, 2003

20517
Dear Alice, In response to PARTICULARLY PICKY EATER NEEDS HELP EATING FRUITS AND VEGGIES: When I was a child, I just could not be persuaded to eat chocolate. I, too, am 17 (though not male), and...
Dear Alice, In response to PARTICULARLY PICKY EATER NEEDS HELP EATING FRUITS AND VEGGIES: When I was a child, I just could not be persuaded to eat chocolate. I, too, am 17 (though not male), and have never even tasted the stuff. (Obviously, unlike in the case of the person who asked this question, nobody has ever pressured me into trying it, but rather, people always congratulate me on my "self-discipline" when I tell them I don't eat chocolate.) Anyway, I recently took an allergy test, and discovered that I am severely allergic to chocolate. I have always found it disgusting and never wanted to eat it; perhaps this was my body's way of telling me this or something. And could it be that the person who asked this question has some similar sort of situation? You addressed his problem as a psychological one; but is it possible that it is purely physical — if not allergies, then something else? After all, he said he threw up after eating a banana; and while this could be psychological, could it not also indicate some sort of inability for his body to consume such food? This probably seems very far-fetched, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.