If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little obsessed with picky eating. So when I heard about Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, a book dedicated to helping people understand fussy eaters, I knew I had to read it and report back to you.
There are numerous books on how to get picky eaters (mostly children) to eat a wider variety of foods. But Stephanie Lucianovic, a picky eater herself, wanted to examine the why’s behind her predicament. She starts with her upbringing, when her fussiness started. Her parents enforced a 3-bite rule, meaning she had to take 3 bites of every food that was served. She admits to dreading most mealtimes as a child and often gagging on the food she was made to eat.
She writes (in a very humorous and light-hearted way) about various reasons that could have led to her picky eating, such as being a supertaster which included a visit to the well-known Monell Center in Pennsylvania. She moves from taste to the other senses and how they affect eating such as smell and texture. For picky eaters, how food smells and feels in the mouth is often what causes the rejection. And then there’s the sensitive gag-reflex, which she learned to tame as an adult by getting advice from a sword swallower!
Picky eating in adults is a newly discovered issue so she completes the Food F.A.D. study, (Finicky Eating in Adults) questionnaire, the first major study to delve into adult picky eating. She has a whole chapter dedicated to feeding children (Are you a Hypomomdriac?) and she digs into topics related to kids’ picky eating — and our obsession with raising kids who eat it all. Of course this is my favorite chapter and she discusses feeding clinics and interviews a dietitian and other feeding experts.
Lucianovic also touches on the anxiety that affects how picky eaters feel physically when it comes to eating. Being anxious about eating can result in physical symptoms at the table– meaning food doesn’t digest properly and appetite can be poor. This is the reason when forced to eat, some picky eaters will throw up.
What is most amazing of all is how she overcomes her picky eating by becoming a foodie and going to culinary school. She believes that picky eaters gain control by going into the kitchen and many foodies are actually picky eaters in disguise — but it’s more socially acceptable because they focus more on the quality rather than avoiding healthy foods. She provides various tips on how adult picky eaters can navigate their food environment as well as their relationships.
While she doesn’t get a clear-cut answer to her picky eating, she gives the reader insight into how the causes are likely different for everyone. But most importantly, she shows how this way of eating is really not a choice at all. And a lack of understanding is what causes much of the pain associated with it, whether it’s a mom blaming herself for a fussy a child or an adult feeling shame for not being able to attend a dinner party.
Much of the advice given is the same advice you will find here — don’t pressure, have meal times be fun and relaxing and above all be patient. With the expertise in feeding that I have, I couldn’t help but notice how Lucianovic underestimates her parents three-bites rule in her quest to find answers (she says it was “moderate”.) That is probably because some of her friends had to clean their plates (and she painfully shares the story of her having to clean a plate of succotash at a friend’s house — a food she will not eat now). But I think she might have overcome her picky eating sooner if she wasn’t made to eat food that truly revolted her.
We have a long way to go toward understanding why some people are more prone to picky eating, and others never outgrow it at all. But this book is an important start to that conversation. If you are dealing with picky eating either with yourself, your significant other or a child, this book will enhance your understanding and will definitely make you laugh. It my opinion, this book is long overdue because without understanding, it’s hard to find solutions.
How has picky eating affected your life?
For more with Stephanie Lucianovic see my interview with her on WebMD. I also plan to post one of her veggie recipes in an upcoming post.