Food and Behaviour Research

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Parent strategies for expanding food variety: Reflections of 19,239 adults with symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Kim Y, Martino M, Nicholas J, Rivera-Cancel A, ildes J, Marcus M, Sapiro G, Zucker N (2021) The International Journal of Eating Disorders Jan;55(1):108-119  DOI: 10.1002/eat.23639 

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Objective: To characterize helpful parent feeding strategies using reflections on childhood eating experiences of adults with symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Method: We explored a unique text-based dataset gathered from a population of N = 19,239 self-identified adult "picky eaters." The sample included adults with symptoms of ARFID as evidenced by marked interference in psychosocial functioning, weight loss/sustained low weight, and/or nutritional deficiency (likely ARFID), and non-ARFID participants. We leveraged state-of-the-art natural language processing (NLP) methods to classify feeding strategies that were perceived as helpful or not helpful. The best classifiers that distinguished helpful approaches were further analyzed using qualitative coding according to a grounded theory approach.

Results: NLP reliably and accurately classified the perceived helpfulness of caregivers' feeding strategies (82%) and provided information about features of helpful parent strategies using recollections of adults with varying degrees of food avoidance. Strategies perceived as forceful were regarded as not helpful. Positive and encouraging strategies were perceived as helpful in improving attitudes toward food and minimizing social discomfort around eating. Although food variety improved, adults still struggled with a degree of avoidance/restriction.

Discussion: Adults perceived that positive parent feeding strategies were helpful even though they continued to experience some degree of food avoidance. Creating a positive emotional context surrounding food and eating with others may help to eliminate psychosocial impairment and increase food approach in those with severe food avoidance. Nevertheless, additional tools to optimize parent strategies and improve individuals' capacity to incorporate avoided foods and cope with challenging eating situations are needed.


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