FUSSY EATER MYTH #4: CHILDREN REFUSE TO TRY NEW FOODS BECAUSE THEY ARE STUBBORN OR ‘TESTING’ BOUNDARIES



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Without doubt children have very different personalities and some are much more on the feisty end of the scale than others, but this is NOT directly related to refusing to try or eat a particular food.  Passive, laid back children can be just as fussy when it comes to food as extremely big characters.  In fact, some estimates now suggest that around 50% of children will be identified as ‘fussy’ at some point.

And here’s one of the main reasons why…

At around 18 months it is extremely common for children to develop a degree of what psychologists refer to as neophobia, fear of new foods.   It is thought to be the remnants of a survival instinct to keep newly mobile neanderthal toddler safe from eating new foods such as berries that could potentially have been poisonous.

So, they are not being stubborn but just protecting themselves – and as annoying as it is, it’s also pretty clever!

Some of the forms that neophobia can take include refusal of any food that:

>> They have not been seen before

>> They have had before but that looks slightly different e.g. different packaging, different type or shape cracker, different colour jelly

>> Looks like something they tasted once and disliked

>> Is broken (e.g. biscuit) or has black or brown specks in it e.g. Burnt toast or banana seeds

>> Is mixed together so they can’t see what it is made up of

>> Is touching or contaminated by a food that they don’t like

>> Looks like something disgusting e.g. spaghetti because it looks like worms or I remember my son refusing to eat a rice cake because he could ‘see’ a spider in it.

So when you understand WHY this behaviour is happening and that your child is not being ‘difficult’ but is genuinely afraid and unable to explain or understand it themselves, it makes it a LITTLE easier to tolerate!

The good news is that these fears tend to pass by around age 6.

The bad news is that if we are unprepared for this stage and are unsure how to handle it, we can easily make it worse and BECOME a longer-term problem.  This is particularly the case if it causes significant parental tension and stress and the child starts to feel controlled or to associate strong emotions with mealtimes or particular foods.

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

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MY JOURNEY TO FUSS-FREE EATING



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I think even as a very young child I knew deep down that being ‘forced’ to eat and rigid mealtime rules just weren’t right.

I remember sitting at the dining table feeling so confused; I wasn’t particular hungry, I’d eaten all the ‘nice’ bits on my plate, and just the mere sight of this vile looking stuff called liver made me want to heave.

In fact, it scared me. It looked so fleshy and strange and weirdly-coloured, as though it were alive and would attack my insides.

And yet, here I was, being told by my most trusted people that it was good for me, that I had to eat it, and that unless I ate it I couldn’t get down from the table, let alone have the much-coveted pudding.

My memory is very hazy of how long I actually sat there. It felt years.  But I was a desperately compliant child, so perhaps it wasn’t that long in reality.  Eventually, I must have been exhausted enough to stuff my feelings and somehow clear my plate.

Well, of course I did, what choice did I have??  I wanted my parents’ love and approval, I feared losing their love and approval, I wanted more than anything to be a ‘good’ girl.

And so right there was where it began; the process of their beliefs about my ‘goodness’ ever so gradually replacing my inner wisdom, my inner knowing, my innate ability to listen to my body, my needs and desires.

 

I tell this story not for any sort of sympathy and most definitely not as a dig at my parents. They were doing what they thought best, I absolutely, 100% believe that.

I tell it because I want to show you where it got me: 

Did I ‘learn’ to love liver by being forced to eat it? 

Nope, I still detest the stuff and wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

Did I learn to love many of the other foods, mainly meat, that I spent the longest time at the table desperately hoping would magically vaporise if I stared at them long enough?

Not at all.  I still don’t particularly like meat, and usually choose another option.

Did hearing about starving children or my mother’s account of having to kill, pluck and eat every single bit of the chickens they raised on their farm make me feel ‘better’ and encouraged to eat?

Of course not. I felt worse: shitty and ungrateful.

Did not being able to have pudding until I had my main course help ‘teach’ me the nutritional importance of food?

Er, no.  But, amongst other things, it did ‘teach’ me that sweet food has an elevated status, and that even though it was adored by my brain, it is actually ‘bad’ to eat.  Unless, of course, you are already very full from your main course, in which case it’s perfectly okay.  Mega confusing.

Did it keep me healthy, nourished and satiated as a child?

The first two are debatable, but possibly: I was physically pretty healthy.  But satiated?  No, in fact, I seemed to spend a lot of time feeling hungry. There are a number of cringe-making family stories of long walks out with me constantly whining and crying for food, and of me ‘stealing’ my brother’s Easter loot.

Did it set me up for long-term love of food, a happy relationship with food?

Don’t be daft.  I craved junk food and had very disorderly and emotional eating from a very young age, which eventually led to pretty severe bulimia for over 10 years.  I battled for years to detach emotions from food, and I’m so grateful to have won that war now.

But in the past, eating lots made me feel ‘good’, ‘better’, and it replaced the empty feeling of being disconnected from my own self-love and inner wisdom. There were, of course, other factors that led to this illness too (not least, a genetic element) and I’m not in any way proposing direct causation.  But still.  It definitely didn’t help.

Fast forward to now, to raising and feeding my own three kids.

Jeez, it can get complicated. It did get complicated. Despite the GREATEST of intentions, I reckon I’ve managed at some point in my 8 years of parenting to repeat every pattern in my history and make possibly every feeding-your-kids screw up under the sun.  Seriously.

I also have incredible resistance to being bothered to cook for my family at all; it quite frankly bores the pants off me.

BUT, and you need to hear this, I have been incredibly blessed.  I have finally found a way.  A way that works.  A way that takes the stress and anxiety out of feeding my kids.  A way that is clear and simple and, dare I say it, sometimes even feels pretty fun and liberating.

 But oh so crucially, a way that frees you from food battles and your child from emotional eating.  A way that gives your child the gift of a healthy, happy relationship with food FOR LIFE.  

And it’s changed things so very much for me and many other families, that I realised that I had to find a way to share and teach it to others.

And here it is:  My 6 week, one-to-one ‘FUSS-FREE EATING FOR LIFE’ intensive coaching program.

It’s a highly personalised and intensive program and so I have limited spaces each month – just follow this link to apply to work with me.

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