Myths about fussy eating

When kids don’t eat and fuss and complain over all you offer…

Myth 1. Eating is the body’s no. 1 priority.

Actually, it’s not!! Breathing is the body’s no. 1 priority. Postural stability is no. 2 (to make sure you don’t fall on your head and damage that very important brain). Eating is only no. 3. Plus there are a whole heap of body systems that can affect appetite. Problems with respiratory function (i.e. breathing), the cardiovascular system (breathing again) and the digestive system all change how much food will interest you or not.

Myth 2. Eating is instinctive.

It’s natural, we think. Everybody just does it. Firstly, go back to Myth #1 (Eating is not the body’s no. 1 priority). And then appreciate that premature babies need to be taught to feed. So it’s not instinctive for them. Being born early means some of the primitive reflexes haven’t had a chance to develop, which in turn affects developmental skills out of the womb. One of the skills affected will be the skill of eating.

Myth 3. Eating is easy.

For most people, it is. See Myth #2. Yet appetite as a stimulus for eating only lasts for the first 4-6 weeks of life, then the primitive reflexes take over as stimulus up until the age of 4-6 months. So anywhere between the age of 1-6 months, a child is learning all the co-ordination and skills in preparation for the future skill of eating, with the help of their primitive reflexes. After 6 months, it’s all about voluntary choice AND LEARNING how to eat (or not eat, or maybe, kinda, sometimes eat).

Myth 4. Eating is a 2 step process.

You sit down, and you eat. Wow it is far more complex than that!! There are 8 senses you use when you eat. You use your visual sense (how it looks), auditory sense (how the food sounds when you eat it), sense of smell, sense of taste, sense of touch (is it hard and crunchy or soft and squish). That’s 5 so far already. Throw in also the vestibular sense (the body’s sense of balance), the proprioceptive sense (the body’s sense of where it is in space) and the interoceptive sense (the body’s sense of what is going on internally). There is only one other activity that use all 8 senses at once. I’ll give you a clue, it starts with S..

Myth 5. It is not ok to play with your food.

Please do!! Playing with food is what small children are meant to do. They learn all sorts of things about it. Is it moist and soft and squishy and cool and I can paint with it, or is it rough and chunky and tastes salty. Does it look like something I know? Does it move a funny way? This is why we see all those photos on the net of kids covered in food and grinning from ear to ear!! They might be playing, but it is play with a purpose. You think- just put it in your mouth and eat it. They think, hey I’m conducting some great science experiments here with my food, so when I DO eat it, I know exactly what I’m dealing with here.

Myth 6. If a child is hungry, they will eat. They will not starve.

Actually they do. Feeding tubes are on the rise in the USA because children stop eating. If you’re wondering why appetite doesn’t kick in and get a child eating, see Myth # 1 and 3. If you don’t have the skill to eat, you just can’t, even if you really really want to. I may want to speak another language, but there’s now way I can suddenly do that, even if I really really want to. If a child does not have the skills to eat, they will not eat.

Myth 7. Children only need to eat x3/ day. Grazing just stops them from being hungry.

Children tend to be grazers because of their small stomach sizes. Make a fist with your hand- that’s the size of your stomach and roughly how much food you will be able to fit into that. Make a fist with your child’s hand. Kinda small isn’t it. Use this brilliant picture guide of how much a child under 4 can eat

Credit: Myths of fussy eating are adapted from material by Kay Toomey SOS Feeding Therapy. Permission granted for use.