Fear and Food Anxiety

We are making progress.  We have narrowed down the reasons for TJ’s resistant eating as part anxiety and very possibly an impaired sense of smell.

Smell is very important in the function of taste.  Jelly beans are a great way to better illustrate this.  Pinch your nose closed and without looking at the colour, pop a jelly bean into your mouth.  While you chew it, you’ll detect the texture (crunchy, sticky, gooey), the temperature, and the taste (sweet).  Now, unplug your nose and continue chewing.  This is when you’ll detect the flavour of the jelly bean (strawberry, watermelon, etc..).

Without the sense of smell, you can still detect the taste of sweet, salty, sour, but without retronasal air flow (from the back of the mouth up through the nose) the flavour will be missing.  It is this retronasal air direction that is blocked during a cold, for example.  TJ’s allergies, we suspect, impairs this direction of air flow.  Meat without the flavour, to him, is much like chewing on an elastic band.

Anxiety feeds a large part of TJ’s food selectivity and unless we break the anxiety cycle, he will never have a comfortable relationship with food. I’m not certain that he remembers the episodes of choking, but the trauma of the event has certainly stayed with him.  He ate something that caused him to stop breathing, obviously a frightening experience.  The next time this item shows up on his plate, he thinks it could kill him, so he avoids this particular food.  Soon, he avoids all unfamiliar food, secure in the belief that all unknown edibles are dangerous.  Familiar foods that have changed flavour or texture are seen as strange and strange things are unfamiliar… and around and around we go.

I’ve known for years that when TJ is willing to try something new, the time is golden for reclaiming lost ground, but there’s a catch.  As soon as he meets something with an unpalatable taste or an unfamiliar texture, this rare window of opportunity seals shut and we have no other choice but to wait, often several months, for it to open again.  When this happens, TJ will start to reject foods off his safe list.  At the moment, this rare window of food exploration is open and I’ll do anything to keep it that way.

While our pediatrician steers us toward (tick tock) now a five month wait for a specialist to rule out the unlikely diagnosis of autism, I focus on learning more about anxiety and how to deal with our specific brand of it. More than transforming him into an adventurous foodie, I would like TJ to feel comfortable enough with his food choices so that the inevitable future ridicule about his picky eating doesn’t continue to feed his food anxiety. Accomplishing this means knowing how to feed the child and not the monster that dictates the menu.

The following are excepts from an Anxiety UK online pamphlet that discusses common childhood anxieties:

  • Anxiety has been found to be one of the most common causes of distress in children and young people. As many as one in five primary school children suffer from a low sense of well being.
  • Anxiety can affect us all in very different ways. Experiences of anxiety can vary greatly from person to person and no two people have precisely the same experience.
  • Not all anxious children and young people will display classic characteristics (pale, clammy, crying, shaking, feeling ill). Some hide their anxiety for fear of someone finding out that they are anxious, with others showing no signs of anxiousness at all containing their feelings of anxiety inside.
  • Anxiety is not only common, but also extremely debilitating. The impact an anxiety problem impacts the whole family’s life.

The ‘fear of the fear’ often makes people feel worse as they are literally on edge waiting for bad feelings to happen; they stop doing things that link with the negative (bad) feelings or thoughts. This is called avoidance. The more that someone avoids the thing that links with feeling bad, the more they think of it as being dangerous.

Image courtesy of Anxiety UK

The fear of new foods
Some children, mainly boys, can only eat a very narrow range of foods, and show extreme anxiety if they are expected to try new foods. The foods that they usually are able to eat are usually beige, dry carbohydrates, such as biscuits, crisps, cereals or bread; dairy products such as milk or yogurt; and chocolate. This diet does not seem to be harmful to the child, who will grow normally if they are allowed to eat from their acceptable range of foods.

The fear of trying new foods stems from a normal development stage that occurs at around the age of two years (the neophobic stage). At this age children narrow down the range of foods accepted and commonly refuse foods that don’t look the same as foods that they have learned to like. Most children grow out of this stage, and are able to try and accept new foods into their diet. Some children do not move on from this stage; whatever the parents try to do. The reluctance to try new foods becomes a fear, and all new foods trigger a disgust response in the child. If the child is forced to eat foods that they cannot accept then they will often vomit, or show a gag (disgust) response. Certain food textures, such as lumpy or slimy food, can be more disgusting than others.

How to cope with food related anxiety

  • Never insist that your child eats food that they do not like.
  • Make sure that your child gets the calories that they need from the foods that they do like; whatever those foods might be.
  • Get your child used to being around the food that they fear, just getting used to the smell and being able to touch ‘disgust foods’ is a start.
  • If you are trying to get your child to taste new foods, don’t do this at mealtimes. Do it at a time when other people aren’t watching and your child is less likely to be anxious.
  • Start with very small amounts of food; just a taste will do. A food needs to be tasted quite a few times before it is accepted.
  • Make sure that your child’s school is aware of the problem. Your child may need to take ‘unhealthy’ foods in their lunch box, or be able to eat at break time. Get a letter from a health professional to support this if need be.

We have made progress. In the past year, TJ has transformed from a child who was terrified to sit at the table to one who will openly ask for something else to eat.  I have abandoned my hobby as a short order cook and found ways to let the family explore different dishes and still accommodate TJ’s food selectivity.  We have found strategies that keep that elusive window of food exploration open for longer periods of time.  Most importantly, we’ve learned that eating “normally” is not a standard that should be imposed upon TJ, instead, we encourage him to eat in a way that feels normal to him.

Fighting anxiety a long journey that we take in very deliberate and small steps, one positive experience with food at a time.

Anxiety UK

34 responses to “Fear and Food Anxiety

  1. My son is now 7 years old and HATES to try new foods, he cries, gets himself worked up, and starts to gag when new food is in his mouth. He was diagnosed with neophobia at the age of 3 and the fear of textures. He was food shamed at school today by a teacher saying what he brought to school was “all junk” and made him get a lunch tray. He packs his own lunch and has picked out his foods because he knows what he likes. We do not send him with “Hot Lunch” because we know he won’t eat any of it. His favorite foods are pizza, cereal, yogurt, anything chocolate really…. just thought I would put Tristans story out there. He takes things like crackers, Gummis, Mandarin oranges, Apple sauce, droughts… etc to school for lunch. It has never been a problem till today.

    • That’s awful! Please address that teacher’s behaviour with the the principal. Bullying is not allowed in most school environments, although it is overlooked where food is concerned.

  2. My son is 2 nearly 3 year old who was nill by mouth for the first year of his life. He then graduated slowly on milk feeds. He was supported intravenously mostly and the milk was to stimulate his gut movement. He now eats one slice of toast for breakfast. He eat raisins or wotsis sparingly. Lunch is mostly a failure. Mainly mash potatoe will be eaten at dinner. Any other accompanying food is called ” yuk”. He constantly want to end a meal times as soon as they start. Many tantrums and pretending to eat and spitting out of food (except mash) ensues. He throws things to the floor to end meals. Because his known tolerance of tastes are so low. I feel like giving him toast and mash every meal time. He does not know the benefit of eating as he never had to rely on it. Feeding is just an inconvenience to him.

    • He’s had a rough go with eating, poor bub. Toast and mash is not bad place to begin from. As your son becomes more confident with eating, he will want to follow your example… but in his own time, and at his own pace. If you try to rush him, you will be rewarded with tantrums. A rough start to eating does not mean he cannot ever have a good relationship with food. There are so many great sources of support available for families struggling with eating in the professional directory.

  3. Thank God for this blog! Thank you, thank you, thank you! My 5 year old daughter at everything up until the age of 2, then one day it was like a switch and now she will only eat plain pancakes, chicken nuggets, yogurt, cheese sandwiches, and “snacky” foods like fruit snacks, popcorn, and Cheez Its. She used to eat pizza and french toast sticks with syrup (both of which she LOVED, and now she won’t touch those either! Although, I’m ok with that because they’re not healthy choices, anyway, but now her “variety” is a lot less than what it was a few months ago). This is beyond frustrating, and everyone keeps saying “she’ll grow out of it.” And my husband says, “We should really make her sit at the table until she eats ‘real’ food like my parents did with me.” But I swear, NO ONE sees her legitimate fear, disgust, and anxiety when it comes to trying new things. Even if there’s nothing in front of her, she will cry HYSTERICALLY at the mere mention of new foods! For the longest time, I have felt like a terrible mother. For the longest time, doctors wouldn’t listen and said to just keep re-introducing foods. I feel so much better knowing that I’m not alone, and I will continue to research this more thoroughly, and speak with her new pediatrician ASAP. Again, thank you so much, and thank you to the other parents who have been commenting! I am truly, truly grateful to know that this is a real form of anxiety that exists, and now I can help my daughter appropriately. Much love and respect to you all!

    • My son is exactly the same. We have however tricked him into trying things. For example he’d have bread but not toast so I’d warn the bread in the toaster, call it toast and he’d try it thinking wow, this is just like bread. Then slowly I’d toast it more and more over about 6 months. By which time he’s eating proper toasted toast! Then I once put cheese spread on it and said it was butter. He ate it all and then I said that was cheese spread and he went mad!!! I did the same with potato smiles.. I cut them really carefully and filled them with my mashed potato! Now he will eat mashed potato on its own. It’s an extremely stressful and timely process but I do feel like I am making slow progress X

  4. So glad I found you blog. I have a 5 year old who has a very limited eating range. Our pediatrician believes his gag reflex was slow to move to the back of his mouth and his oral muscles were slow to develop. As a result he refused any textured food as a baby and would have a breakdown any time i tried. Now he’s 5 there are no physical issues but he refuses to try new food. He eats no friut, vegetables or meat. The only bread he eats is fruit bread. He eats chocolate yoghurt, vanilla custard, Nutella, chocoate LCM bars, one type of chocoate biscuits, 1 type of caramel biscuits, hot chips, vanilla ice cream, plain pancakes, vanilla cupcakes,he did eat strawberry yoghurt until Aldi changed the package and now he won’t touch it. He has toddler milk formula twice a day which i think helps him get some nutrients. We have had him assessed, I now have a $500 piece of paper that says there’s nothing wrong with him but that he’s strong willed. We have spent ALOT of money on going to an eating clinic but that made little difference. I have found it difficult to find any other local professional help for him, we live North of Brisbane QLD Australia. I have just started researching eating anxiety as our pediatrician did mention that his selective eating may be a result of that. Already I’ve got a few new ideas from your blog, so thank you and I’m hopeful they might help us make a bit of progress!

  5. My 8 year old son is a very fussy eater. He eats bread,peanut butter, honey, chocolate spread, fish fingers, dinosaur burgers, chips and potatoes. cheese on toast, chocolate and humus. he will only drink water or chocolate drinks. He was sick at a year old which seems to have triggered off his food aversions, but his dad was also a very picky eater as a child. Looking at some of the other stories above i feel I should actually consider myself lucky that he eats this much. but I often find myself wanting to sob with frustration through mealtimes when he refuses to try anything new. He also has a little sister with a medical condition who is fed by peg as she has swallow issues. She is only allowed pureed food but will ram anything into her mouth given half a chance. She will then chew and spit, which he obviously finds disgusting. She is also sick a lot. which has been very hard for him to cope with. I know that I have made his anxieties worse by being so frustrated and impatient with him. I will eat anything and have really struggled to understand that his issues are anything other than naughty obstinate behaviour. Then there are the relatives and there views on it all!! nightmare. Please tell me there is hope. Thank you for this site and the stories here, maybe we can find a way through this!

    • Beth, you have more on your plate than the average mom is equipped to cope with… and the “average mom” can leap small burdens in a single bound with a cranky toddler on her hip! What I’m seeing from his food preferences is a diet that supports a strong need for energy. It is developmentally typical, however by 8y, it is expected that kids have progressed. What we expect kids to do with food and what they are capable of achieving can be a wide variance.

      To support children who have gotten stuck at this point in their development with eating, it is our role as adults is to be predictable with feeding so children can trust us to provide for those energy needs. Once that trust is established, it becomes easier for the child to consider branching out from a small core list of foods.

      Your responsibility with feeding is what foods to serve, when to serve them, and where the food is eaten. It’s a big responsibility!! “Where” should be consistent, in a place where the focus is the company, not the food. “When” needs to be structured- plan for 3 meals and 2 snacks. “What” works best when everyone’s eating ability is considered- serve the food you enjoy with sides that your son can fill up on. Bread or potatoes with milk is fine. Once the food hits the table, your job is done. Your job is not to bribe, or reward, or plead or pressure him in any way. Now it’s your son’s turn to do his job with eating; he decides how much or if he wants to eat. Then do it again at the next meal or snack time. Offer nothing but water in between.

      I’m going to offer this for the benefit of all – you may already be doing this. Your daughter should also be part of snacks and mealtimes, even though she is currently tube fed. It is hoped that her medical complications will eventually resolve. If there is the chance that she will progress to oral eating eventually, including her in structured mealtimes sets her up for success with the process of tube weaning long before she’s ready to eat orally.

      There is hope. A more detailed process that describes supporting your family out of mealtime mayhem is included in the book “Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating,” available in the Meantime Hostage Pantry.

  6. Wow! This is a huge answer to my question “why won’t my 5 year old try new foods?”! He was once sick after eating a big portion of lasagne when he was just over 1 years old. He now eats biscuits – only 1 kind, cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets and potato smiles, sausages, cheese strings, yogurts and chocolate. He’ll drink any type of juice and Ribena. He’ll also have milk at night and in the morning. He refuses to drink out of a cup and uses a bottle type flask. I have been struggling to make him eat anything else. I have made progress however.. It was once breadsticks rather than actual bread and only Red Leicester cheese is now double Gloucester (trying to edge him towards cheddar which is easily accessible when in a restaurant)
    We have also swapped chips for potato smiles as I thought it was a slightly healthier option. A few weeks ago I made mashed potato and I sliced a potato smile open and put my own mashed potato inside. He never noticed and ate the lot! I told him afterwards and he was pleased and proud of himself. He has no problems sitting at the table with other people. Slowly I am trying to get him to eat pizza but he refuses to have melted cheese or tomato sauce. I thought maybe swapping his usual sausage for tomato sausage may be a good option. It is a very stressful process. Good luck everyone x

  7. Oh my gosh this article is a God send! I have a 7.5 year boy who ate everything until age 2. He choked on a potato and stopped eating and/or trying new things. We have allowed him to be “picky” for the last 5 years and it has put an enormous strain on our marriage. My husband doesn’t see (or may not care to see) the absolute terror my son shows when it comes to eating.

    Can you please direct me on where to start?? I live in San Antonio, Texas if that helps. Thank you!

  8. Thank goodness for a blog like yours. We have been struggling with feeding our daughter since she was about 2, maybe earlier. She had pretty extreme constipation when she was quite small (startnig around 7 months old) and has been on oral stool softner since then. We thought she had soy and dairy protein intolerance, so she has been on rice milk and alternate foods since then, then was also diagnosed with a nut allergy. I don’t know if her food issues are all anxiety related, if they stem from the intolerances and/or constipation or what. She’s 5 1/2 now and has just started going through a hospital feeding program. I don’t see any change yet (it’s been about 3 months). She lost a bunch of favourite foods over the past year (and she only had about 15 to start with). We have added some dairy to her diet and that seems to be going ok, so I guess she’s added a food or two (she likes liquid yogourt). Veggies I basically try to bake into sweet foods like pancakes or muffins. She used to be great with fruit, but now is down to very few. Meat has been mostly rejected by her her whole life (every variety and variation).
    My 2 year old son is now showing signs of being pickier and it scares me. Anyway, I’ll go to the Facebook group and see if anything there helps out. It’s so hard not knowing what to do and how to help.
    By the way, do any of you know of any books for kids? It might help her to read about other kids who have fear of foods.

    • To be honest, I thought stories would help TJ, but nothing was relevant to him. He wasn’t trying to be difficult – so books that talked about how he could change his behaviour just didn’t make sense.

      TJ still doesn’t eat meat, and he is so very sensitive to any kind of pressure – it will have to be his decision, not mine – if he ever wants to. I’ve learned to be okay with his natural vegetarian tendencies. Just shy of his 10th birthday, he’s starting to find ways to enjoy more produce – so hang in there. Progress is so small, it isn’t possible to see it on a daily basis.

  9. I was in tears reading your blog. I’m not alone with this issue. My son will literally vomit if He does not like the way something taste. I need some help with it. I feel like it’s my fault for not giving him new food when he was younger. My son is now 3. Starch: Mac n cheese (the box kind only), rice, oatmeal, cereal…no veggies..none. Only grapes for fruit. The only meat he eats is the Hilshire farm Kind. If we go to a restaurant and they don’t have fries on the menu he won’t eat anything. My son is living off of carbohydrates and oatmeal. I don’t know what to do. I’m going to stop trying to force him to try new food and just continue to feed him what he likes. But God knows I worry that when he starts school he’ll go hungry. Or will be teased. Or that he won’t grow properly. Thanks for sharing your story with me…us.

  10. Hi, my daughters case is a bit different, but I’d love to get some advice from any and all. Basically, she eats pretty much anything, so it’s not food selection that’s the issue, its actually getting her to eat. She worries that if she eats ‘too much’ she will feel sick, and potentially vomit. This means that sometimes she will only eat an extremely small amount. When she is at school or in public, it’s worse as I imagine there is a fear of the social humiliation that she believes she would experience were she to throw up in public. This stems from an incident where she was sick (fevers etc) and threw up in a restaurant. She’s never quite recovered.

    When you eat too much, sometimes chewing chewy-gum will help as it stimulates the digestive acids and speeds digestion. I used to give her some chewing gum to help her when she’d eaten too much. Now though, she only needs mint to make her feel better. Unfortunately, she is obsessive about it and will not continue to eat (or even have desert) until she’s had a mint.

    I’m lost. I don’t want her to be unhealthy, but she’s not challenging herself. I can’t even get her to take two little easter eggs to school as she won’t have chocolate at school in case it makes her sick. Dinner is probably the easiest meal of the day, as she’s at home and obviously in her comfort zone, so she will eat a decent amount.. sometimes even two serves. Other than that, she hardly has breakfast, will have a muesli bar for recess, and a sandwich for lunch (I think – I’m not there to confirm). I know this doesn’t sound like she’s completely depriving herself, but its the thought process that comes with her decisions of what and when to eat that concerns me. Help?

  11. Hi, just found this sites tonight. T J sounds just like my son (he’s four). He was a fab feeder to breast feed then at 8 mths I stopped breastfeeding and was introducing cows milk aswell as more lumpy textures of food and meat etc. He became very ill couldn’t stop being sick,pale etc in and out of hospital no explanation from doctors so a friend suggested I take cows milk and all dairy from his diet well it changed everything behaviour, development everything improved except his eating. He has this huge fear of eating foods he doesn’t like the look or smell in fear of being sick often gagging, crying refusing to even have the food any where near him! He even tells me I’m trying to poison him!! He won’t eat any fruit or veg or pasta or rice just plain beige food! It’s taken over two years with various useless paediatricians and a phone consultation with a dietitian to get him gradually back onto dairy. All this hard work and my mum in law over the Xmas hols refuse to let him leave the table until he ate her stew (my son’s worse nightmare stew /sloppy food). Making a real point of in her house younsit still and eat all your dinner and “we don’t put jam on yorkshire pudds” ectopic resulting in him sobbing. Now he’s refusing to even have veg on his plate (I always put it on as advised just incase he tried it). She’s sent him right back and believes I’m baby in him and should stop giving him what he wants no understanding and it’s really annoying me how do other people cope with interfering family who make hour child cry and damage your progress! I just wanted to scream at her but instead felt I was making excuses and then awful for my son to go through that help!

    • Oh Nicola, 😦
      Unfortunately, your experience with ‘know-better’ relatives is far too common. Trust is so crucial to feeding children – it’s so difficult to gain after repeated early negative experiences with eating and so very easy to lose. Thank you for sharing your story. If you don’t object, I would like to use it as the subject of a post. Your story is a perfect example of why we need to be vocal advocates for our children.

      Join us:

    • Hi, yes please do. All too often I hear people saying just make him eat! My mum is the only one who understands as she too has a fear of eating certain foods and knows that texture and smell are what affects her the most! She’s never eaten cheese in her 63 yrs of living due to smell, colour and the texture! Thank you for showing an interest. Kind regards nikki

  12. My 11 year old has always been a selective eater. She developed an aversion to seafood about 5 years ago. Others food started bothering her over the following years, but it was tolerable. Diagnosed with GAD after a fire in June of last year, has had CBT and is now on zoloft. Zoloft has helped in most all other areas of anxiety reduction, but we cannot make any progress with the smells. She gets nauseated/gagging with just about every restaurant. We tried in vivio exposure therapy, which led to panic attacks. Am looking for any ideas of what to try? Did recently start DOR, but trying not to pressure and just making her sit at the table with the family is making her anxious.

    • Anxiety is a nasty monster. My son would not sit at the table with us for a long time. He did not want to be around others while he ate, and is still uneasy eating around people he doesn’t know well. Guiding him to the table was a process of giving him permission to do what he was capable of, and accepting what he wasn’t. A definite turning point was the dinner of pure pasta chaos https://mealtimehostage.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/operation-pasta/
      that entirely redefined meals, all of which we did before fully embracing DOR.

      I am currently intrigued by the work of Dr. Ross Greene and his collaborative problem solving model. His book “Lost at School” goes into detail about his approach, (and how to apply it to challenging behaviour in an educational setting), however, I find it useful to help me understand what is driving the anxiety and to give my son a better sense of control over his fear.

      Another workbook by Dr. Dawn Huebner
      “What to do when you worry too much” has also been helpful.

    • Thank you for such a quick reply. Looking forward to reading much more of your blog. Hard to find anyone who understands that just eating at the table can be a huge ordeal. Those who understand have no idea how to help remedy the situation and as I explained, exposure therapy was a disaster.

      We did complete the workbook by Dr. Huebner in the summer of 2012. I will have to look into Dr. Greene’s book, thank you for the recommendation. May help in other areas too as we had to pull our daughter out of her catholic school and start homeschooling her as she was having so many issues. The school was not very helpful despite us having three physicians recommending things( just one example, she started worrying in April which locker she would get in August and they would not try to work on it with us. She didn’t want a particular locker, just any of them on the open end of the hallway, rather than the closed portion that seemed very claustrophobic to her). The only area they did give her some slack was she was getting sick in the cafeteria so on certain days she was allowed to eat alone in her classroom. Amazing thing about that, she didn’t want the other kids to know why she was eating in the classroom, so she let them think she was in trouble.

      As we have been working on DOR(at least with our dinner meals to start), your comment of “Guiding him to the table was a process of giving him permission to do what he was capable of, and accepting what he wasn’t.” really sinks in. This afternoon she got up and just pulled a stool up, but my husband made her go back to her seat. I could see she was getting so uncomfortable and used a distraction of reading some of our thankful moments that we put into a jar all through 2013. My husband and I are really trying hard to work collaboratively on this. The last thing she needs is mixed signals from us.

      Thank you again, I really appreciate anyones advice or suggestions.

  13. It was as if I was reading my 4 year olds food story. She becomes very anxious if I suggest for her to try something new. We have made progress, she licked some mashed potato but didn’t want to try it again. For breakfast she has a protein drink, lunch is peanut butter sandwiches, bland biscuits and the only thing she will eat for dinner is another peanut butter sandwich or plain cooked pasta with butter. And it must be penne. She took a huge jump tonight and I convinced her to try spaghetti and she enjoyed it. She always says she’s scared to try new food. It frustrates me because going out is a nightmare. I have to pre packed things she will eat. We went on a 2 week cruise and all she ate was buttered bread rolls. She steers well clear of colourful food. Strictly no meat. I worry she doesn’t get enough nutrition, her nails peeled off at one point and I thought it was from her diet. She will eat peeled apples, bananas and strawberries at times but not much. I’ve been to the doctor many times and he says she will grow out of it. I’m not so sure. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I would love nothing more than to go out for dinner and she would eat something off the menu.

    • I just finished reading Katja Rowell’s book Love Me Feed Me. You can buy on Amazon. I highly recommend it. I don’t have much other advice as I am struggling with a selective eater too. We also did a cruise and all she ate was ice cream if she even ate that some days. She also has a smell aversion issue and got sick every night at dinner, ruining her appetite for days on end. We are going on another cruise next month.

  14. This was very interesting reading, we are having a nightmare as our daughter has fears with texture and refuses to eat any fruit since her vomiting episodes when she was younger and we didn’t know about all the food allergies. Unfortunately, her school do not distinguish between food fear anxiety and normal fussy eating. So we have having to establish ways for our daughter to communicate her needs and how she wants it to be instead of eating or biting a food like an apple in class.

  15. Hi my youngest son wont touch foods and has a fear of new food , And advice on how to get him to even feel likes of bread etc , he is nearly 5

    • I would dig into the reasons behind the food refusal. Are there oral-motor or gastrointestinal issues, food allergies, a traumatic experience…? Is he reacting to the feeding environment – pressure to eat certain foods, certain amounts, etc..? Is he sensory sensitive and sitting with poor body support, or overwhelmed by the environment. So many things to consider.
      I don’t suggest trying to get him to try or like new foods until he’s able to satisfy his hunger on foods he is already comfortable with.
      For a more detailed explanation, “Love Me Feed Me” by Katja Rowell (MD), and “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” by Ellyn Satter will be very insightful.

    • Hi Thanks for info
      He suffered a lot of very bad throat infections and bouts of tonsillitis up until recently (fingers crossed it stays away ) He will eat big dinners with veg , meat and spud , diet is limited to yoghurts after that .

    • Your best bet is to focus on creating a relaxed and pleasant mealtime atmosphere. Including a “safe” food amongst what you serve provides your son the opportunity to satisfy his hunger within respected boundaries of feeding responsibility. Typically, once kids trust that they can find enough (even of only one thing) to eat, they tend to naturally start exploring on their own.

      Don’t worry about nutritional guidelines
      or how varied his diet is right now. Behaving nicely at the table and being relaxed around unfamiliar food is a sign that you’re on the right path.

  16. Hi, I found your blog very interesting and if you could offer me any advice on were to start with my 17 year old son I would be most grateful – he has been a poor eater from an young age and reading yours and others on google I feel it’s definitely from when he was just under 2 years old and had very enlarged tonsils. But now it’s affecting him more and more as he is an elite sportsman (golf) and his performance drops so dramatically during competitions we can guarantee his last round will be poor ! It’s a standing joke with family and friends now and we finally got him to admit yesterday in his words ” yes mum I have a problem with eating” 😦 any help on our first path for direction would be greatly appreciate from this concerned and worried parent 🙂

    • I would suggest to start with some reading:

      Try to be as supportive as you can without pressuring your son to eat. Is he able to carry a snack or beverage with him while he is playing? Talk to a RD (registered dietitian, preferably knowledgeable about the DOR) about keeping his daily caloric and nutritional intake stable.

      You may also wish to see if your son’s food aversions are sensory based – the texture and smell can make food anywhere from unpalatable to downright offensive.

      Anxiety is also very common. It will help you both to shift the focus to eating enough to sustain his energy needs (with respect to your son’s hunger), rather than eating a wide variety of foods.

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