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Stupid stuff “experts” say #6: “Your child can go up to three weeks without food and be fine.”

Posted by on Jan 17, 2013 in Blog Posts | 9 comments

“Your child can go up to three weeks without food and be fine.”

This is also under the theme of “Just starve him out,” or “Only serve rice and beans until he eats them: breakfast, lunch and dinner.”


This advice was to a client from her pediatrician. The pediatrician actually said this to a mother. She also said, “No child will starve himself,” a line that I read not infrequently in “expert” articles on picky eating.

What do you think? Aside from being medically dangerous, untrue, and clueless, (and yes, a small percentage of children do refuse to eat to the point of needing medical intervention), starvation itself can trigger eating disorders in genetically predisposed individuals. But, aside from all that…

How would this FEEL as a parent? If any of you have tried the “starve them out” approach, even for a few days, how does it feel? How can this pediatrician recommend an intervention that is so agonizing for parents to follow? Where is the empathy for the child, and the parent?

I asked this mother how she thought it would feel, and advised her to trust her gut. I “gave her permission” to follow her instincts to seek a provider who would be more of an informed partner as they work on their son’s eating. I also did inform her that from my experience, and well known in the research literature, there are some children who refuse to eat, and that three weeks without oral intake is dangerous, not “fine.”

*When I have done trainings for pediatrics and FP residents, they do not learn about feeding disorders, they don’t even learn about normal development in terms of eating or basic intervention for common feeding challenges. This is not okay and has to change. Considering one in three parents will ask for help from the child’s doctor with feeding, this simply has to change.

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