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“suddenly, steps forward”

Posted by on Nov 29, 2010 in Blog Posts | 8 comments

Here is an email from a mom I briefly corresponded with. Most of her progress she achieved through the primary intervention of reading “Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family” (Satter)

I kept telling myself that you had said it was normal and, I have to say, that mealtimes have been much more relaxed and enjoyable now that I have been able to give the older children their own responsibility… It has been hard to break the habit of praising amounts of food eaten, but we are getting there…

And then, over the past few days, suddenly there have been steps forward…On Sunday we were invited round to friends’ for lunch. I told them that we would carry on exactly like at home and if food was served straight onto plates, they should eat what they wanted and then put their cutlery together and, if asked, simply say that they’ve had enough, thank you. I can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed when out for a meal. They ate beautifully, tried everything (I think – I wasn’t actually watching them like a hawk!) and it was a lovely meal. My biggest issue was the little one  escaping from her booster seat rather than trying to force the older two to “eat a couple more bites”!

Yesterday at tea, the three-year-old had eaten what he wanted and was sitting there with his (untouched) pieces of sausage on his plate and suddenly asked: “What does that taste like?” I said that if he wanted he could try a piece and then turned my attention to something else (pretending that I wasn’t at all bothered what he did with his sausage!). When I came to clear away, he had eaten all the sausage! I’m very pleased to say that I didn’t comment at all, even though I wanted to punch the air and say “YES!” And this evening, my oldest had (wheat-free!) spaghetti with (tomato-less!) bolognaise sauce and carrots on her plate. Spaghetti always goes down well, but suddenly she said: “This sauce is delicious – could I have some more, please?” and then “If there’s any left, can I take some in my lunchbox tomorrow?” I managed not to fall off my chair and handed her the serving bowl so she could help herself. This is the child who fussed and fussed so much in the past as I tried to make her eat “just a couple of mouthfuls” of the very same bolognaise sauce.

Seeing I was so quick to write to you when I was concerned, I just wanted to share the good times with you, too, Katja, and thank you again for all your wonderful work.

I have highlighted some of the wonderful passages in this (heartwarming to me) email. Common themes emerge when instituting the DOR and learning to trust your children with eating.

• it takes patience, progress can feel painfully slow
• the first thing to change is usually the attitude. Parents tell me meals are more fun, less stressful (but still struggle to keep the worry and subsequent pressure about what and how much the kids are eating in check.)
• often, suddenly children seem to take off with skills and food acceptance after a long, trying time of seeming not to make any “progress” (hence my photo of a flower blooming in the desert)
• this ‘suddenly’ may be a long time coming if you have an especially cautious child, one with sensory issues or on the spectrum, but this trust model of feeding can and does work in those situations, but takes a lot of patience and trust from the parents
• feeding habits are hard to break (praising, pushing to eat two more bites…)
• you will probably have to fake it at first. Pretend not to care what they eat etc. It will get easier and more automatic with time.
• undue fussing and fighting over eating is most often a reaction to pressure, or crossing the lines of the Division of Responsibility, i.e you trying to do your child’s job of deciding how much to eat.
• it can and does get better
• this mom shared that she is in a recovery process from an eating disorder. Parents who haven’t figured out their own eating can do better by their children, and even find the children to be a source of healing and motivation.

Have you “suddenly” seen steps forward? Have you been able to wait it out? Do you find your child’s success to be a motivator for you? (As I did.)

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  1. dominique

    I understand! As for myself I’m 25, and after «forcing myself» into eating veggies during 4 long years, It’s been days and days since I didn’t feel like eating some. Months, in fact. I must admit that the recovery is long and I’m afraid I won’t never feel like eating veggies again, but maybe progress is as slow for grownups?

    • katja

      This is such a tough one. When I work with my adult picky eaters, there is such a sense of “I should” eat that, or I “have” to, or I will “force myself to eat X every day” and it can really spoil the process of learning to like new foods. After evaluating someones feeding and eating history, I often find that the most important thing to start with is learning to focus on eating, learning to give yourself permission to eat what tastes good now, being curious and kind with yourself, and first making the table a place you like to be. If every time you eat, you are adding to the voices that judge your eating or pressure or guilt you into trying new foods, progress might be slow… Yes, progress is slow for grownups too, but I would also ask you to rethink your idea of progress. Maybe not define it be eating a certain food, but first by taking pleasure in what you are eating now and going from there. This is a complex issue, but I will write soon about the kale that is sitting on my counter. I know I *should* eat it but for that very fact, I don’t want to,…

    • Kate


      I too (and my husband) are learning how to eat vegetables now, and we’re considerably older than you. Progress comes in fits and starts. I make myself prepare veggies every day, but that doesn’t mean I have to eat them. I usually do, because once I’ve gone to the effort… but sometimes the effort is minimal, like with a basic green salad. I also stay in my comfort zone with veggies and only once a week or sometimes once every two weeks try something new. And every so often, I’ll have a craving for a vegetable, which is still a foreign experience for me. I’ve been at this for a little over a year. I’ve been very focused on being patient with myself and so far as I am able, treat my veggie hating brain like a child separate from myself.

      • dominique

        Thank you so much Katja for your thoughtful answer. I will definitely think about that. It’s also kind of comforting to see that even you, as a doctor, can struggle with eating the «right» foods and have little voices making you prepare veggies lol! I LOVE your blog and will keep on reading. Your way to teach how to eat is pure awesomeness. :)

  2. Elizabeth

    What a heartening post.

    I do have a question, though. I know for some kids it can take a “long” time – but how long is long enough that we should be seeking some kind of professional assistance? I think my six-year-old daughter has not eaten a vegetable at dinner for something like eight months (she does eat fruit at breakfast). How much longer do I give her?

    • katja

      This is a tough one. Alas, the answer is, it depends. it depends on her feeding history, it depends on how she is currently being fed, if there is any pressure, overt or subtle or mixed messages that may be slowing down the process. Pressure can be hard to detect, and one child might react to something that another hardly notices. One family attended my workshops one year apart. At the second one, the Dad said, “We’re doing everything you say and that’s in the books and we’re not seeing them eat more veggies…” (This was of course in front of everyone which made me a little nervous.) Afterwards he came up and admitted that they still pressure and bribe certain foods, like milk which was undermining all the good work he was doing in other areas. Sadly, there aren’t many professionals who really do and get this kind of work. I would be hesitant to go to a “feeding clinic” if all else is normal, but you could consider that. I think reading as much as you can, from Child of Mine, to Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family, and really trying to be objective about how you are feeding. Are you talking about “green light foods” or “sometimes” foods, do you casually mention the health benefits of veggies, do you overly praise a sibling, or hard-sell the food? It can be very subtle. Its why video taping a meal can be helpful. If you don’t pressure, keep offering a variety of fruits and vegetables you enjoy in a pleasant setting, chances are she will come back to the veggies. it’s tough to do though.

  3. Ines Anchondo

    What an interesting post, Katja. Thank you. I often wonder about this process. For me, and this is how I describe it to parents that are curious, it is like when watching a movie suddenly all you see is people doing things and then, in the end the issue is solved. Of course, the issue wasn’t solved suddenly or unexpectedly. Parents and children needed to do conscious, concrete acts for things to change. I keep reminding myself of this.