Just Stubborn or Your Fussy Eater Needs Help?
Your fussy eater needs help, or is the child just a stubborn little cherub? Did you know, experts do not have a universally accepted definition of fussy eating? Well parents certainly know it when they see it, hear it, and live it. Children become more aware of the food that’s served to them when they enter the toddler stage, and it is natural for them to offer a little resistance to eating for a while. However, for some children being fussy about food, is a lot more pronounced and challenging, for them and their parents. What does fussy eating look like to parents and researchers? When is it time to get professional help?
Fussy Eaters Commonly Exhibit Some or All of these Behaviours
- Have a limited range of foods that they will accept. They often refuse foods such as vegetables, fruit, and meat,
- Refuse to try anything new,
- Thoroughly examine the food they are served,
- Balk at the shape, the colour, the smell, or the texture of foods,
- Show strong likes or dislikes for specific foods. They may prefer drinks to food, for example, they drink a lot of milk,
- Have strong expectations on food presentation, e.g. will not accept foods that touch each other,
- Show little enjoyment of food,
- Eat very slowly,
- Show limited appetite. Would rather not eat if the food is challenging. They seem able to skip eating.
- Can have meltdowns, or display some level of anxiety, when it’s mealtime,
- Range of accepted foods keeps narrowing. In fact, they may drop foods they used to like,
- Ability to socialise (sleepovers, parties) is affected. They worry about what they will eat if they go to…
- Engage in battles over food with parents. Mealtimes are unpleasant and stressful for all,
- Worry “what if I don’t like it?”. They start to define themselves as fussy eaters. They become stuck.
- Are not growing out of it. Parents start to realise that ‘your-child-will-grow-out-of-it’ advice is not accurate, nor is ‘starve him and he’ll eat’.
- Nutritional outcomes are a concern due to avoiding entire food groups.
Fussy Eater Needs Help – What Does the Research Tell Us
It is important to know as a parent that this is not your fault. Indeed, you may wonder why child number 1 eats everything, while child number 2, is extremely fussy. Researchers tell us:
Fussy Eating is common in childhood
Parents reporting fussy eating by children increases from 19% to 50%, between the ages of 4 and 24 months. At this stage, the main culprit is food neophobia, a normal developmental stage for most children, who will outgrow their fussy eating phase. Children who exhibit most of the behaviours listed above need help to overcome their extreme fussy eating: it is not a phase.
Fussy Eating may Persist in Adulthood
Some extreme fussy eaters grow into fussy eating adults, but there is very little research as to the prevalence of fussy eating in adults. However, 75% of adults who identified as fussy eaters said that the pattern started in childhood.
Fussy Eating and Genes
Genetics traits may be partly to blame because, the same genes that predict a child’s sweet tooth, also influence the rejection of bitterness. For 25 percent of people, known as supertasters, bitter flavours are perceived to a greater, more unpleasant level. Aromas can also be challenging for some, and depending on genetics, a food smell can be pleasant or unpleasant.
Fussy Eating and Nutrition
Some studies report lower intakes of minerals and vitamins, others report less calorie intake, but there are also a number of studies finding no such worrying trends for your regular fussy eater. The effect of fussy eating on a growth trajectory in children and teenagers is unknown, but if you are worried about your child’s weight or growth, the best thing to do is talk to your GP. Deficiencies in iron or zinc intake may also have a negative impact on appetite. Long-term deficiencies and consequences of extreme fussy eating are important concerns.
Fussy Eating and Constipation
Constipation may occur in children who are fussy eaters because they do not consume enough fibre. Constipation needs to be addressed, because it can make a child uncomfortable, to the point where it affects their eating. Click here find out more.
Fussy Eating, Allergies, Reflux and Vomiting
Lactose intolerance, or food allergies and associated pain or discomfort, may cause negative associations with eating.
Fussy Eating and Oral Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity
Children with oral hypersensitivity may also develop adverse reactions to feeding, due to the abnormally strong and unpleasant sensation(s) associated with different types of food. Children may struggle with eating due to a lack of feedback as they process food in their mouths, this hyposensitivity may contribute to refusal to eat.
Fussy Eating and oral-motor skills
Children who are fussy eaters, may also have poor oral-motor skills. It can be a catch 22, as the limited range of food they eat will not promote the development of good oral-motor skills. When concerned, parents can talk to their doctor and get a referral to see a speech-language pathologist.
Fussy Eating and Autism
Children on the spectrum, are more likely to be extreme fussy eaters. They become very selective as they are uncomfortable with many of the sensory aspects of food and eating. A colour, the appearance, a smell, a taste, a texture, a temperature, may put them off their food. They often have sensory processing difficulties. These children and their families will often need some help, to help them succeed.
Fussy Eating, Anxiety and ADHD
A study published in 2015, compared groups of children with moderate Selective Eating and severe Selecting Eating. They showed that children with both moderate and severe levels of Selective Eating, were associated with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. As Selective Eating became more severe, the severity of Anxiety and ADHD also increased.
Fussy Eating is a Cause of Concern to Parents
Parents worry when their child rejects nourishing foods; they worry about their child’s nutrition intake, physical growth, and mental development. This can affect a parent’s confidence to cater to their child’s needs and causes negativity, struggles, and stress at mealtimes.
Social Aspects of Fussy Eating
Fussy Eating can impact a child’s ability to socialise and to enjoy mealtime with the family. The longer fussy eating lasts the more repercussions on their social life as a child, a teenager, and an adult. Fussy eating, when extreme can be debilitating. It is best to help families and children early, as years of difficulties compound and children develop anxiety around food.
How to Determine When Your Fussy Eater Needs Help
Most children will outgrow their fussy eating phase, and the earlier parents start tackling the issue, the better. Here you can download my free e-book to get you started. You can also listen to this podcast I did recently with ABC babytalk with Penny. When children display most of the behaviours listed, parents usually know instinctively that it is serious.
They do the rounds adding worry to worry until they find someone who hears them. There are several types of professionals who can help: speech therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, and psychologists. It is important to choose someone who understands feeding as well as the pressure that parents and children find themselves under.
What to do if Your Fussy Eater Needs Help
I am happy to talk to you about the signs of fussy eating and discuss strategies for you and your child. I provide free 15 min assessments to determine if your child is truly a fussy eater and, if your fussy eater needs help, I offer online or in-home programs to assist (Fussy eater specialist for home | Online fussy eating program). So stop worrying unduly and book your free assessment today.
(Carruth BR et Al, 2004), J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jan;104(1 Suppl 1):s57-64.
Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food.
(Taylor et Al. 2015) Appetite. 2015 Dec;95:349-59. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.026. Epub 2015 Jul 29.Picky/fussy eating in children: Review of definitions, assessment, prevalence and dietary intakes.
(Mascola et Al, 2010)Eat Behav. 2010 Dec;11(4):253-7. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2010.05.006. Epub 2010 May 27. Picky eating during childhood: a longitudinal study to age 11 years.
(Golding et al. 2009)Associations between the Ability to Detect a Bitter Taste, Dietary Behavior, and Growth
Article in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1170(1):553-7 · August 2009 with 17 ReadsDOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04482.x · Source: PubMed
Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating Nancy Zucker, William Copeland, Lauren Franz, Kimberly Carpenter, Lori Keeling, Adrian Angold and Helen Egger Pediatrics September 2015, 136 (3) e582-e590; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2386