There are some things that we can definitely blame our kids for; sleepless nights, ungodly early awakenings (why are you ignoring the Glo Clock!?) and raisins smushed into the back seats of the car. But could they also be having a bigger impact on our own health and wellbeing?
Having a child that is a fussy eater can be an incredibly stressful time for parents. Before we know it we are willing our kids to at least try the broccoli, not just for the sake of eating something green, but because we are genuinely concerned about their nutrition and health. Our kids eating habits can quickly become the focus of our attention, often at the expense of our own health.
So, how can having a fussy eater kid impact our health and what can we do about it?
Stress – Having a fussy eater is stressful. The body’s natural response is to produce “fight-or-flight” stress hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine). These are the hormones that have been hard wired into our circuitry to prepare us to run away from a sabre toothed tiger. These hormones are great in the short term to stop us becoming Thunder Cat’s dinner but long term high levels of these hormones can have detrimental effects.
These hormones essentially tell the body to stop producing insulin so that we have glucose in our blood and reduce blood flow to digestive organs. Long periods of stress can cause the body to actually hold onto fat and, even worse, gather it in the abdominal area. Thanks a lot nature!
What to do about it: Take the stress away from the dinner table. Forget anything that your mum did to you. No more bribing with dessert if kids eat their veg and no more being “encouraged” to eat everything on their plates. This is where the new, and very successful, theory of Division of Responsibility comes in. This states that a parent is responsible for what, when and where a child eats, and it is the child’s responsibility as to how much and whether they eat. It can be an amazing first step toward taking the psychological battle out of meal times and can dissolve mealtime stress in no time.
Diet – Fussy eaters tend to have a big impact on both what and how the rest of the family eat. More adventurous meals are off the menu and before you know it you are rotating a small handful of safe, often beige, meals.
Fussy eaters, and kids, in general tend to prefer processed foods and snacks and these have a habit of infiltrating our kitchens and lives. What’s more, the stress that it causes parents tend to result in our bodies carving a dopamine hit and we can find ourselves drawn towards dopamine inducing sugary foods or alcohol! We also change the way that we eat. Mealtimes can be stressful, food gobbled down rather than savoured and we find ourselves mindlessly munching.
What to do about it: To take control back of our food we need to increase the variety that our kids eat… which is easier said than done with a fussy eater. The most effective way to increase the number of foods that a child will eat is to start with one new food and then increase a child’s exposure to the food. Kids will often say that they don’t like a food and then we take it off the menu for the foreseeable future. It is important to keep offering the food and to do this in a stress free environment (see Division of Responsibility above). Research has shown that it can take up to 15-20 exposure for a child to try any new food, not eat, just try a new food. By keeping on offering kids new foods, alongside foods they are already comfortable eating, a child’s food repertoire can slowly be increased.
Time – Kids are time consuming at the best of times! But fussy eater kids can be even more time consuming. We can end up cooking two different meals resulting in double the amount of time in the kitchen. We spend more time during meals whilst our kids decide if they are going to eat or not and at the end of the day we collapse on the sofa with no energy left for anything other than Netflix and chill. It’s as if we tell ourselves that we will just struggle through and have some time for ourselves once our kids have grown up… sacrificing our physical and mental health as we go. But does this make us better parents? Maybe not if it leaves us tired, stressed, out of shape and not the best version of ourselves.
What to do about it: Increase exposure to different types of food (above) and work toward everyone eating the same. You are not a short order cook! If family member eat at different times, which is very common with modern life, then there are heaps of great family recipes out there that are well suited for being eaten at different sittings. If kids eat early and adults eat later then this doesn’t mean that you have to spend double the time to cook two separate meals.
Take your time back and use it wisely. Make time to be active at least three times per week. It will make you a happier and healthier parent and result in happier healthier kids. Go to bed too! Avoid late nights in front of the tv (whilst possibly mindlessly snacking too!). I know it sounds harsh but this can be a killer for your health. Life will go on even if you miss the 6th series of Orange is the New Black! Get the rest that you need and reap the rewards in your day to day life.