Help­ing kids con­quer a ‘fear of food’

The Horowhenua Mail - - CONVERSATIONS - RUBY MACANDREW

A Welling­ton woman is of­fer­ing a life­line to par­ents strug­gling with feed­ing picky chil­dren.

Ju­dith Ye­ab­s­ley, a long­time healthy food ad­vo­cate and qual­i­fied nutri­tional ther­a­pist has, over the past year, helped more than 100 fam­i­lies na­tion­wide to get food ac­cepted by their chil­dren and she says the prob­lem is far more wide­spread than many would imag­ine.

‘‘Thirty per cent of our kids are strug­gling to eat, their par­ents are strug­gling to deal with it, and no­body is pro­vid­ing ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions for it,

‘‘Eat­ing is a learned be­hav­iour just like rid­ing a bike, so you can learn to do it dif­fer­ently. So that’s what I am teach­ing par­ents – how to en­sure their kids know how to eat.’’

Ye­ab­s­ley says fam­i­lies strug­gle to find in­for­ma­tion on how best to feed picky chil­dren, and says med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers don’t per­ceive picky eat­ing as a ma­jor prob­lem.

‘‘The prob­lem is of­ten doc­tors aren’t pick­ing it up and think kids will ‘come right’.

‘‘Kids who have ex­treme food fears will starve them­selves and that’s not un­usual. Un­for­tu­nately, there is this public myth that they won’t and you can force them to eat some­thing. That’s not true.’’

The chil­dren that Ye­ab­s­ley typ­i­cally helps, through her or­gan­i­sa­tion The Con­fi­dent Eater, suf­fer from Avoidant Re­stric­tive Food In­take Disor­der (ARFID), a newly cat­e­gorised eat­ing disor­der, where even the sight of food can make a per­son feel sick.

‘‘It can mean that you don’t eat food at all and need to be tube-fed or that you just have a very very rigid, se­lect num­ber of foods you can eat.’’

Ye­ab­s­ley says it goes far be­yond a child just be­ing ‘‘fussy’’ about food.

‘‘There are ob­vi­ously a lot of kids who would pre­fer to eat nuggets over broc­coli, but there are ac­tu­ally chil­dren for whom the thought of eat­ing that broc­coli is like eat­ing a bowl of spi­ders.’’

It’s those chil­dren she wants to help, through work­ing with par­ents to re­set the eat­ing dy­namic and mak­ing a per­sonal plan for the child that eas­ily works with the rest of what the fam­ily is eat­ing.

The goal is cre­at­ing con­fi­dent eaters, en­abling food to be cho­sen from a place of safety, not fear, she says.

‘‘I think a lot of par­ents hide as it’s re­ally stress­ful and em­bar­rass­ing for them.’’

While Ye­ab­s­ley says some chil­dren may never eat as widely as oth­ers, they can have full and en­rich­ing lives eat­ing ‘‘a rea­son­able va­ri­ety of foods’’.

‘‘It’s all about cre­at­ing con­fi­dent eaters and putting joy and re­lax­ation back into food.’’

For more in­for­ma­tion about ARFID and The Con­fi­dent Eater, visit the­con­fi­denteater.com.

RUBY MACANDREW/STUFF, 123RF

Healthy food ad­vo­cate, Ju­dith Ye­ab­s­ley, a qual­i­fied nutri­tional ther­a­pist, pro­vides strate­gies to solve the prob­lems of picky eat­ing, left, which af­fects one in three fam­i­lies in New Zealand.

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