Helping kids conquer a ‘fear of food’
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.
Left, healthy food advocate, Judith Yeabsley, a qualified nutritional therapist, provides strategies to solve the problems of picky eating, above, which affects one in three families in New Zealand.