While I’ve always been a lover of new foods, finding joy in exploring new flavours, textures and cuisines, I can clearly remember my two brothers not experiencing food in the same way. As a child, I couldn’t understand why they would fight against our family meals and eat only their favoured foods – in this case, marmite on toast or chicken nuggets. Despite my parents’ best efforts, they often had to accept the failed argument and return to the table with the usual selection. After all, the most important thing was ensuring we were fed, and after a full day of work, why would they use energy on a battle they wouldn’t win?
Fussy eating (also known as picky eating or selective eating) is incredibly common in young children, especially between the ages of three and six. It’s characterised by an unwillingness to eat unfamiliar foods, try new foods, as well as having strong food preferences.
Often, children will grow out of it as their tastes change and they become more inquisitive, however, there are cases where this behaviour continues into adulthood. It’s here that it can become more of a problem, as relationships develop and social events begin to circulate around food, the person may feel embarrassed by their limited palette. Teens and young adults may also start to notice problems with their health – tiredness, lacklustre skin and hair, and difficulty exerting themselves physically.
What your child is exhibiting is perfectly normal. Fussy eating is quite often about control and independence, and it will pass
While two common causes of fussy eating include parents having a limited diet or a traumatic event that has resulted in a fear or hatred of certain types of food, reasons behind this behaviour can vary. If you’re a parent and your child is showing signs of picky eating, firstly know that they may well grow out of it on their own. Be patient and know that you’re doing all you can.
But if it does appear to be becoming a problem, there are steps you can take to work with your child to introduce new foods and textures. Likewise, if you’re a young person or adult experiencing these behaviours, there is help available. Hypnotherapy, in particular, is an approach that can be effective in helping you to overcome fussy eating, and introduce you to the joys and health benefits a varied diet can bring.
“In most cases, children aren’t born fussy eaters, so hypnotherapy can help to understand why they are saying no to certain foods, and yes to others,” explains cognitive hypnotherapist Sophie Parker. “Being a parent to a child with fussy eating habits is not a reflection of how good a parent you are. I am a foodie, so when my daughter was weaning, I earnestly introduced her to a range of foods. She ate what I ate from six months old, but despite my efforts, my daughter can still sometimes be picky about what she will eat.”
Hypnotherapy can be an effective approach for those who have anxieties or fears around food. With the support of a hypnotherapist, you can learn to quiet the mind and address negative behaviours at a subconscious level, using the power of suggestion. Sessions will often focus on lowering the anxiety around trying new foods, as well as providing you with the tools to practise self-hypnosis and mindfulness techniques throughout your journey and life.
“A hypnotherapist can uncover what event or experiences have led to the dislike or unwillingness to try new and eat certain types of foods. With children, this will be through storytelling and engaging their imagination to reframe their experience with food.”
As well as hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and solution-focused therapy can be useful in helping to understand what triggers the fear or anxiety around food, and identify what changes need to be made.
More often than not, fussy eating in young children is a phase. If you believe it’s a behaviour that isn’t going to go away and/or they’re expressing frustration in the behaviour themselves, you may benefit from seeking support from either a hypnotherapist, a nutritional therapist, and/or a medical professional.
“It’s important for parents not to blame themselves for their children’s fussy eating habits. It’s considered normal for children to be picky about what they eat, or be ‘neophobic’ and avoid new or unfamiliar foods,” says Sophie. “Fussy eating is quite often about control and independence, and it will pass. The fact is, most children become less fussy as they grow older.
“Food neophobia is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps to prevent the ingestion of potentially harmful foods until children learn what is safe to eat. Framing fussy eating within this context can help you to see things from your child’s perspectives. Ultimately, fussy eating habits come down to control and consistency, which explains why some children may favour more foods like pasta and bread, which in their minds, are tried and tested in terms of look, texture and taste.
“The key to overcoming fussy eating habits is exposure to a variety of foods and starting small,” Sophie says. “It can take children up to 15 tries before they form a preference for something, so consistency is key. When you want to introduce something new, make sure it’s not their main meal, and involve them.
Sophie suggests turning it into a game, as emotions of surprise and delight can make eating a fun experience. “It takes the pressure off by focusing on the activity, rather than eating itself, especially if you’re worried about them going hungry, as you’re still serving them tried and tested favourites.”
If you’re a parent of a picky eater, know that you’re doing the best you can. Mealtimes can be incredibly emotive and stressful for both you and your child, but you’re not alone in this. Speak to friends, seek out fellow parents and support groups, and share experiences and tips. The chances are, your child will start trying new foods on their own.
And if not, help is available. Hypnotherapy can be a successful therapy for adults and children alike, helping to gain a better understanding of what and why these behaviours came about, and how to overcome them and enjoy all the joys food and mealtimes can bring.
Sophie Parker is a cognitive hypnotherapist, coach and NLP master practitioner. For more tips and advice on fussy eating, read Sophie’s article, Tips for overcoming fussy eating behaviours in children.
You can contact Sophie and seek more support with picky eating on our free-to-use Happiful app. You can also connect with over 1,500 hypnotherapists working online and across the UK on Hypnotherapy Directory.
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