I remember a time when I wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t a convenience food. Most times, it was some sort of bread product or doughy white concoction, filled with cheese or doused in sugar. A vegetable would rarely meet my lips and drinking water was unthinkable – only Pepsi or Gatorade for me!
I had friends that ate differently. I saw them put veggies on their plates and eat food from different cultures but that was not for me! Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Noble Roman’s and Cracker Barrel were on my menu. That was just about it. Being healthy, to me, meant getting a Subway sandwich low on veggies and high on meat and cheese.
I’d scoff when someone would suggest I try anything new.
I. was. not. interested.
Flash forward to twenty years later and learning that you have a disease… one that if unchecked, will not only wreak havoc on your life but will invite other debilitating conditions to join the party.
The message from my doctor was clear — I had to change my diet and none of the foods listed that would help me heal sounded appetizing at all. That’s when I realized, I was a picky eater!
Many of us are or live with picky eaters; whether they are your kids who won’t eat anything but hot dogs, chicken fingers or mac ‘n cheese, or your partner who is doing all he/she can to sabotage your efforts to change the family meal plan…. That can be tough if you’re trying to make positive changes to heal, lose weight or get your energy back.
So what should you do if you’re trying to make a healthy dietary change but either you or your family are picky eaters?
Let’s tackle the 3 forces in your home that could be keeping you from making that healthy change so you can feel your best.
If you’re the picky eater, let’s talk about your resistance to making that change and taking personal responsibility for your actions.
Habit is one of the most powerful predictors of eating behavior. In fact, most of our food choices are out of habit! And picky eating is almost always a continuation of childhood eating habits. Most adult picky eaters were picky eaters as a child, and many had parents who were overly concerned with food (either positively or negatively), were obsessive about plate cleaning, or at the other end, catered to whatever the kids wanted.
So it could be that your “picky” eating preferences, are actually just habits, waiting to be changed.
Plus, almost all self-avowed picky eaters are overweight and obese, because almost universally, their preferred foods are highly processed and high in calories and fat. (I’ve never heard of a picky eater who only ate broccoli, have you??)
The problem with this is that you are hanging on to old behaviors that might have served you in childhood, but definitely aren’t serving you now. The goal is to change those habits so that you no longer see food as a battleground, but as a source of true nourishment and pleasure.
What may need to be changed first, however, is your mindset. Your mindset can either help you, by motivating you and encouraging you to make change, or it can hold you back. When you find yourself coming up against old behaviors, try these steps:
1. Make a conscious choice — that you and your energy, vitality, health is more important than that pizza, croissant, donut, bag of chips… You need to recognize that you can either be healthy or have those unhealthy foods — but not both. Research shows us that being internally motivated is essential to building habits that stick.
2. Make a firm commitment to yourself. Commit to feeding yourself nourishing foods only for one day. Once you get through that day, make a commitment to yourself for the next day. If a whole day is too daunting, try committing to one meal. Or even one bite! Research shows that breaking down new habits into the TINIEST POSSIBLE increments is a good way to create lasting change.
3. Give your pantry a makeover — If you don’t want to eat or be tempted by the foods in your house that don’t support your health, remove them! This will help your willpower, because you won’t have to exercise it choosing between healthy and unhealthy foods. Get rid of anything you know is not healthy for you and replace pantry items with the foods you want to be eating…even if that food is for your kids or partner – ask them if they will support you by being ok with you getting rid of that food. Make it a family affair where you clean out the pantry and donate the good to a charity that needs it.
Neophobia, or fear of new foods, is a pretty well documented phase that kids go through. But picky eating — where kids reject new and familiar foods — isn’t normal.
It has, however, been normalized. Kids are catered to now in ways they never were in generations past. In fact the whole concept of “kid food” versus adult food is a relatively new construct.
Food preferences are more nurture than nature. I mean, Indian kids eat spicy Indian food; Japanese kids eat weird fish and even sushi; all over the world, kids eat what their parents eat.
And here in America? We eat the SAD diet — and are becoming sadly more obese, more diabetic and more malnourished. Say WHAT? That’s right: studies show that the most obese children (and adults) are also the most malnourished, because while they might be getting an overabundance of calories, those calories tend to come from the same refined sources that are deficient in the variety of nutrients we all need.
Plus, our taste preferences develop early in life, so if we develop a preference — and a habit — for salty, fatty, sugary foods, that preference will persist into adulthood.
That’s why it’s SO important to nip a picky eating habit in the bud — the right way.
1. Set a good example – observe yourself talking about food. Do you hesitate when something new or an ingredient you don’t like is in a dish? Show your kids that you’re willing to try something new. They can only be what they see. If they don’t see you eating your vegetables or trying new foods, they won’t be interested in doing that either.
2. Involve kids in meal planning – this gets their buy-in plus they get to pick their favorite foods to incorporate in menu. You can always make healthier and nourishing versions of family favorites. It’s a win-win!
3. Stop giving the soda or sugary juice – the overly sweet taste messes up their palates. It also affects behavior and can even damage their brains. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking juice is healthy — many juices contain more sugar than a Coke!
4. Don’t buy the foods you don’t want them to eat. If you don’t have “kid foods” in the house, it’s much easier to support your kids in eating healthier whole foods.
5. Prepare only one meal for each mealtime. You are not a restaurant. Preparing a protein and a variety of vegetable dishes for each meal will give the kids options while ensuring that the kids get the nourishment they need.
If you have a serious picky eating problem, I highly recommend the blog It’s Not About Nutrition for guidance.
Your Spouse/Partner/Coworker/Friend/Family Member…
The good news about diet saboteurs is that they’re probably not doing it to be mean or to intentionally trip you up. The bad news is that they’re everywhere — in your office, your carpool, even at your dining room table.
For some, it’s about feeling insecure about their own choices. A relatively new study shows that when loved ones are critical about your choices, they’re often just projecting their own insecurities. That means that when your girlfriend wants to order dessert, she’s going to criticize or cajole you when you try to decline — because she wants to feel better about her own choice. It really has very little to do with you.
Others might be frightened by the changes in your life and afraid that you’re going to leave them behind. A spouse, for example, who refuses to get on the new eating plan with you, might secretly be afraid that if you get healthy and lose weight, you won’t want to be with him any more.
Try these tactics with saboteurs:
- Explain your reasoning. Come right out and tell people — friends, family, coworkers, anyone who comments — that you are making these changes for your health. Explain the connection between your health goals and your eating choices.
- Ask for help. Grandma may really think she’s being loving and helpful by offering you seconds of her famous casserole, so take her aside and make her a part of your team by asking for her help.
- Get off the moral high ground. If you happen to be the one preaching your new found healthy eating religion to everyone, dial it back a notch. Make sure you let friends and family members know that your choices are about you, not in any way about them.
- Be firm, but polite. Don’t give in to any kind of intimidation or cajoling. Just say, “No thank you!” with a bright smile. You don’t have to explain if you don’t want to.
There is such power in our food choices. The power to heal, to have more gusto, to lose weight. The power to have the vitality we need to perform better at work and have more energy to run around with your kids or participate in the activities that truly light up our lives.
Taking a moment to understand if your own resistance to new, healthier food choices is keeping you from having all you want in your life, and for your health, is an important step to take. Supporting your kids so they can enjoy eating healthy foods and thrive developmentally can have great long-term effects on their bodies and brains. And understanding the motivation behind people around you can help make your choices easier and your new habits easier to keep.
By taking a few, simple steps, you have the power with your food choices to make a hugely positive impact on your health and your life!