Make it Work for You: Adapting Your Space (PLUS a Product Review)

There is a huge emphasis in our society on being flexible, and not inconveniencing anyone. Not asking for more, or taking up space. While there is value in being adaptive, there is also sacrifice. This can lead to chronically unmet needs, and conditions that are not supportive to our health and wellbeing. Recognizing unmet needs, and figuring out creative ways to meet them, can be an empowering and healthful journey. With this in mind, I've set out to try and make my workplace- where I spent a ridiculous number of hours every day- work better for me.

I started with making my workplace feel welcoming. This has included some aesthetically questionable choices like taping letters I'm proud of, gifts from clients (mostly poems and sketches from my memory care clients), & dying flowers I find on walks directly onto my wall at eye level. I picked my favourite oils for a diffuser, so it smells nice (and less like cat box). The content will be ever evolving, reflecting what is happening in each phase. The actual physical desk part has been the larger project, and where the product review comes in.

 I have amazing clients, FYI.

I have amazing clients, FYI.

Standing desks have become more trendier with the "sitting is the new smoking" rhetoric- this is a perspective that has been spoken to many times, and is not what I want to discuss in this post. I want to speak to the use of standing desks as adaptive equipment that can be beneficial for disabilities, injuries, and general wellbeing. To me, this is an expansive point of view on what a healthy lifestyle is- a way of living that supports health and wellbeing, that is actually individualized. It goes beyond what we think of as a "healthy lifestyle" of vegetables and moving more (which might not be healthful for some people), but into what actually promotes health for you. When I think of adaptive desks, Frida Kahlo's desk also comes to mind- modified so she could lie in bed to paint when sitting became unbearable. Maybe you need to sit more, maybe you need to stand more, maybe you need to lie completely flat- whatever is most helpful for you, you should be able to pursue that without hesitation.

With the popularity of different styles and heights of desks, I've done some pretty DIY modifications in the past to see how they feel- when I was a student I had an old bookshelf that had one thick shelf that was the right height for me to stand at and study. When AnthroDesk contacted me to see if I wanted to try out one of their products, I was excited to try a "proper" standing desk. The timing couldn't have been better- I had an enormous amount of studying to do for a course, and coming out of a recent painful health event I was having a difficult time getting comfortable in any one position for long periods of time. Back and pelvic pain is associated with some of my health conditions, and sitting for long periods of time can be tedious, uncomfortable, and distracting.

I do most of my work on a laptop, so they sent me the manual desk converter to try for free (in exchange for an honest opinion about my experience). The desk literally took me 5 minutes to assemble while watching an episode of Call the Midwife.

I started standing for a period of time, then placing it on the floor as a handy side table while I sat.  I find when I'm standing I can focus for longer, and can sway, stretch, stand on alternate feet etc. It is dynamic, especially because I alternate between sitting and standing while working. The variety means longer focus, more alertness, and more physical variety to a monotonous day of studying and working. I typically wear a TENS unit to manage back comfort for long studying sessions, and have used it considerably less, which is a reliable indicator that I am feeling less pain when I am able to alternate between sitting and standing. While it is maybe not the most secure, and not an intended use, I found it really convenient to balance my laptop on the frame, and take notes on the surface.

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Something to note is that it does take up some space if you are alternating sitting with standing, so you'd have to make sure it works with your workspace. For someone with decreased strength, it could be challenging to lift it up and down.

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I'm very pleased to see the difference that adjusting one aspect of my workplace can make. What could you change in your environment to make your life more comfortable, and promote your wellbeing? When you push past the trends, fads, and what you are told you "should" be doing- what remains that will make your life more healthful and vital?

Reflections from a Palliative Care Dietitian

I do a lot of work with perinatal clients, but huge part of what I do is palliative care. I have been working in palliative and end of life care as a dietitian for almost two years now. When I first started, I found it challenging, engaging, and a paradigm shift from what so much of my schooling had taught me. As the months went on, I found myself in the middle of a slowly unraveling existential crisis. There were a few thoughts that kept returning to me, as I sat with people every day that were dealing with the nearness of death. These thoughts were:

I will die.

Everyone I love will die.

All of us, our brain and body, are very organic and will experience various damage and dysfunction in the course of a lifetime.

What really matters when we understand that we will die?

The ways I had figured out to cope through my (naturally) self-centred early 20’s were brought into question. They didn’t have a response for any of these thoughts. I employed “know thyself” and decided that I needed more information from a different perspective for my analytical self, and started volunteering with hospice. Through volunteering, I was able to develop some understanding to help face these thoughts. The education from counsellors, spiritual teachers, doctors, nurses, and the bereaved loved ones was invaluable in advancing my understanding of my life and my work. Reflecting on this, here are some of the things I found.

I feel less entitled to have good health. To borrow from Steven Novella “We are messy biology. We are just meat that thinks.” There is a persistent pressure in our society to be perfect, or to always be striving for some kind of perfect ideal with clear skin, a bright mind, a taught body, flawless digestion, endless energy, and free of any disease. The truth is there are bumps, flaws, messiness, and discomfort in our bodies and lives that have no solution. Things happen that have no justification, that make no sense. That does not make us any less worthy. That doesn’t make us weak or at fault. Changes in your health might require a process of grief, and that doesn’t make you weak either. We will all experience good and bad health, at different times.

A big part of my job is sitting next to my patients, answering their questions, and being a witness to their grief at each progressive loss. When they can no longer chew or swallow, when they can't taste anymore, they can find themselves facing a reality they never imagined. Releasing all their expectations of how their body "should be" is a very private, individual process.

Releasing our entitlement makes it easier to connect with our sick and dying loved ones. Feeling entitled to good health, as if one day we will “solve” all the pesky problem of our health failing, promotes a denial of death. This passage from the book “I don’t know what to say” really brought home the consequences of these thoughts:

When a person is dying, his friends and family can no longer deny the reality of death. But if they have no previously acknowledged its existence, they will be ill prepared to face it. The denial of death creates a barrier between the dying person and the rest of society; the person facing death seems to have stepped outside the boundaries of our society before he has taken leave of life. He becomes isolated, set apart from his friends by the conventions of society at the very time that he most needs our support
— Dr. Robert Buckman

I take love more seriously. In "All About Love" bell hooks said " Contemplating death has always been a subject that leads me back to love." A doctor I work with us reminds us that all we have at the end is love- we continue to respond to the presence of our loved ones, their voices, their smells, their touch, when we have stopped responding to anything else. A patient I got especially close to shared that she learned more about people and love in the last few weeks of her life than she ever had before. She gently pushed me to think about who I love and how do I express that to them.

I consider “Why not?” more often. Some people might find this kind of reflection on death to be depressing or morbid. They might feel it would lead to a sense of giving up, of “why would I do anything at all”.  Overall, I have found it to have done the opposite in my life. It has brought a new sense of “why not” into my day-to-day. Why not strive to be the biggest, best, kindest selves? Why not try being courageous for others? Why not reach out? Why not experiment with love, in all of it’s forms? A quote from Cheryl Strayed that I return to often when I'm struggling over a decision: "We're all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it's dinnertime."

  One less sunset.

One less sunset.

Time Spent in Diet Culture: My many failed attempts at fixing all my health problems

Diet culture is a system that values your weight, body size, and appearance over your wellbeing. It brings morality into what you eat and your appearance. Diet culture is what makes those addicted to stimulants hesitant to stop, because they would rather be thin and using than gain weight during recovery. Diet culture tells us we can cure most complex illnesses and challenges by eating less processed foods and thinking positively. Diet culture is what kept shows like The Biggest Loser on the air, even though they objectively caused considerable harm to the health of the participants. Diet culture is toxic and does not promote wellbeing. There is so much to talk about when it comes to diet culture, but in this post I want to discuss my experiences with diet culture while dealing with health problems.

My journey into the real depths of dieting culture happened at the bridge between being a teenager and a young adult, like it does for so many. I had the usual suite of high school body insecurities, but also was an athlete, and most of my focus went into becoming a better rower. Once in university, I started rowing with the varsity program. It was extremely challenging and I loved it. Then, I failed the physical. I had a heart condition that I had grown up with, and it didn't occur to me that I wouldn't be allowed to row for safety concerns. This was devastating. It was the first time I realized the limitations of my heart condition, and I started to really fear it. I was scared that it would mean I wouldn't be able to travel, or be a doctor (my dream at the time).

While dealing with my heart issues, I started eating in secret- I hid food in my dorm, and would go out  at certain hours to buy food when I knew I wouldn't run into anyone. I was eating meat again after years of ethical vegetarianism, but didn't want any of my vegetarian friends to know. I felt deeply ashamed that I was using food to cope with my discomfort. After stopping rowing, I noticed that my body began to change- all my clothes fit differently, and my features started to look different. I started to do "cleanses" to try and "stabilize" all the changes I was experiencing. I got my first tattoo for my 18th birthday and the studio had a question to make sure you had eaten recently so you wouldn't faint. I hadn't eaten in the last 24 hrs, but I lied and said I had. Instead of this being a red flag, I just thought this studio was uninformed of the benefits of fasting and had no idea how fine I was when I went periods of time without eating. Their problem, not mine.

This was the start of years of dieting in various ways. I had two heart surgeries in my first two years of university, and floundered with generalized anxiety and depression. The dieting intensified when I started struggling with endometriosis and the associated chronic pain. I went from regular ethical vegetarianism to frequently fasting, becoming vegan to be "cleaner", then into the world of paleo eating, LCHF, primal, perfect health diet, ketosis, and focusing on obscure micronutrients and mineral ratios. When I started my dietetics program, I was spending hours every day reading articles, participating in forums, and listening to podcasts about low carb diets. I thought I knew these big truths that everyone else was missing. I couldn't wait to learn how to research better so that I could communicate all my findings in a more effective, scientific manner. Diet cultures makes you feel like you have found "the truth" and everyone else is just ignorant. It can also help you feel like you belong- that you are not alone. My first friendships with other people experiencing chronic pain and illnesses was from meeting people on diet forums.

In the meantime- my health did not improve. I would make a dietary change, be really excited that this would finally work, experience a brief, glowing moment of placebo effect, then as the novelty wore off I would go back to experiencing the exact same signs and symptoms. I would end up in a clinic or the ER every once in a while with unmanageable levels of pain, and would leave with a two year wait for a referral, a script for 10 naproxen, and little hope. As my eating became more extreme and unreliable, I started to actually feel worse. My energy levels plummeted, and I kept blaming brain fog when I was purposely not eating for most of the day and intermittently binging when I couldn't restrict anymore. I would get so upset with myself, that I should just try harder and I would get better. I almost exclusively wore black and grey clothes, and hoped that I wouldn't get noticed. Diet culture thrives on shame, and makes you feel solely responsible for your failure to control your health and your eating. Diet culture also thrives off the failures of our society to listen to those experiencing illness or health challenges adequately. Diet culture can fill the gap when there are no accessible treatments or management offered. When there is little to turn to, diet culture becomes a promising option.

My weight would go down when I was experiencing very high levels of pain and anxiety, and would go up when I wasn't. This brought so many feelings of conflict, because as I lost weight I would get so many comments that I was "looking healthy" or "looking great", when that was always when I was feeling my worst. On the other hand, this was one of my first realizations that maybe diet culture isn't right- if I was supposedly getting healthier when I was thinner, than why did I feel so much worse. Diet culture says weight loss is a good thing no matter what caused it. 

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There was no singular moment when I saw the light and suddenly broke free from the clutches of diet culture.

It has been a slow, difficult journey. In moments of stress and pain I still sometimes question if I did the right thing, or if I should have kept "trying harder", but I can't deny how much better I feel now that I'm not obsessing over every thing I eat.

I slowly started actually treating my health conditions with medical and complimentary approach treatments, and though I was never "cured", I felt much better. It took thin privilege, financial help, and the right chance encounters with certain professionals for this to happen. I had only one doctor half heartedly suggest that weight loss could help my condition- I'm sure that if I was in a larger body that I would have been pushed to pursue weight loss and it would have been even harder to access helpful treatments. I slowly loosened up my diet restrictions, one at a time, and noticed that I actually could eat a liberal, varied diet. After I was comfortable with my new flexible diet, I started to explore what I actually like to eat and how different things made me feel. I slowly, and with help, worked on my body image so that I could make healthy changes without backtracking based on changes to my appearance and weight. I worked on what it means to have illnesses and experience profound physical pain, without blaming myself or feeling like I need to be doing more about it all the time.

I became entrenched in dieting culture in the same way so many do- I came to fix a health problem that had barely anything to do with food, but there were so many people and products more than ready to tell me that changing my diet was the answer to all my problems. I was desperate, and diet culture loves desperation.

I wish I had spent more time reading about disability activists, and less time reading another dozen articles about gluten. I wish I had reached out to more friends to tell them I was struggling, and taken less expensive vitamins. It still isn't easy- when my stress or pain spikes, I still have a little reflex that kicks in that whispers "if you ate less of _____ or if you weighed ____ you wouldn't have this problem", but I can now gently recognize this is a desperate grab at control of a situation that is not entirely within my control, and that this line of thinking is not in my best interest. I can see diet culture as the water that I swim in, all around all of us, but not take the messages as truth.

My personal work to exit diet culture related to my own health challenges translated to my professional development- as I unlearned diet culture in my own life, I started to practice from a paradigm that rejects diet culture. Being an anti-diet dietitian means getting more curious with how foods actually make you feel, without shame or judgement. It involves cultivating self care, not self restriction. It means using nutrition in a gentle, nourishing way to assist your wellbeing, while never losing sight of your overall, holistic health including your mental health.

People experiencing health problems are very vulnerable to diet cultures toxic messages. I have endless compassion for everyone currently "in it", and would never shame or blame you for where you are at. I wish there were more accessible treatment options for what ails you, causes you pain, or makes it hard for you to be at peace. We all deserve compassion for our health struggles, and we certainly deserve better than what diet culture has to offer.

Regarding International No-Diet Day (& announcing that I’ve decided to stop being an emo dietitian)

I’ve found the title of dietitian to be quite uncomfortable. It’s been a bit of a misfit from the very beginning to be honest- I almost dropped out of the program twice, driven by this feeling that it wasn’t a good fit for me. I avoided saying that I was a dietetics student, and then I avoided saying that I was a dietitian. The title comes with baggage- judgments about my body, glances at my plate, a presumed sworn allegiance to Canada’s Food Guide (I can’t remember the last time I actually used one), and expectations of judgment from me about other people’s bodies and what’s on their plate.

                                                               So emo.

                                                             So emo.

A friend, who is also a dietitian, and I recently spent half a day bundled up on the beach. We talked about how neither of us felt like we belonged in the profession most of the time. We felt like people didn’t really get us, or what we did in general.  After about four hours on that beach, we decided that we have to stop being such emo dietitians. We belong here if we believe we belong here. It’s foolish for us to think there aren’t many, many other dietitians out there, putting on the title of “dietitian” every workday and feeling the pinches and squeezes where the fit is still adjusting. The discomfort just means there are things to be acknowledged and work to be done within the profession.

Today is International No-Diet Day. The sometimes allegiance, sometimes animosity, sometimes neutrality of dietitians and the diet industry is one of those things that needs to be acknowledged and worked on. I have some more thoughts on diets and foods, but that’s for another post. Today I want to address some people directly.

To dietitians:

We can do better. We are obligated to always be getting better, and I think a reminder doesn’t hurt. When we mess with people’s food, we mess with their lives, and we can’t take that lightly.

You might think you can hide your judgment from your clients, but everyone knows on some level when they are being judged. Let’s not fool ourselves. The profession, our clients, and our personal lives will be better if we stop looking for exceptions and treat everyone with the empathetic compassion that we are capable of.

 Yolo Akili said, “Honesty about your struggle is the key to your liberation.” Be honest with each other- it took several lukewarm conversations with a dietitian I was working with to get more comfortable opening up a bit, and we found out that we had the same experience struggling with how to react to people’s comments at work about our rapid, unhealthy weight loss following a break-up (me) and a divorce (her). “Wow you look so good!” we both met with weak smiles, when what we really had stuck in our throat was “I’m literally falling apart, my body is breaking down, and I feel out of control”. Talk about your eating, your weight, and your foods with each other, when it is safe and you are ready. We will all be better for having this conversation amongst ourselves.

Show up for each other. Call each other out when listing our “guilty pleasure” foods or talking about being “bad” because of something we’ve eaten. Stand up for the qualities of the profession you believe in when you want to write the whole thing off. We have the knowledge, experiences, and skill to provide outstanding nutritional services that make people’s lives and relationships with food better. Let’s extend our services to each other.

To clients:

I’m so sorry for the negative experiences that you’ve had with a dietitian. I’m sorry that if you see a dietitian in the future there is a risk that it will be a negative experience. You may be judged, not listened to, criticized. You might be treated poorly because of your weight, and a diet may be pushed. Sometimes not showing up for the second appointment will be better for you than going, and it’s your right to make that call.

I’m listening to what you are saying, whether you are a friend in my life who confides a bad experience to me, or you’re on a forum relaying the trauma of a recent experience. I hear you, and every time you speak up, the volume on the need for a conversation among dietitians is turned up, and even more of us will hear.

To everyone:

I’m not going to pretend that dietitians and clients are mutually exclusive groups. We know the struggle, because a lot of us are in it too. It’s not easy to have a healthy relationship with food. It’s perhaps even harder to have a healthy relationship with our bodies. I don’t know a single dietitian that hasn’t struggled with nourishing themselves at some point. We are acutely reminded of exactly how our professional competence is connected to what our bodies look like every time we disclose our profession to other people and get a once-over. The interests of dietitians, and the interests of our clients, are perfectly, intrinsically aligned.

I don’t need to save you from yourself, and neither does a diet. I believe in your capacity, as a living, breathing human being, to take care of your body to the best of your ability in the conditions you are presently in. Maybe I can help you identify and change some of those conditions if they aren’t working towards supporting your best self, but the changes will be all you. I trust you with yourself. I’m a fan of dreaming big, and I’m dreaming about working towards the healthiest possible relationships with food and our bodies, for everyone.

I believe in us. We don’t need diets, but we do need each other.

A new study came out about how you're failing at feeding your toddler.

You might have seen some articles floating around discussing a new study on what children are eating. The takeaway of the study is- your kids are eating too much junk and not enough wholesome fruits and vegetables. They start off eating really well as babies, but by the time they are toddlers you've gone and mucked it all up. Turns out, the new junk food and toddlers study is a little bit junky itself.

First of all, it is based on the child’s caregiver recalling what a child ate. You don’t know how many times I’ve had a parent tell me “she never eats vegetables!” and I’ve sat and watched a toddler happily suck on a piece of cucumber, eat one bit of carrot, one bite of celery, have her pasta with a little smudge of tomato sauce…and have it all add up to much more vegetable consumption than the parent's original impression. Toddlers are tiny people- their “serving size” for a vegetable is 1-2 Tbsp. This means all the little bites and tastes add up. That half chewed up apple slice might look like garbage that she didn’t eat to you, but that could be a full serving of fruit. Estimating toddlers intake is something I find challenging, and I'm trained to do it- any study relying on a variety of people's perceptions is going to cover a lot of extremes. My "two servings" could be your "zero servings".

Regardless of methods, perhaps the most important thing to recognize in this study is the fact that the gentleman doing the analysis, Victor Fulgoni, is a consultant for the baby food company Beech-Nut Nutrition. Registered dietitian Nicole Silber, who also works for Beech-Nut, stated:

“In fact, research shows that babies have more balanced diets between 6 to 8 months when they are given baby food. This is why I recommend that parents keep baby food in the mix a bit longer, either on its own or by incorporating baby food into the process of transitioning to table foods.”

So. There is an angle. This is the reality of food being an industry- people are going to try and sell things to you. It doesn’t mean there is something inherently malicious or invalid about this study, but we must understand that there is a clear bias present.

Selling guilt works.

This Washington Post article explicitly blames parents for the poor eating habits of children. They imply that parents are giving these foods to kids basically because it's cute, and then become trapped (by the child I guess?) into having to have these junk foods on a regular rotation. This completely removes any responsibility from the aggressively marketed “kids' food” industry. There is a lot of money to be made by convincing parents that kids need their own food, special food, not that homemade family foodstuff that everyone else is eating. Kids are too sensitive- not developed enough, not adventurous enough. They must have kid food! To be a good parent, you must provide food that is organic, colourful, fun, and fortified. Oh, and now, according to this new study, you need to include baby food in it for longer too. Don’t you want your child to be healthy? Don't you love them?

There is a lot of money to be made by convincing parents that kids need their own food, special food, not that homemade family stuff that everyone else is eating.

I don’t know you, and I don’t know what you feed your family. Are you a monster of a parent? Probably not. You are someone feeding a developing human, whose development sometimes makes feeding a challenge, within an environment that tells you that you and your family foods are inadequate in order to sell you products.

 It's not the best environment to parent in. It makes it hard to feel like you are doing a good job with feeding. So, let’s talk a bit about toddlers, and what it’s like to feed them.

Toddlers are naturally suspicious.

When your baby was snuggled on your chest, a purring machine of endless bodily functions, she trusted you completely ("she" pronoun is used arbitrarily- this applies to all genders of children). She didn’t know that she was separate from you yet- you were extensions of each other, and she didn’t have to monitor her environment because that was done by you. When you introduced foods, she might have been an angel baby- eating kale chips, grapefruit, sushi..."In the clear, she's not a picky eater" you may have thought.

Toddlers are starting to understand that they are their own little people, and part of this process means that they become a very wary bunch. Their brain has developed enough to become skeptical of their environment, but not enough to think or reason to a point where they are able to get more comfortable. Your toddler is not capable of asking the questions she would need to ask in order to understand things- she doesn’t have the words or ideas in place yet.

Think about this in the context of food- she doesn’t know what it is made of, where it comes from, or how it is prepared. Even if she could ask questions about it, where would she even begin? The only way she can get more comfortable with it is to explore it, at her own pace. Foods that you thought she had accepted, she now isn't so sure about. What she loved last week, this week she is extremely suspicious of. She is officially in a stage of continuous, sometimes convoluted and erratic, exploration of her food.

When it comes to food, skepticism is not rejection, though we often interpret it as such. Each meal that has foods that are even slightly different is an invitation for anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming if she has the chance to go at her own pace. Continuing to matter-of-factly introduce foods to her gives her an opportunity to manage her own caution and learn about these new, interesting things in her world. She needs to be able to look at it, look at other people enjoying it, touch it, put it in her mouth and then take it out, and eventually become comfortable enough to swallow.

You might offer your toddler a bit of your favourite dish- whether that be pâté chinoise, spaghetti, haam daan ju yoke beng, or a deli sandwich- and she could leave it totally untouched on her plate. You might write that off as a failure- “well, she doesn’t like it." In reality, she has already started exploring it. She accepted its presence on her plate, and she got to look more closely at it. She got to watch you eating it, and make note of the fact that you didn’t spit it out, turn a weird colour, or become violently ill.

Studies have shown it can take more than 20 different exposures to a new food before we fully accept it. I don’t know how many times I have been exposed to olives, but I think it took me a lot more than 20 exposures, and a lot more spitting into napkins than I’d like to boast, before I came to accept them. Every exposure isn’t evidence of rejection, but part of a long process of exploration.

Give your toddler family foods.

 Hazel doing some eying up of this new family food.

Hazel doing some eying up of this new family food.

Toddlers and kids don’t need special kids' foods- they can be very convenient, and part of a varied diet, but they aren't necessary. They do need to be given opportunities to explore foods at their own pace, to learn to eat the food their family eats. Society has set up the expectation of what they are supposed to like- but they don’t know what toddlers are supposed to eat, they literally just got here and are way more interested in how much of the dogs ear they can get into their mouth before you notice than what our cultural saga on toddler feeding is all about. Let them take their time to warm up to foods, but don’t underestimate what foods they can warm up to.

Trust that your toddler has an internal drive to explore foods, and become a competent eater. “I DO IT” is something of an anthem for toddlers everywhere. They want to do it- and we can give the chance to. We can feed our children well, and I don't believe that adding more baby food to their diets is the magic bullet to do this.

How to actually serve family foods to your toddler:

  • Serve very small portions to cut down on food waste- literally 1-2 spoonfuls.
  • A particularly cautious toddler might not be ready to accept a new food on their plate. “Can I put this here?” as you offer a serving spoon of the new food is a good question to ask. Accept a “no." There’s always next time.
  • At a meal, make sure there are at least 1-2 things that they are comfortable with and usually accept. A couple of foods, whether that's a basket of bread, big bowl of rice, glass of milk, tray of crackers, steamed broccoli, boiled egg, or a dish of pickles, let's them know “okay, there is going to be something for me to eat even if I’m not sure about that new food over there.”
  • Let them have as much as they want of their “safe foods." They will be more likely to explore if they know you aren’t going to restrict the foods they feel comfortable with. This might mean there will be some meals where they only eat bread- that's fine. Rome wasn't built in a day, and a competent eater wasn't created in a single meal. Pushing your child to eat things they don't want is counterproductive of the long term goal of being able to accept a variety of new foods.
  • Present new foods without fanfare. You can describe the foods- “this is crumbly, sort of like a cracker. It’s salty, and has some spices. Your grandmother used to make it for me when I was a little girl.” Then leave it at that- don’t push for “just one bite," no “you’ll like it” or exaggerated “MMMmmm this is SOO good”. She knows what you are doing- this is pressure, and it makes her feel like she isn’t doing a good job. This can take a meal from a low to high anxiety in just a moment, and no exploration can happen when your toddler is overwhelmed with anxiety. That pushes them to retreat back to safe, familiar foods.
  • Toddlers are terrible menu planners. Let them make decisions about what they eat at the table, not at the pantry or fridge. You can play the middle-manager role here- “this is just the way it is, this is how the universe was created, this is just what has to be for dinner”. As long as there is something on the table that they find acceptable and can eat if they are hungry, this isn’t cruel. The uncertainty of not knowing exactly what to say to get the thing they want from the pantry can produce anxiety, which is not pleasant for your toddler. “I love you too much to negotiate” is a line I love from eating experts Katja Rowell (MD) and Jenny McGlothlin (MS, SLP).
  • Your kids are not going to like everything- they are their own individuals with their own evolving palates, and they will get to decide what they like as they continue to explore food. We get to have preferences as adults, and we all have things we don't like very much. There are some foods your kid will never, ever like, and that's totally normal.

 

My ideas and thoughts are heavily influenced by Ellyn Satter. She is the creator of the Division of Responsibilities in Feeding, "Child of Mine", "Your Child's Weight", and "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family". I don't directly refer to her in this post, but want to reference her as a leader in the field of pediatric feeding. You will continue to hear more about her work from me, and I would recommend heading over to her website and check out her stuff if you want to read more about feeding your kids.