Hey team! We’re changing things up a little this week on the pod with a solo episode – just with me, and I’m going to be answering questions about feeding your kiddos and anti-diet parenting that were sent in on Instagram. I’m going to touch on things like:
- The systemic fear of fatness that trickles into our parenting.
- Genetically determined set point weight.
- Why your toddler might seem to be eating more foods at the childminder than at home.
- When “fussy” eating might actually be a feeding disorder and where to find support with this.
I hope you found this episode helpful! You can expect some more of this type of ‘sode popping up every now and then, so let me know what you think of this format or drop an email to email@example.com if you have any questions you’d like answered in the next AMA! Next week we will be back with a brand new guest, so hit subscribe now to stay in the loop!
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- Sign up for the Let’s Talk About Snacks, Baby Workshop
- Book in for a complimentary 15-minute Discovery Call with Laura
- Check out the DSMG episode w/ Kristen Scher about what to do if you’re feeling stuck with feeding your kids
- Check out the episode with Dr. Katja Rowel about when you should worry about your kid’s “fussy” eating
- Check out my IG post on the red flags to look out for that might indicate you’re dealing with a feeding disorder
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- Edited by Joeli Kelly
Hey team – welcome back to don’t salt my game where we are having conversations with game changers who are flipping diet culture on its head. I’m Laura Thomas, I’m a registered nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating and anti-diet nutrition and I’m the author of Just Eat It and How To Just Eat It.
Today is a solo episode, just with me, and I’m going to be answering questions about feeding your kiddos and anti-diet parenting that were sent in on Instagram.
But first I want to let you know about my upcoming workshop
Let’s Talk About Snacks, Baby
So when I asked on my instagram stories which workshop I should run next, it was pretty clearly weighted towards snacks. People seem to have a lot of feelings about snacks, so we’re going to unpack that a bit.
In this workshop we’re going to cover:
- How to set boundaries around snacks
- How to deal with constant requests for snacks and why it’s not always about the food
- We’ll talk about what if they *only* want to eat snacks
- And, the thing that plagues me most as a parent – what the hell to actually give them for a snack.
- We’ll talk about why rice cakes are not a snack
- How to deal with restrictive school snack policies
- And lastly we’ll think a little bit about your relationship with snacks as a parent, because like I said, people have feelings.
And it should go without saying that I’m going to be looking at all of this through an anti-diet, body affirming, and intuitive eating lens.
The workshop will be on Thursday the 28th July at 7pm BST, it will be around 90 mins, so we should have plenty of time at the end to answer your questions about snacking and how snacks fit in with other aspects of feeding kids. Everything will be on Zoom, and you’ll be able to watch the recording back for a week afterwards too if you’re in another time zone or can’t watch it live for whatever reason. It costs £15 and if that doesn’t feel accessible to you right now, then please just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll hook you up with a comp spot on the webinar. And as with the Raising Intuitive Eaters webinar I’d say this is best suited to parents of kids 12 and under.
If you’d like to sign up for that then the link is in the show notes for this episode.
Alright team, let’s get into some listener questions that were sent in. I just want to say before we get started that my answers are for informational and educations purposes and they are not a substitute for medical advice. I don’t have all the background information that I would need to get a complete picture of what’s going on – my answers are general, based on the information I’m presented with which is incomplete.
Teen eating so many crisps – I don’t restrict anything, but I feel like I need to start? Help!
Alright so a lot to unpick in this question, and I’d start by encouraging the parent to get a little reflective about what seeing their kiddo eating crisps brings up in them? What is that touching on for them? What are their fears or anxieties behind this? What even constitutes ‘so many’ and who gets to decide what is ‘too many’ crisps? And they don’t say here what gender this kiddo identifies with and I think that’s maybe an important piece to consider here – because there is probably a difference between how we might approach this is if was someone socialised as a girl, versus as a boy, which is obviously problematic. So we need to question our own thinking around this idea of who is allowed to have a big appetite and eat all the crisps and what we have learned about that? Generally speaking it’s much more ‘acceptable’ for boys, but there’s a double standard when it comes to girls and gender diverse kiddos, and what message is that sending to those young folks about ownership of appetite and desire and who is allowed to take up space?
And reading between the lines of this question, I suspect that the fear has a lot to do with this kiddo gaining weight and internalised anti-fatness. And so this is a reminder that teenagers are going through the highest growth velocity – so the most intense period of growth – that they have had since they were babies. Between the ages of 8-18 most kids will gain anywhere from 25 to 50kg, depending on their growth trajectory and their genetic blueprint. The most intense period of growth is between 8 or 9 to around 13 or 14. But they still continue to grow well in their late teen years where they reach peak bone mass, which is the tallest they will be in their life. But their body doesn’t stop growing and gaining weight when they turn 18 or 20 – their body is going to be changing for the rest of their lives and as parents, our job is to prepare them for that and not let this toxic idea that the body they have when they’re 18 is the ‘ideal’ body or the body that they will have for the rest of their lives, because if we don’t make it clear that that’s just one iteration of their body, then they’re going to be chasing this body well into their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, through dieting and disordered eating and punishing their bodies through exercise. So we need to normalise this idea that bodies change, they age, they get fatter, they generally become more disabled. None of these things are wrong or bad; it’s an inevitable part of the human experience, we need to make our kids resilient to societal conditioning that they are defective when the problem doesn’t lie within them, but lies within heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism and every other system that makes us feel unworthy.
The other part of this question has to do with whether or not that the parent should restrict the child and you all know what I’m going to say. For me, it’s a hard no. Teens have way more autonomy than, say, a toddler, if they don’t get what they want from you, they have other ways and means. And if we think of this through the lens of the division of responsibility – at this point in a kids’s life, you need to be handing them appropriate levels of control over the what, when and where. And give them safe opportunities for making mistakes. And what I mean by that is, they need to be able to eat way more crisps than feels good for them, with an embodied sense of safety that they won’t be judged, they won’t be shamed by you, their safe person. Teens are vulnerable to diet culture messaging, they’re at increased risk of developing an eating disorder, they have much more access to images of the thin ideal through media and social media, they are comparing themselves to their friends bodies. We need to be very explicitly clear that there is nothing wrong with their bodies and if we start restricting crisps we risk sending the message that “I don’t trust your body” and “you should fear what food will do to your body”.
People say “Trust Bub’s Appetite”, But do some overeat? Baby has gone from 25th – 85th centile between 6 to 18 months. He’s chunky.
Ok so again here, what I’m noticing is that there’s a fear of fatness, a fear of your child’s body changing. So a couple of things we need to understand – human body diversity is a fact, we all have different heights, eye colour, hair and skin colour and body diversity includes weight too. If we quantify body weight as a graph there it creates a bell shaped curve, so yes, you’ll have a cluster of people in the middle whose weight is closer to the mean, but there are bodies on either side of that curve who are bigger and smaller than the average. Average doesn’t mean best, it just means average. Interpret that as you will.
And another thing is that humans are born with a genetically determined blueprint for the weight that’s right for their body. This is called our set point weight, it’s different for everyone, and our body does whatever it can to defend this set point weight. So for instance, if we think about an adult who tries to go on a diet, they’re eating less energy than their body needs, and burning more energy through exercise to try and get into an energy deficit. And this is all very well and good until the body starts making adaptations to push your weight back up to your set point weight. It does this in two main ways; through slowing down your metabolic rate and shutting down non-essential functions like reproduction. Even what I’d consider pretty essential functions like pooping will slow down which is why dieters and folks with eating disorders are often constipated or have digestive problems. The second thing that happens is that your brain and body start sending our chemical signals that food is scarce and you need to go find the biggest bowl of carbs you can get your hands on. What I’m trying to say here is that we don’t get to decide our child’s weight. So if your kiddo has gone from the 25th to the 85th centile and there’s no underlying medical reason why, then it just means that’s your child’s weight. That’s what their body wants to do and it feels more comfortable at that 85th centile. It’s not unusual for babies weight’s to change centile in the first year while the body figures out what that set point weight is, and it might shift a little in response to developmental milestones like crawling or walking where the body recognises, ah, I’m going to be moving more and I need the energy reserves to support that.
Babies and toddlers have a highly attuned ability to self-regulate their intake. Again, certain medical challenges and some divergent neurotypes notwithstanding, young kids hunger and fullness cues are extremely reliable. We have studies that show that toddlers, for example will self regulate over time. So if a toddler doesn’t eat much at a meal or snack, they will tend to want more eating opportunities throughout the day. Whereas other toddler will be quite content wolfing down bigger portions at a meal and then maybe be less interested in food until the next meal. Either way, over time they tend to maintain steady weight gain and growth.
But then, because we live in diet culture which values thinness and distorts our ideas about nutrition, and frankly, hates fat bodies, so we, as adults, tend to interfere with kids’ innate ability to self-regulate. We pressure them to eat more of things we consider to be the ‘right’ kinds of food and restrict them from eating the so-called ‘wrong’ kinds of food. Pressure to eat and restriction kids from experiencing what certain foods (usually sweet ones) feel like in their body, undermines their sense of bodily autonomy and causes them to lose trust in their body’s signals. Dictating portion sizes or not allowing them to feed their appetite is another way. And look, there’s some nuance to this as well, kids do need boundaries around their eating which is why the division of responsibility and having flexible structure around eating is important and you can learn more about that in the episode I did with Kristen Scher which I’ll link to in the shownotes. But trying to control our child’s body weight is not the one.
So to answer this question – yes, you can trust baby’s appetite, what you can’t trust is diet culture to protect your child’s relationship with food and their body. And another thing to remember is that kids’ appetite is highly variable from meal-to-meal and day-to-day. This is totally fine it will all even out eventually.
Again, if you have concerns about growth and development – take it to your GP and just get some reassurance that things are looking OK.
Ok toddler eats everything at the childminder but is really fussy at home. Why?
Ok I have some theories about this – I hear this a lot, that kids eat well at school or childcare but then eat like shit at home. And the usual answer that I hear people give is that they’re just so excited to eat with their little friends and they’re all copying each other and they’re just chilling with their mates. And I think that is true to an extent, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.
So here’s my conspiracy theory;
- In childcare, they are applying pressure. In one way or another. Whether it’s not giving dessert until the main is cleared, whether it’s praising them for eating, whether it’s actually spoon feeding them when they usually self-feed. Even when nurseries and stuff say they’re not pressuring, they are. I guarantee it.
- And secondly, you are their safe person, they are much more likely to be their whole, unfiltered, unredacted version of them in all their fussiness at home with you where they feel safe and contained enough to discharge those big feelings they have about food.
- And 3, by the time they get home at night, there are tired – that is not the time to give them complex or challenging meals. Their appetite is generally lower towards the end of the day too – so think about easy snacks. Sometimes I’ll just give my toddler peanut butter on toast with some fruit for his ‘evening meal’ as it were.
I’ve seen this play out with our recent change in childcare. Some of you will know this but for background here, in March this year we moved our then 22 month old from nursery which he’d been at for 5 month to a childminder, because he wasn’t settling. And I noticed such a difference in his behaviour around food at this time. He was much happier eating at home in the evening when we moved him to the childminder compared to when he was at nursery. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a toddler about it, but there was a bit more curiosity about food and willing ness to try new things.
Pressure kills appetite, anxiety kills appetite and I know he wasn’t settled at nursery so he didn’t feel 100% safe and because I’ve spent time in the nursery room while they were having meals and snacks I saw that there was pressuring going on.
So I’m not at all suggesting that you need to move your kiddo to a new childcare setting, but maybe to think, OK how are they feeling about food at the childminder, can I maybe check what meals and snacks look like there and id there is any pressure? And how can I help them feel safer at home too, offering simple, easy foods, letting them serve themselves using family style meals and making sure there is no pressure at home. And if they’re growing OK and you don’t think they’re waking up from hunger or anything like that, maybe it’s not actually an issue that they have a small appetite in the evening and they possibly just need something little to tide them over.
Any advice for a baby born small for gestational age having calories pushed but doesn’t want them?
Yeah my advice here is definitely to get a second opinion if you can; being small, in the same way as being big, is part of human body diversity and to me what’s most important is that baby is growing and gaining weight steadily. If we push food on a baby who doesn’t want it we can risk developing a feeding aversion or a bottle aversion if they are also being bottle fed. There’s again a sense that we can’t trust the appetites of smaller kids and that’s not true. Sometimes kids do need help with calorie boosting foods when they move onto solids but generally that’s when they actually losing weight. But if they are ticking along and growing, even if it’s slow growth, that’s what feels most important to me. But like I said, get a second opinion because I obviously don’t have all the relevant background and history here. But something I have seen is small babies having lots of feeds pushed on them, who then go on to gain a lot of weight, and then suddenly their weight gain becomes a problem because of anti-fat medical bias and you’re told to start restricting, and then both the parent and the child are left in the really confused place. So trust your instinct here and look for support from someone who is training in responsive feeding therapy ideally and I spoke to Katja Rowell about that two episodes ago so check that out.
And then related to that I got the following question:
When is it more than just picky eating? And where can I get support? Tried DoR for 2+ years
Ok this sounds really hard and I would definitely think about reaching out for more support if you feel like it’s more than just toddler picky eating. So I’ll refer you back again to the podcast that I did with Katja a few episodes back because this is exactly what we talk about.
In general, some big red flags are: weight loss, kids should not being losing weight, OR if you feel they aren’t quite reaching their genetic potential for weight and height. So let’s say both parents are tall people and your child is smaller that what you’d expect given your statures, then that could be a sign that something is’t totally right. Again as with the last question, it doesn’t necessarily warrant an intervention, but we might want to rule out any underlying organic issues. So, even if the child is growing and tracking along their curve, if it’s not what you’d expect then that can sometimes indicate something is up. Also if they have a very limited diet and I mean to the point they’re maybe only eating a handful of foods or they have dropped entire food groups or will only eat specific brands of a food, they can all be signs, as well as being in lots of distress or being very upset around food. And also if they have sensory processing differences or a divergent neurotype. I’m linking to a post with a full list of red flags where it might indicate that you want to get more support.
In terms of what that looks like, in the UK your GP is usually the first port of call – they can do a physical exam and any bloodwork if necessary and then refer you to the relevant service which might look different in different NHS trusts, you might get referred to a specialist feeding clinic or a feeding therapist who is a dietitian, an occupational therapist or a speech and language therapist, again depending on what’s available locally.
If you want to work with someone privately then check out https://responsivefeedingpro.com/ to get an idea of what sort of thing to look for in whomever you’re working with. A lot of people claim to be responsive but don’t necessarily embody the values of responsive feeding, so read up on what responsive feeding therapy actually is so you can ask the right questions. And just to say as well this is the perspective that I practice from and I’ve trained with some of the folks who co-founded responsive feeding pro and I offer a 15 minute, no obligation call to see if I’d be a good fit for working with your family, so I’ve linked to that in the notes too.
OK team, I hope you found this helpful or at least interesting. I will be back next week with a brand new episode (hopefully with a guest this time) but you can also expect more episodes like this in the future, I’m going to be shaking things up around here a little so you can let me know what you think of this format – I’m @laurathomasnutrition on instagram if you want to get in touch or you can email hello@laurathomas phd.co.uk
With a big thanks to Joeli Kelly for editorial support and to Fiona Bray for admin and social media support.
I’ll catch you all next week, bye!