April 03, 2017

Picky, Selective, Autistic Eating

So many parents stress over their child's diet. I get it, I'm a mom, too.

"He only eats chicken nuggets and bread."

Usually when someone says, "they only eat...." that list becomes not just two things, but slowly expands to five, even 10 things. Yet they still complain, "but no veggies" or "they don't eat meat."

What I'm about to say isn't going to make me popular, but here goes: WHO CARES?

Plenty of people in the world don't eat meat. There are tons of adults who eat little to no veggies or fruit. Is it totally optimal? No, maybe not, but is your diet optimal? I'm going to bet you don't get the 7-10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables Canada's Food Guide recommends. So are you holding your children to a different standard than you hold yourself?
selective picky autistic eating habits plate of food with a knife on the side by OneQuarterMama.ca

Are you able to fill in some gaps with fruit/veggie smoothies, vitamins or supplements? My son will drink Pediasure and take his essential fatty acids in liquid form. I don't sweat the rest.

There are a few concepts I'd like you to be aware of when it comes to Autistics eating:

1) Eating can be part of routine or rituals, so the whole routine is needed in order to keep anxiety down. The food itself may or may not bring as much comfort as the rituals around it do.

2) For some eating is comforting and the taste/texture is satisfying a sensory need. For others, eating is simply a means to an end. Depending on how my sensory system is working one day, I can truly enjoy food, and another I'm eating only because I know I want to stay alive, but everything tastes like cardboard.

3) We might need to eat alone to feel comfortable.

4) We might not tolerate a whole sandwich, but would be fine to take it apart and eat it. Allowing us to "pick at food" might be worth it if you want us to eat.

5) Many of us eat with our hands. Yes, even us adults.

6) We know how we feel after eating certain foods. We know what we can digest and what brings us discomfort. We avoid things that bring us discomfort. We don't have to have an intolerance or allergy in order to suffer from discomfort. If you know corn makes you bloat and gives you gas, you probably avoid it or eat less of it. We do the same! Fancy that!

It's especially because of #6 that I don't believe in "hiding" foods in other foods because you want your child to injest something. Don't sneak broccoli into chocolate muffins. Don't put ground up meat in pasta sauce. That's a really good way to get your child to stop eating their preferred foods and make them feel sick.
Trust we know our bodies and what makes us feel well and comfortable in our own skin.

There's no "one bite" rule in my house. Looking at a new food, touching it, smelling it, licking it and biting it and then spitting it out are all valid explorations of food. My son is always offered different foods and he's certainly welcome to try, but never forced. Put a new food on a plate in front of your child and leave the room if it disturbs you too much to watch them not eat it. Eating should not be a pressured, coerced or stressful situation.

Let them explore it (or not!) as they wish. Then let them eat what they want to eat. My son eats nut butter sandwiches every day. Lunch and dinner. That's what he likes. So be it. Eventually he will branch out to something else. Peanut butter comes in 1kg tubs and is quite affordable. Why should I stress?

I know that just like I did, he'll eventually eat a greater variety of foods as he matures. Or maybe not. But we're not there yet.

So my advice is really to not make stress for yourself where none needs to be and respect the fact we eat what works for us, in ways that work for us and are comforting.


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