Fear based feeding.

by

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my mother while cleaning up after a meal. I casually said something like, ‘Well, Snort didn’t have much of his ___________ today.’ It didn’t worry me. Some days he’ll eat 75 melons, and some days he’ll only eat 3.

My mom’s reply startled me, perhaps because it wasn’t what I expected her to say.

‘Oh, let him choose how much he wants to eat.’  Now, let’s say it loud and clear: my mother is not a fan of baby led weaning. She was loudly opposed to this style of feeding from the start, but when it became clear that her fears about choking were not going to change how we did things, she stopped critiquing us. (This, incidentally, is how I know I am a mother in full standing, and a woman to be respected: my mother trusts me to raise my own children. Ha.)

But then she continued.

‘When you were a baby, sometimes you seemed like you didn’t want to eat. So I would force you. You would be screaming and crying and I just kept shovelling food in because I was afraid you weren’t eating enough.  I took you to the doctor and he said you were fine, you were healthy, and a baby who is healthy doesn’t need to be forced to eat. He said you would be eating what was right for you.’

A few things from this paragraph.

One, this is a major principle of baby led weaning. You don’t encourage your kid to eat more or less than what they are eating. Only they know how hungry their tummy is. Research has also shown that kids will gravitate towards things that have what their body is lacking. This is why my kids sometimes attack wheat bread and I think I’ll have to open my own mill, and why sometimes they lean towards cheese, or fruit, or beans.

Two, my mother had informed me awhile back (probably around the time Snort and Coco were 6 months old and we were starting solid food) that she had not given me anything but purees until I was ‘well over a year old.’  Yes, all I ate until god knows how old was smoothly pureed stuff. You know, the stuff that I was forced to keep eating even when I was full and protesting.

Three, well, is there a ‘three’?

You all know I am pretty overweight right now. Almost 55 pounds overweight, despite having already lost about 25 pounds. I may have been a healthy, slim weight when I got pregnant, but that has never been my norm.

Longtime readers will know that a few years before I got pregnant, I lost 58 pounds in 18 months doing Weight Watchers. Prior to being pregnant with two big ass twins, my starting weight at WW was the heaviest I’d ever been, and it’s about what I weigh right now.

While I wasn’t a fat child – though certainly made to feel so by my mother – I was never a skinny minnie once I started puberty, and for me that happened in about fourth grade. So being a healthy eater, a thin person, is not my natural mode of being.

Some people are just naturally chunky (and hawt), but I don’t think there’s anything natural about my chunkiness (despite the fact that I am, of course, still hawt!). I think it happened – and is happening – for a number of reasons.

One, I was not allowed to make decisions for myself regarding food as a child. I would have eaten whatever was on that spoon. Two, I was forced to eat even when I was not hungry, and this has perhaps overridden my natural awareness of being full, of being finished. Three, I was not allowed ‘real people food’ until I was long past my baby years.

Even as a child, I was lied to about food. I was afraid of fish, so my mother told me tuna was chicken. I didn’t want to eat meats at all after awhile, and my family bribed me with money, hid the wrappers of meat in the trash, and continued to lie. I was full and didn’t want to eat my peaches? I got hit and screamed at while at the table. I threw up because I was made to eat when I didn’t want to? Hit and yelled at again (not by my mother).

As I got even older, I was enlisted to lie to my sister about the food on the table, as she was 5.5 years younger than me and would only eat what I would.

Now, obviously my family is an extreme. But I still think that the feeding experiences of babyhood – like most experiences of babyhood – remain with us and play a large part in the formation of our character, our self-beliefs, and our choices.

We’ve been doing baby led weaning for about seven months now, and it couldn’t have been a better experience. Sure, at the beginning I worried about how much they were (not) eating. Sure, the first time Coconut swallowed a hunk of bread it scared me so much I didn’t give them solids for two days.

But I kept on, because at the core of it I do trust my children.

And now they are healthy and happy eaters. No doubt there will be bumps in the road, but I feel like I have helped create a baseline for them – learning when they are full, choosing what foods to eat from the variety that is offered, choosing how much to eat. Letting me know when they are done, and that being respected.

Snort and Coconut laugh during meals. Coconut often hums (much like my sister used to do when eating). They drink water and merrily slam their cups down, they hand me choice pieces of chewed up muck to sample, they are weaning themselves off milk. For Snort and Coconut, mealtimes are an opportunity for us to all be together, to have a ‘chat’, to enjoy each other and the good food in front of us.

What a stark contrast – for me as a child, mealtimes were often scary and laced with the fighting of my parents (who later divorced, thankfully in retrospect!), pressures on me to make choices, and pressures on me (still, when I visit home) to just ‘finish things off’, to make sure there are no leftovers. I have received so many mixed messages about food, and I could write a novel on the ways my family have – unknowingly, perhaps – fucked me up in relation to food.

TMD is still struck dumb by it all. At my parents’ house, there is a big breakfast and then one later meal around 4. If you get hungry before then you are shamed for wanting to eat, and if you get hungry afterwards you are shamed for wanting to eat. Yet during the meal itself you are encouraged to gorge, to always, always eat more.

TMD will be driven to secretive eating within days of being there (alongside me!), much as I ate secretively as a child – except now I’m old enough to drive away, order food, and eat in the car and throw away the wrapper before I get home. Ridiculous. We have both made a conscious effort (thank god for TMD and her neverending support) to eat normally while at my mother’s house, though the continual commentary on our eating is tough to deal with.

This will not happen for Snort and Coconut.

I am curious to see what my mother makes of baby led weaning in action, but I am a woman now. I am doing the best I can by my children, making choices I hope are the right ones, and so far it’s working: I have two almost-toddlers who exude confidence, joy, curiousity, and wonder.

Long may it continue.

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13 Responses to “Fear based feeding.”

  1. b4kersgirl Says:

    Brilliant post. I agree 100% with you on BLW. I know that C will eat what she wants, when she wants, and am continually amazed by her, especially when I see how she is in comparison with children 1 or 2 years older than her when it comes to food.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Lynda Says:

      Not sure how old yours is, but I think most toddlers become picky. Both of my boys ate and loved just about everything offered to them when they first started eating solids. Now there are some things my nearly 3yo outright will not even TRY (who knows WHY). And my 15mo has been turning his nose up at some foods now too! (Putting it in his mouth, then making a face and pulling it out, half-chewed.)

  2. Alyssa Says:

    Great post!
    Many times, my mother (who has been overweight since teenage years) has told me about how she was always forced to sit at the table for hours until she ate her dinner. If it was something she didn’t like, she would go to bed hungry and also leave for school hungry the next morning if she didn’t eat last night’s dinner for breakfast. And guess what? She would stop at the corner store on her way to school and get a couple packs of devil dogs. There began her weight problem.

    My daughter is only 3mo but I know that BLW is the route we will go.

  3. Jennie Says:

    I can relate to this. I unfortunately have very different tastes to my parents, when it comes to food. For example, I don’t like peas, sweetcorn or frozen mixed vegetables, and so spent years thinking that I didn’t like ANY vegetables (but being made to eat them anyway!). Almost as soon as I got to high school, lunches consisted of a pizza and a large galaxy bar. In rebellion, I think, to being made to eat all these foods I didn’t like. My mum was on a permanent diet, and so there were no crisps or sweets in the house the majority of the time, and I really went mad when I got some independence and was able to go and buy all this stuff myself. So with my kids, I insist that they try all different foods, but won’t force them to eat things they dislike. And we have sweets in the house, which they have from time to time, but to be honest, they don’t even ask for them that often. I really think it’s not that much of an issue for them. Which is what I’m aiming at!

    I think there’s a lot to be said for letting children find their own appetite. I wish I could!

  4. Bess Says:

    I agree about the wonders of BLW. We did that for my DD, Eve and plan to do the same for Ariel once she hits eating age. I cant relate to the extreme eating environment you grew up in, though. Im sorry your family was so extreme. I think there can be a balance. My DH grew up in a fam where nobody had to eat anything they didnt want to eat and when we got married he had never eaten anything but cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, pasta w/ tomato sauce, and fruit. He had never eaten a single veggie ever because he threw a fit about it as a kid and so his mom never asked him to. Now- my DD is like him when it comes to EXTREME pickyness… and I dont find it acceptable (having grown up in a fam where mom made 1 dinner per night and that was dinner- no Q’s asked). I never felt traumatized by growing up how I did- im not a picky eater by nature and was never forced to eat once I was full. after evaluating mine and my DHs experiences… I do believe that there needs to be a balance. kid cant have 100% say all the time (though- I would never force my child to over eat or eat a particular food if she really detests that kind of food). Im constantly challenging and encouraging my DD to try new foods. sometimes that requires her seeing it 10-20 times before I get her to try it and another 15 times of trying it before she gets used to it.

  5. Kara Says:

    I have a sort of twisted food past, as well. For us, food was used as a reward “If you do this, I’ll give you a cookie!” My mom and dad had their special ice cream, that they didn’t share with us, that they ate after we went to bed as a reward to themselves at the end of the day. If we didn’t like something (IE fruits, vegetables, whole foods) my parents just stopped trying to give us that. I subsisted on mac n cheese, chicken nuggets, Ramen noodles, and other frozen microwaveable food well into my teens (still sound SO GOOD to me. I crave that stuff.) My mom was constantly ‘on a diet.’ For her, this meant cutting down on meals, and meals themselves were mostly ‘salads’ (aka iceberg lettuce with tomatoes & cheese & lots of dressing.) I remember she once did a cereal diet, where she ate cereal morning and night, with a ‘salad’ at lunch. A similar diet was done with Slim Fast. She also got panicky when we wouldn’t eat, begging us in an almost manipulative way, telling us we were going to die of malnutrition, we were going to shrivel up, we were skin and bones, etc. My mom also constantly criticized her own body, and other people’s bodies…a LOT of emphasis on appearance. As a result of all of this, at 16 I was about 30 lbs overweight (a lot on a 5 foot person) and unhappy with myself. I did the South Beach diet and almost effortlessly lost that 30 lbs, and still was unhappy with my body. And so I’ve yo-yo’d, up and down, for the last several years. I am now heavier than I’ve ever been (about 45 lbs overweight), and I agree that it is unnatural for me. It’s also uncomfortable. The other night, I took a CPR class and had to be on the floor…I was acutely aware of how tight my jeans were (though when I’m standing they actually are loose enough that I’m pulling them up all the time), how hard it was to go from sitting to up on my knees, etc etc. So yes, I want to lose weight, and feel better, and I’m still learning how to love my body with all of its imperfections. I don’t want that for my daughter, and that’s part of the reason I chose to do baby led weaning…I feel like it’s very important for her to choose if she is hungry or not hungry. I offer food to her several times (4-6 times) throughout the day in addition to her nursing, and whether or not she eats, or how much she eats, or what she eats out of what I offer her, is entirely up to her. I have to stifle that panicky feeling when she doesn’t eat or nurse a lot throughout the day.

    I’ve also noticed that at almost 15 months, Samara deals with solids much better than all of the other kids we know that are her age or even kids 18-20 months. So many moms say, “Aren’t you afraid she’s going to choke on that?!” when she’s eating something, but I have to honestly say, no. She has never choked, except once, sort of, on a goldfish cracker she found on the floor somewhere. She gags sometimes, and that makes others panic (and me too sometimes!) But she eats a LOT (averaged over the course of a week), and she eats good, healthy things that my friend’s children refuse to eat, with very little problems. I am sure part of that is just who she is, but at least part of it has to be due to Baby Led Weaning.

  6. Kara Says:

    Whoa, that was a novel up there. I’m sorry! 😛

  7. Christy Says:

    Amazing!!!

    My family has similar relationships with food. It’s very weird now that we live in the same town again.

  8. FearlessFormulaFeeder Says:

    I love this post. You know, I hadn’t even heard of BLW when I started my son on solids, but I sure as heck am going to do it with baby #2, who is due in a few months. I think that our toddler eating habits veer towards the BLW philosophy, although I’m sure I’m not doing it “right”… but basically I don’t force him to eat; I let him devour what he wants, even though it tends to be mostly pasta and fruit. So be it. My theory on healthy eating in general is that you eat when you are hungry and listen to your body….

    I also relate to your parents’ eating habits – mine do the same thing. My husband comes from an opposite type of situation – food “pushers” who are always concerned with the next meal – and he used to hate coming to my parents’ house b/c he’d starve. After many years, he is now used to it, and just fends for himself. We’re determined not to follow either example, and try and lead by example with our kids.

    Anyway – great post.

  9. Tasha (Coding Mamma) Says:

    Great post. We love BLW, too. Thankfully didn’t have the kind of issues you did with food. I think, as they get a bit older, they do need a bit more balance and some guidance – and I find ourselves veering towards making the things we know Rosemary (4) will eat far too often, instead of repeatedly offering a wider variety, even though I know this is the wrong thing to do. If we go too far, she’ll end up on a diet of mayonnaise, ketchup and mashed potato.

    We don’t insist on clearing the plate, but if she wants pudding, she has to have at least tried everything on the plate. Usually she eats loads of one item and not much of the rest, but some meals she wolfs down. Her current favourites are mashed potato and sweetcorn. Eleanor (10 months) shovels everything down, just as Rosemary did when she was a baby.

    Anyway, excellent post

  10. Veronica Says:

    Its so awful how our early experiences with food and mealtime can create such issues for us later on in life. I think it is awesome that youre being proactive and avoiding these issues with your own children. It is exactly what I intend to do. Good luck!

  11. Lynda Says:

    I found this entry through Sarah.

    My early nutrition was handled much the same way and I, too, am overweight. My mom is fully on my side as far as babyled weaning goes – she was a young, single mom who had poor support and didn’t know any better.

    My almost three year old is a very healthy toddler. Some days he’ll eat like a bird and other days it’s like there’s some void in him that cannot be filled! It doesn’t seem to matter what’s offered to him on the bird-eating days (unless it’s candy or junk food which I try to avoid especially on these days) so I don’t prepare multiple meals. He gets what he’s offered and if he doesn’t want to eat at meal time, he’ll tell me when he’s hungry and will be offered an appropriate snack.

    I’m not sure why some people are so gung-ho about purees. Though I will feed my 15 month old bites of things like mashed potatoes or soup, I love to avoid it whenever possible and let him feed himself. It allows me to actually eat MY meal. 🙂

    I won’t say choking hasn’t been a concern. There have been incidents with each child in the earlier days of learning to eat, but that’s why they are closely supervised at meal and snack time!

    No doubt babyled is a great way to go. I can’t think of anything bad about it. I can’t judge parents who use purees in the first year, but I’m baffled why they wouldn’t think to just cut up some banana and set it in front of the 6 month old and see what happens. Neither of mine really got into eating the food until around 7-8 months. Milk did just fine to completely nourish them until they decided it was time to eat food.

  12. Katie B. Says:

    My mother, as far as I can tell, did BLW… and so I have a healthy relationship with food. I enjoy many different foods, and I am able to eat when I am hungry, and stop when I am full.

    Ugh. Was going to write a screed.. but now I’m going to cut it short and say that BLW rocks. Especially when you trust that your 12mo, who’s never been interested in solids, won’t be exclusively nursing forever… and a year later is weaned.

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