Monday, February 10, 2014

When They Refuse to Eat

Lately I’ve been challenged with trying to get my oldest son to eat dinner. He’s always been pretty picky, but lately, to my surprise, he’s become even more so. I worry because he’s a growing teenager and he’s eating like a bird at dinner, sometimes only eating 1 or 2 bites. I’m not worried about him starving since he eats breakfast and lunch on most days (mainly carbs), but even then it can be like pulling teeth. Why doesn’t he want to eat? Is it his sensory issues with food? Are the meds affecting his appetite?

It seems that the more we encourage him to eat, the more he pulls back and won’t even try. I think it may be about control, food is something he can control. This concerns me because most eating disorders are about control. I definitely want to avoid that!

Parenting books advise to not feed him “go-to” foods that he’ll eat, because if you wait long enough he’ll get hungry and eventually eat with the family. But when we pursue that direction, his moods become unstable as his blood sugar drops. It just isn’t worth it.

So we decided to back off. I’m not going to encourage him to put something on his plate. Or force him to try things. I’m letting him have all the control and hopefully in time, he’ll decide to eat more.

Have any of you faced this, and if so, what worked?


  1. FWIW, and from a person who can be picky eater, my answer will be simple and difficult. It all depends of the why.

    If it's a control issue as you suspect, ask him to come to the table and that's all. If he eats, great, otherwise it's ok. I know that it's easier said than done, but ED + BP are often associated.

    But from your description and its lists of medications you provide, I suspect that medication plays a part of it.
    What makes me suspect the medication role is the Tenex being an appetite suppressant. Same effect with ritalin and I agree, it's very unpleasant to deal with it.
    And to compound the problem, medication can dry your mouth (it's the case with ritalin), so it makes strong tasted food inedible to eat (even when you used to enjoy them). Add to this the sensory processing disorder and you have an explosive combo !

    I deal with the dropping blood sugar with having always something to eat in my bag, like a peanut butter sandwich, or organic cereal bars. It avoids me to become violent just because of blood sugar dropping.
    And its worst part is that it comes without warning signs.
    Maybe this simple tip will help you and your oldest son.

    Stress can also play a part in appetite suppression. It's also my case. In this case, the controlling can become worse in some people, because the more you control their food intake, the more they become stressed at the top of other layers of stress. So, it becomes a vicious circle.

    1. Thanks Giulia, you bring up a good point about stress, I too can't eat well when feeling stress, maybe the school day wears him down. Good thinking!

  2. Following

    For the stress part, I can also think about an hypothesis.
    Your oldest son eats his breakfast at table with his family and eats lunch at school.
    But after having spent a long day at school + having to deal with homework, his energy budget is past worn out for eating dinner in family.
    Eating dinner in family is a social situation, when he has to deal with eating and the social aspect at the same time. So, the solution he found for dealing with both is not eating because he is also too tired to eat. BTDT, and it was very unpleasant for my mother too.

    When you are too tired to eat, a whole plate to eat for main course + salade + dessert = be overwhelmed with all the food to eat.
    In these situations, I think in myself : "OMG, all this food to eat, how will I eat it all ?"
    In such a case, you can fraction meals.
    Eating mindlessly is unhealthier than fractioning meals (and it also helps my heartburns).

    Think also about physical ailments like heartburns and reflux.
    In this situation, starchy foods, especially potatoes, with fat (real butter, real cream) relieves me well while spicy foods are an absolute no no. Low fat low carb diet fuels my heartburns (and makes my glycemia drop very quickly, so moods are completely off charts).
    While doctors tell people to eat 2 hours before going to bed, this advice is a sure way to trigger reflux at night (and wake me up at 4am !). So, I eat right before going to bed and I can sleep well at night ! (even if it goes against usual advice, GI specialist says that the essential was founding what works for me and what doesn't).
    Stress is my main trigger for heartburns, but some medications can have heartburns as side effects (ritalin didn't trigger it for me because I had it since middle school while not taking ritalin).
    As with many illnesses, different foods will make different people react differently, so check what applies for your son.
    So, if your son suffers from heartburns, be because of stress, be because of medications, it makes sense for me that he eats mainly carbs.
    I forgot to add that for me, heartburns are prevalent the evening and at night. If it happens to your son, it can easily explain that dinner is a problem while breakfast and lunch are not as a problem.
    Heartburns is an appetite killer.
    So, in a word like in thousands, see with him if your son suffers from upset stomach because it plays a part in appetite suppression.

    When I am under a great deal of stress, heartburns are so strong that I cannot eat a wide variety of food as usual. Stress is also a big dry mouther to me.
    In such a situation, moist is a critical priority and spicy food is a no no.

    See what works for your son because obviously, what works for me may not work for him.

    Good luck !

  3. We have really struggled with this issues with two of our kids because the meds they need are appetite-suppressants. We haggle our way through by giving them lots of control over lunches and snacks - within parameters of high-calorie/high-nutrition choices like trail mix, protein bars, protein additives to milkshakes using fresh fruits, etc. We couldn't flex much with family dinners because we have a big family and short-order cooking just isn't feasible, but the snacks and lunches helped fill in needed nutrition. Still, we had one year where school staff members literally hovered over our daughter at lunch, urging her to eat bite-by-bite (the lunch she had chosen)! We were thankful for their support because she was border-line needing to go off a much-needed med if she lost more weight!

    1. I like your thinking about letting them have control over snacks and not making dinner such an issue.