Leah: When is fussy eating no longer fussy eating?

Today I want to discuss with your eating habits with Children. Please let me start this blog post though by explaining I am by no means a medical professional but I am a mother of 2 children with very different eating habits. I want to explain my children’s eating habits with you and hopefully pin point some of the differences between “picky/fussy eating” and a condition known as Sensory Processing Disorder. I hope that this may bring comfort to families struggling with their children’s eating habits.

My Children

Lewis

When I first became a parent I absolutely sailed through Lewis’s eating habits. As a baby he had reflux but that wouldn’t stop him enjoying his bottles and his food when he started weaning. He has never been a fussy eating child, always maintained a great diet and that’s something that still continues today. Lewis loves his food, loves trying new tastes and textures. He really is willing to try absolutely anything. He’s a fantastic eater.

Lewis Eating Yoghurt

Leah

When Leah came along she didn’t have reflux, she had a tad of colic but that was easily managed. I had her feeding spot on, she made a great start to her feeding habits and I was delighted after the trauma of Lewis’s reflux. Everything went great with Leah until we introduced solids. Unlike Lewis, Leah made a good start with her chewing (Lewis would gag on lumps) but Leah loved to chew but what she struggled with was different coloured foods, or at least that’s what we thought. We’d make her spaghetti bolognese, she’d became absolutely distraught with eating it. Try Cottage Pie and again she’d become upset and refused to eat it. The only thing that would satisfy her would be a Country Vegetable powdered meal mix from Heinz. She ate that by the box full, it smelt awful but to her it was amazing. It became her life.

Aged 9 months I made the decision to move Leah onto full solids, conscious I needed to get a wider range of foods into her. Very soon her favourite evening meal was Flipper Dippers from Youngs, fish-shaped “fish cakes” mostly stuffed with potato, a bit of fish included too and covered in breadcrumbs. With these, she’d have a Yorkshire Pudding or Pasta with some vegetable sticks.

Fussy Eating Leah with a Flipper Dipper

A meal which is still very much Leah’s daily evening meal 6 years later! It’s barely changed, bit like all the other meals Leah has on a daily basis.

Leah’s Current Diet

There’s very little variety to Leah’s diet. A couple of weeks ago I was asked to make a list of Leah’s foods, detailing what she would eat on a daily basis. This really wasn’t a difficult task to write down and within 5 minutes I was done;

Breakfast: Waffles, Crumpets, Pancakes or Cereal (dry)

Lunch: Cheddar Cheese Sandwich (white bread, no margarine), crisps, vegetable sticks (carrot, cucumber or sugar snap peas), yoghurt (no bits) and finish it off with a bit of chocolate.

Tea: (As mentioned above) Flipper Dippers, Pasta (or Yorkshire Pudding), vegetable sticks (again carrot, cucumber or sugar snap peas) and slices of cheddar cheese.

This has been Leah’s daily diet since weaning her!

So I want to ask you, when does Fussy Eating end and something else more sinister begin?

For the past 4 years at least I have made 2-3 trips to a GP a year querying Leah’s eating habits but also wanting to make sure she was gaining weight adequately. Every time we went we were just told that Leah was just a fussy eating child, and in time she would change and we just had to keep trying with serving her new foods to try.

We persevered, serving up new foods for her to try but she would be absolutely repulsed at the new food on her plate. It was a never-ending battle with very little reward.

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Leah is now 7 years old and we are still fighting with her eating habits. Although now she can express how the food makes her feel and why she can’t try anything new. Most often than not we are given the reason of “it doesn’t feel right”, by which point she’s only touching the food with her fingers, it’s absolutely nowhere near her mouth!

This was a light bulb moment, the moment we realised that Leah was not a fussy eater but actually had a sensory issue with the texture of new foods which were not on her “safe-list”. This was beginning to look like a psychological issue with food. Having Leah tell me her food didn’t feel right to touch alarmed me as I knew this was becoming an issue with the way food felt to touch. For this I knew I couldn’t help Leah, I knew I needed more help.

Getting Help

Luckily I have a friend who knows a fair bit about sensory issues with children. After sounding her out about Leah’s habits and comments about food I was advised to go and speak with a GP and request a referral to Occupational Health. I managed to get the referral I requested but also an additional referral to a Dietician just to check things over with them too and get some help there.

Pretty soon I got to speak with Occupational Health, again I explained all of Leah’s habits (there’s a lot of repeating with the health service isn’t there?). From here the topic of fussy eating was cast aside and the subject of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) was more greatly discussed and with agreement from me I was invited to an SPD Workshop for parents and carers.

SPD Workshop

At this workshop, we were taught the in’s and out’s of SPD, the different ways it can affect any human and be able to pinpoint what triggers would set a sufferer off. Triggers can include anything from washing with water, certain sounds, self-grooming, eating and much more. At the end of the 2 sessions, I could pinpoint that Leah was oversensitive to taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory) and touch (tactile) and not just through her eating habits either. Leah also has other fears, physical pain and the sight of blood being another major trigger for her.

After these sessions, I finally felt I could support Leah so much better. I now knew I wouldn’t be able to change her ways, but I could support her and at sometimes coax her into trying new food with its texture knowing what textures she was most comfortable with. I knew I’d never be able to get her to eat a new meal, but just a nibble of new food would a fantastic achievement for Leah.

Dietician

Sometime later, after finishing the workshop I received the referral for a telephone consultation with a Dietician. Thankfully she was very understanding and I was so glad I could get some feedback from her.

First up she let me explain all Leah’s eating habits, her daily diet and fluid intake. She then put my mind at rest explaining that Leah ate a good range in food to support her, although her protein intake was a little low but not concerning. I then explained about the Sensory Workshop of which she explained then that Leah’s eating habits were not uncommon for a child with SPD.

What We Now Do

In the end, after all this help at the beginning of the year, I am feeling very much content with Leah’s eating habits now. I now plan ahead and prepare for her better. I can pack a lunch box if we go for a family meal out so she isn’t left out and restaurants are also a lot more welcoming to her needs. If at all we are caught off guard and I have no food for her I can plan our family meal to be at a restaurant where I know Leah will eat all.

Leah eating at Wagamama's
Leah eating at Wagamama’s, plain noodles and vegetables.

Leah’s school has been amazing with her, allowing her to have her lunch box the way she needs it. But also on her recent Residential Trip, the kitchen staff catered perfectly for her needs, ensuring Leah wouldn’t go without.

Although the end is not in sight for her Sensory Sensitivity Leah’s a lot more relaxed with herself now and the tension has lifted at mealtimes.

I really hope this blog post will help someone out there. If you are struggling with your child’s fussy eating habits and think it’s just more than being fussy you are more than welcome to contact me. I am contactable through my blog of social media channels, send me a message. I am very handy for reassurance but I won’t be able to give a diagnosis.

Check out The Kids section of my blog for other similar blog posts about Leah and her eating habits.

** I am by no means a trained professional in Sensory Processing Disorder or a Dietician but I wanted to share with you the trials and tribulations of living with a child with sensory needs. I hope this blog post will provide comfort to others in a similar situation and be able to assist a parent or child struggling.

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