He looks up at me, ‘But I don’t want chicken for dinner. I want apples.” Um, child, what on earth gave you the idea that this was up for discussion?
Do you feel like you are consistent with parenting and providing healthy food with appropriate choices to your children, only to have them back into a corner and insist they only consume sugary or starchy foods like sweetened yogurt, chips, and bread?
Do you often shake your head, thinking of all the abundance we have in America, when your children refuse in favor of nutrient-void foods that are causing health problems in their bodies?
When does the survival instinct kick in?
When will their bodies realize that they can’t survive by refusing the healthy proteins, fats, and vegetables that we provide?
What if I told you there were trillions of microorganisms in your child’s body making these decisions for your child?
Our bodies contain trillions of bacteria cells. And the balance of bacteria in their body, especially their gut, plays a large part in dictating what they (and we) crave to eat. Healthy balanced bacteria craves a healthy balanced diet. An imbalance of pathogenic bacteria actually send signals through the bloodstream to the brain, which demand their preferred food – starch, sugar, and other carbohydrates.
What are the conventional methods for curing picky eating?
- Offer healthy choices, be okay if they only eat apples for dinner even if it means they wake up at 11 pm hungry
- Allow them to eat what they want, as long as it’s fortified (like cereal)
- Let kids be kids and hope they grow out of it.
- Try to hide ‘healthy’ foods in food that they approve of.
- Educate them. Tell them why they need to eat a balanced diet.
- Outlast them – demand they eat what is serve, and continue serving it until it’s eaten
Is this working for us?
I’m thinking that it’s not. As a child of the 80s, I’ve seen a lot of my friends grow up picky. picky. picky. And then get sick. sick. sick. They struggle with eczema, infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety, lethargy, digestive trouble, brain fog…
Some of them have had the wake up call needed, and have turned around their eating habits and are working to regain their health. Many of them struggle with health problems, and continue to be finicky eaters into adulthood.
The phrase: A healthy appetite…
How often do you see people who happily enjoy a variety of foods, without intense sugar and starch cravings (yes, the soda and beer habit fall in this category of sugar and starch cravings), who are chronically sick? It’s not often.
People who are healthy crave healthy things to eat.
What to do about gut-flora-caused picky eating
First, we make sure that it’s not an abundance issue. We don’t snack. When we offer snacks all day long, kids (and adults) never get to use that so-called ‘best seasoning’.
What’s the best seasoning for food? Hunger :)
I wrote about why we don’t snack here. But sometimes it’s even more than that, I see in my own kids that if they get pizza and cake and ice cream at a birthday party, the next day they’re much more likely to completely refuse eggs, chicken salad, or roast that is served for meals. That’s the gut flora talking.
Next, we try an elimination diet. It’s so common that removing foods that often are allergy-causing, inflammation-causing, and cause a leaky gut. Removing dairy and/or gluten will most often relieve picky eating to a manageable level.
Then once they are a bit more un-picky, we can work on restoring gut flora balance and healing the gut. Most importantly, we clean up the gut.
When the gut flora is balanced, we don’t have the intense cravings for starches and sweets, to the exclusion of unhealthy food
Why is the gut so important?
Our gut, where we digest food, keep most of our immune system, and even have brain tissue, is much more important than most people realize. The gut normally is populated with a hefty balance of good gut flora (microorganisms – yeasts, fungi, and bacteria). It normally is healthy tissue with intestinal villi that work with the gut flora to extract nutrients needed from food, and pass them through the gut wall into the blood stream. These villi move food along the digestive tract, break it into smaller pieces so that nutrients can be extracted, and secrete enzymes needed to break down food (source). The bacteria in our gut line the gut walls, and actually pre-digest our food for us. They line our guts to prevent food from being passed through the gut walls without first being broken down sufficiently. This gut flora is also a large part of our immune system. When our gut is unhealthy, the flora in our gut is not protecting food from being passed through, vitamins and minerals are not able to be extracted properly from food, the body is unable to detoxify normally, and the immune system is not functioning as it should. Lastly, the pathogenic bacteria, which aren’t kept in check by the good bacteria, send out chemical signals as part of their metabolic process through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and then make it to the brain.
So yes, survival instinct is kicking in, it’s just those billions of ‘bad bacteria’ that are in survival mode, and they’re drowning out your child’s (or your own) survival instinct to consume healthy food.
Oh, so that’s why it’s so hard to diet!
Yes! It’s not just a matter of ‘eat this and then stop until you eat that and then stop’. There are chemical signals, like drugs, in your body telling you what to eat. With this knowledge, we can be better equipped to deal with them, though.
It’s not just me saying this, here are some other supporting articles that show the same connection between gut flora and picky eating:
What can help heal the gut?
When we’re working to heal our gut we need a multi-step process (click here to get a free printable checklist for a 30-day plan to get this started in simple steps):
1. Remove inflammatory foods that are difficult to digest and high allergen: Gluten, other grains, sugars, and chemicals in non-food items (food dyes, preservatives, etc)
4. This whole process is in the Gut and Psychology Introduction Diet – see more about that here
5. Depending on your symptoms, you may be able to modify this protocol and still see great results; possibly just removing gluten, any known allergens (often eggs or dairy), and increasing probiotics for a time.
How did this work for us?
I notice that every time junk food creeps into our diets, my children become more picky. The baby is still easy to monitor, but my middle child seems to be most susceptible to pickiness when his gut flora are out of balance. This can easily be upset by a holiday party, birthday party, or even just making PB&J on regular bread for school lunches that week. Thankfully, at 6, he’s now able to understand why we eat how we eat, and that even though he really wants to eat ice cream, cake, and pizza every day, it’s not going to be good for his system. In this child’s case, it seems to be And without fail, within 3 days of limiting the amount of sugars and starches in his diet to those allowed on the GAPS diet, he’s once again gobbling down scrambled eggs for breakfast, guacamole burgers for dinner, and the incessant whining for sugar and starch has subsided quite a bit. I love getting my sweet healthy boy back.
More posts in this series:
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