It’s no secret to the people closest to me that one of the main stresses in my life the past year has been Tom`s eating, or lack of eating as would be more accurate.
So when I recently had the opportunity to review the latest in Sarah Ockwell-Smiths gentle parenting series “The Gentle Eating Book” I jumped at the chance! The book promises to help parents understand and work towards overcoming the common eating problems that many children display throughout childhood, from birth to teenager hood. Of course id heard of Sarah`s books, I know many gentle parents consider her book on sleeping to be their personal Gentle parenting Bible, but I’d never gotten round to reading one of her books myself.
The book deals with many of the common issues that children can experience throughout their lives around eating, starting from the very beginning and choosing the best way to feed your infant, picky eating or indeed overeating in toddlerhood, to dieting and weight worries in teenagers. After reading the book I would recommend it to all parents and parents to be no matter whereabouts in your parenting journey you are or whether you’re having issues with your child’s eating or not. But before I go into why I loved this book let me tell you a bit about our journey;
When he has first weaned at 5 months, Tom took to solid food brilliantly, we used the baby led weaning approach and after a few weeks of mastering the basics of hand eye co-ordination he would basically eat whatever it was we were eating as a family, with a few minor adjustments. I have so many adorable photos of him in his highchair covered in spaghetti bolognaise or munching happily on a broccoli and cheese muffin.
Then for some unknown reason, a few months before his first birthday my “good eater” stopped eating, he became more and more picky, refusing foods he had previously enjoyed, Tom stopped eating vegetables, he stopped eating anything in a sauce or anything with too much flavour. By 18months he was basically living off yoghurts, toast, chicken nuggets, fish fingers, chips and sausage rolls. Oh and sweets and biscuits, he loved those still. When we went on holiday to Gran Canaria last year he didn’t like the flavour of their yoghurts and that was the end of that, totally put off all yoghurts.
Not only is Tom picky about what he eats, only enjoying “beige food” but he also doesn’t eat a lot of the things he likes. One or two chicken nuggets and a few chips would be a good meal for him. I gave up trying to cook him healthy food ages ago, I felt like id failed him, I must have done something wrong and now I couldn’t fix it. It was just like a spiral of guilt and failure the less he ate the more I tempted him with things I knew he would eat, biscuits and chocolate and high sugar snacks and the more he asked for those over savoury food. Family were telling me they were worried because he hardly ate anything apart from “junk food”.
It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been through a similar thing just how heart-breaking it can be to watch your child refuse the “healthy” food you’ve spent ages cooking for them and ask for chocolate instead, over and over again, my stress levels around his eating were through the roof. I was constantly asking for advice from friends, family even random mammas I met at playgroups. And most of the advice I got didn’t feel right to me, people told me to stop feeding him snacks “if he’s hungry enough he will eat anything” or to use bribery “don’t let him have any chocolate until he’s finished his mains” I have to admit some of this bad advice I took, we started eating in front of the T.V because sometimes he would eat more when distracted. I think it’s safe to say that by the time the book arrived I was in a pretty bad place as far as eating was concerned. But I was sure that was all about to change.
Like I’ve said, I’d never read one of Sarah’s books before so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew she was a big advocate for gentle parenting so I felt confident that her approach and ideas would be something I would be comfortable with.
I guess I expected to be given a lot of advice and loads of techniques and tips on how I could cure my toddler eating issues, and where I was going wrong, maybe a few new healthy recipes to try. I expected to be told to eat as a family, eat at the table, these are things I knew we should be doing that has just gotten lost in all the stress and turmoil. I was excited to get back to basics and hopefully get Tom to start trying new food types and eating a balanced diet again.
But the book was not what I was expecting. At all.
There are no cures, no techniques, no recipes and few tips. the book basically said that picky eating is normal in toddlerhood and although there was a few things I could change to encourage tom to have a more positive attitude towards food, I’d probably need to just resign myself to my fate till he grew out of it. And most importantly let go of the stress and anxiety I had been dealing with.
By the end of page 110 I was crying, full on sobbing, with relief.
You can’t imagine how freeing it is to hear that the issue you’ve been tearing your hair out about for months is in fact normal. That there is nothing wrong with your child and that you are not a failure. That they will more than likely grow out of it on their own.
It turns out this book isn’t about curing your child’s eating problems at all but rather about changing your mind-set (and helping you to change your child’s mind-set) so that these “problems” don’t hold as much power anymore. Once you realise that a lot of these so called “problems” are just normal phases many children go through then you can relax and focus on the more important issue of encouraging your child to eat more mindfully and gain a healthy attitude towards eating for life.
The main theme of the book is encouraging both yourself and your child to practice gentle eating by being more mindful of not only your own issues around food, but the issues you may be creating unknowingly for your children and their relationships with food. Sarah Ockwell – Smith says that “gentle eating is about taking a responsive, compassionate and authorative approach – that means taking a step back and allowing the child to take more control over their eating.”
Letting child take control of their eating might sound a bit strange when you’re used to being in control of their whole life, and some of Sarah’s ideas might seem a little radical at first, but if you read her reasoning and some evidence her advice is based on then you might realize it makes pretty good sense. For example Sarah recommends you don’t enforce set meal times, having set meal times is a relatively modern idea created by society and toddlers don’t really care what society thinks is acceptable! Sarah advocates letting children choose when and how much they eat, she explains the importance of this in helping a child learn to recognise their own hunger cues and realise when they are full.
I would say this book arms you with the knowledge around the physiology and psychology of eating in order to help you, and in turn your children to make more informed, less emotive decisions around food and diet. The principles behind the gentle book and the basic education given on mindful eating have prompted me to make quite drastic changes to the way we eat at home, we now aim to eat every meal together at the table, and we`ve already made small progress with Thomas trying new foods, and although this is limited I feel that my emotions around his eating have changed dramatically and mealtimes are much more relaxed in our house now.
The book also helped me to recognise some of my own deep rooted issues around food, mostly that I tend to reward myself with food and eat sweet foods to make myself “feel better” when I’m down. I want to be a positive role model to Tom, I don’t want him to grow up with the same issues I’ve had around my weight and body and I’ve been making a conscious decision to become more body positive and mindful about all aspects of my life, not just eating. I`d like to thank Sarah for introducing me to mindfulness and giving me the basic tools and knowledge to make some changed in our lives! Hopefully these changes will continue and we will continue to have a positive relationship with food as a family! I can’t wait to get my hands on a few more of her books!
The Gentle Eating book will be available to buy from tomorrow, 1st of March 2018 from all major book retailers, if you’d like more information on the book or where you can get your hands on it visit https://sarahockwell-smith.com/