If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little obsessed with picky eating. So when I heard about Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, a book dedicated to helping people understand fussy eaters, I knew I had to read it and report back to you.
There are numerous books on how to get picky eaters (mostly children) to eat a wider variety of foods. But Stephanie Lucianovic, a picky eater herself, wanted to examine the why’s behind her predicament. She starts with her upbringing when her fussiness started. Her parents enforced a 3-bite rule, meaning she had to take 3 bites of every food that was served. She admits to dreading most mealtimes as a child and often gagging on the food she was made to eat.
She writes (in a very humorous and light-hearted way) about various reasons that could have led to her picky eating, such as being a supertaster which included a visit to the well-known Monell Center in Pennsylvania. She moves from taste to the other senses and how they affect eating such as smell and texture. For picky eaters, how food smells and feels in the mouth is often what causes the rejection. And then there’s the sensitive gag-reflex, which she learned to tame as an adult by getting advice from a sword swallower!
Picky eating in adults is a newly discovered issue so she completes the Food F.A.D. study, (Finicky Eating in Adults) questionnaire, the first major study to delve into adult picky eating. She has a whole chapter dedicated to feeding children (Are you a Hypomomdriac?) and she digs into topics related to kids’ picky eating — and our obsession with raising kids who eat it all. Of course, this is my favorite chapter and she discusses feeding clinics and interviews a dietitian and other feeding experts.
Lucianovic also touches on the anxiety that affects how picky eaters feel physically when it comes to eating. Being anxious about eating can result in physical symptoms at the table– meaning food doesn’t digest properly and appetite can be poor. This is the reason when forced to eat, some picky eaters will throw up.
What is most amazing of all is how she overcomes her picky eating by becoming a foodie and going to culinary school. She believes that picky eaters gain control by going into the kitchen and many foodies are actually picky eaters in disguise — but it’s more socially acceptable because they focus more on the quality rather than avoiding healthy foods. She provides various tips on how adult picky eaters can navigate their food environment as well as their relationships.
While she doesn’t get a clear-cut answer to her picky eating, she gives the reader insight into how the causes are likely different for everyone. But most importantly, she shows how this way of eating is really not a choice at all. And a lack of understanding is what causes much of the pain associated with it, whether it’s a mom blaming herself for a fussy a child or an adult feeling shame for not being able to attend a dinner party.
Much of the advice given is the same advice you will find here — don’t pressure, have meal times be fun and relaxing and above all be patient. With the expertise in feeding that I have, I couldn’t help but notice how Lucianovic underestimates her parents’ three-bites rule in her quest to find answers (she says it was “moderate”.) That is probably because some of her friends had to clean their plates (and she painfully shares the story of her having to clean a plate of succotash at a friend’s house — a food she will not eat now). But I think she might have overcome her picky eating sooner if she wasn’t made to eat food that truly revolted her.
We have a long way to go toward understanding why some people are more prone to picky eating, and others never outgrow it at all. But this book is an important start to that conversation. If you are dealing with picky eating either with yourself, your significant other or a child, this book will enhance your understanding and will definitely make you laugh. In my opinion, this book is long overdue because, without understanding, it’s hard to find solutions.
How has picky eating affected your life?
For more on how to feed a picky-eater child, check out From Picky to Powerful: The Mindset, Strategies and Know-How You Need to Empower Your Picky Eater
I hope this is the type of comment you were looking for but there are times that I feel picky eating consumes almost my entire day. Its a bit of an exageration but not quite. I have a 5 year old extremly picky eater! He has about 20 foods that he is willing to eat and that includes brands too. He started kindergarten this year and packing school lunches has renewed my frustration. We have taking him to a behavioral therapist and they said he has social anxiety around food. He is going to see an occupational therapist but I am starting to wonder who needs the therapy – him or me. He is getting better at being willing to eat in places outside of the home and that is why we originally took him to the BT but now its more just getting him to eat other foods. I am someone who loves to serve healthy rounded REAL meals and it pains me to pack his lunch everyday with PB and crackers, jarred peaches and applesauce. EVERYDAY. I personally don’t think its the healthiest lunch but its all I can get him to eat. So I think I am realizing that half of my stress is self-caused because I just don’t like what he eats. I don’t like being forced to cook certain foods constantly because its all I can get him to eat, I don’t like making him his own lunch because its that or starvation. I DON’T LIKE picky eating! There I said it.
Thank you for your wonderful blog and wonderful info. I would love any advice you have especially if I should make peace with it or if I should really be trying to get my child to go beyond cereal, waffles, yogurt, nuggets, pizza and goldfish. Thank you for the reminder that its not just me suffering, he probably is too.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
I’m sorry you are having a hard time and know how frustrating it can be. If you are new here, then check my picky eating series http://www.maryannjacobsen.com/category/picky-eating-series/. I offer some advice that can help. It sounds like you have a late bloomer that is slower to warm up to food that most children. But with time and exposure he can make progress. Do you eat together as a family? Do you ever try new foods with his lunch, while serving stuff you know’ll he eat? Around age 6 is when kids start to branch out so hold on!
Thanks for the reply. I have been following your site for about a year and love your picky eating series. We have applied what we can. We actually had a great summer in which he tried some new meats and seemed less anxious but he has back slided the last few weeks. All the sudden he can barely chew chicken (which used to be a safe food). He holds it in his mouth for up to an hour at times. He also gets repulsed if I set food near him he doesn’t like saying it smells. We are back to him going to bed without supper sometimes. He started kindergarten last week but they are doing half days till Labor Day so we have not had the lunch issue yet. We have been practicing with his new lunchbox with the hope it won’t be such an issue. We are also meeting with the teacher today just in case he has a meltdown at the lunch table. If he feels any pressure, he can go into a tailspin at times.
I read a book called Whats Eating Your Child and I thought it was good. She talked about doing a slow exposure. Basically once a day a child has to try a bite of a new food. He tries this new food once a day for two weeks. At the end the child can say they don’t like it but its more training them not to be scared of new foods. You are in away forcing them but she said to just remind them that the next thing of the evening wouldn’t happen til the bite was taken and if they throw up or refuse you just say, thats ok we will try again tomorrow until they do it for 14 days. THen move onto another food and of course, they can pick what is new. I was just wondering what you thought of that method?
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Rebecca — has he been diagnosed with SPD? What does the OT say?
The taste training can work with some kids — I know one parent who said her child did well with taking small tastes with th eoption of spitting it out. For the book, I interviewed Kay Toomey, a well respected expert on helping kids learn to eat. She create the SOS approach to feeding http://pickyeaterschild.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-sos-sequential-oral-sensory-approach-to-feeding-in-food-aversion/
From talking to her, some children need more time to get comfortable with foods so taking a bite may be premature. She suggested a learning plate for foods kids may not be ready to taste or eat — to allow kids to touch/feel/smell the food before putting it in their mouth. Here’s a book by one of my favorite speech therapists http://www.mymunchbug.com/book.html
I hope this helps….I know it can be tough. Hang in there!
Katie at Mom's Kitchen Handbook says
Thanks for the review, Maryann. I hadn’t seen that book. My readers are always looking for good information and resources for picky eaters. It’s definitely a big stressor for a lot of parents trying to feed their kids a healthy diet.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says