Health Tips: Dealing with picky eaters -- as kids and as adults

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In the current remake of the classic Life cereal commercial, Dad brings a box of Life cereal to his daughter Mikey, who’s a notoriously picky eater. He’s delighted when she likes something that’s good for her. 

The commercial portrays a scene that is familiar to many parents. In one study of kids 3-11, 13% to 22% of the kids were picky eaters. And according to a new study published in Pediatrics, the behavior can get ingrained by age 4 and persist throughout adulthood. 

Research shows that picky eating can stem from everything from parental pressure, inherent personality traits and specific biological responses to tastes and smells, to the introduction of solid foods before 6 months of age and the late introduction of chewy foods. Fortunately, you can help your child overcome it -- and adults can overcome it too. Here are some strategies:

-- Kids respond to positive messages about food (that’s why fast food ads get their attention -- “Happy Meals!”). Instead of “Don’t eat that,” say, “Let’s try this.” 

-- Repeated mini tastes may make a food acceptable. 

-- Be enthusiastic about the choices you present. 

-- Kids want to make their own decisions, even when very young, so give them options.

-- Also, involve your child in cooking. Kids like to eat what they cook! 

For adults who are food adverse, cooking also can help make foods more appealing. Talk therapy to ease anxiety may also be effective. A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that anxiety and disgust at food tastes and smells often go together.

The Slow Food movement -- slow from plate to mouth, that is

Slow Food is an international organization dedicated to locally grown foods and traditional cooking that was founded in 1986 in Italy and now has 100,000 members in 160 countries. While we applaud the push to offer alternatives to obesity-inducing fast and processed foods, we’d like to advocate another kind of slow food -- slow from plate to mouth. 

According to several studies, if you bolt down your food, you’re at a big risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Japanese researchers followed more than 1,000 men and women, average age 51, for five years and found that 12% of fast eaters developed metabolic syndrome. In contrast, only 2.3% of slow eaters did. A study in the journal Appetite found that guys who were fast eaters gained twice as much weight over eight years as average or slow eaters did. Another study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics demonstrated that normal-weight, slow eaters consumed significantly fewer calories, while feeling well-fed. 

If you’re a fast eater, use these techniques to give your body’s “I’m full” hormone, leptin, time to signal you to stop eating: Drink a sip of water between bites. Count how many times you chew each bite -- aiming for 20 to 35 chews. Put down your utensil between bites. Then think mindfully about the flavors, smells and textures you are eating, allowing yourself to savor them. That’ll slow down your risk of overeating, weight gain and serious health problems.

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