Take for example one of the most common questions Dorfman receives - what to do about a picky eater? This question is so often brushed off with a “she’s fine” or worse, blaming parents for over-indulging their children. Dorfman advises a parent not to worry, but to do something about it. Gather information and make a plan because...
“A child who restricts herself to eating an empty-calorie, low nutrient diet [often made up of pasta, bread, cheese, French fries, sweets, and other bland comfort foods] is not getting enough nutrients to grow and develop optimally. Because these kids rely on high-starch, high-fat foods that often lack essential nutrients and the bonus healing substances found in fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, they can tend toward moodiness, irritability and fatigue…[and]…they can become easily overwhelmed, sleep poorly, and not perform up to physical or academic potential.” [pg. 35]
Apart from making kids irritable and the insufferable drama and stress it causes for everyone at every meal, Picky Eating can be a signal of an underlying medical condition such as reflux and colon impaction or dairy intolerance. There are many variables to consider when getting to the root of your child’s problem [medical, physical, emotional, behavioral, all of the above] so each case needs to be figured out individually. Dorfman teaches parents how to be "nutritional detectives" and offers up easy-to-follow case studies and flags clues along the way.
In the case of Picky Eating, Dorfman tells us about Tom, whose mood swings went from “wonderful to evil in a nanosecond.” By following Tom's clues, Dorfman gives the reader an example of how parents can become familiar with the “detective process.” Here are Tom’s clues:
- Tom looked unhealthy and had a history of getting sick frequently [pasty pallor and dark circles under his eyes]
- Of the five medical specialists who had seen Tom, none found a single medical explanation for his sleep problems, irritability, frequent illnesses, and picky eating.
- Tom’s twin sister was fine
- Crazy mood swings. A child who feels bad often acts bad. Children do not have the strong ability to regulate their emotions the way adults do.
- Tom had difficulty sleeping [whatever was bothering him followed him into the night]
At this point I will paraphrase Dorfman’s analysis for you, but I assure you it's far more interesting to read her book. Dorfman doesn’t bang on too long. She’s clear and concise. You won’t yawn or glaze over. Promise.
First, Dorfman puts together crankiness + poor sleep + frequent illness + pasty complexion and ended up with the usual suspect: intolerance of dairy protein. [nb, few people have every symptom of intolerance so it is not significant that Tom did not have bowel issues or eczema].
80% of protein in milk is casein, a protein that is difficult for many to digest. As it irritates the lining of the digestive track, the body soothes the irritant by producing mucus. If mucus is produced in response to dairy then the body becomes a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Germs are everywhere, but Dorfman points out that if you “offer them a welcoming growth medium [mucus], poor sleeping patterns, and a lousy diet” then those germs become yet another illness. She adds that when you’re stuffed up and your entire digestive and respiratory systems are lined with mucus, food doesn’t smell or taste good.
She suggested that Tom’s mom take out dairy completely and that she give Tom a calcium and multivitamin supplement for 6 weeks. Dorfman did not suggest adding milk alternatives because kids don’t like them and they offer little nutritional value. In one week, two things changed for Tom almost immediately: 1) his appetite had increased and he was eating more red meat and chicken and 2) his sleep improved and he became calmer with fewer outbursts.
If your child is a picky eater, then she is not getting a balanced diet and needs to change her habits. Dorfman wisely advocates trial and error in order to discover an irritant in disguise. It’s all part of her approach to being your child’s nutrition detective, learning how to pick up on clues, and taking control of meals to make sure your child is getting the nutrients she needs. If you think your child is a picky eater, then Dorfman lists some questions to ask in order to find valuable clues that you can then share with your doctor:
- Does your child lack vitality?
- Does your child look sickly or unhealthy?
- Is your child moody or overly sensitive?
- Does your child eat a mostly white diet – bread, pasta, crackers, white cheese?
- Do you find yourself wondering in the morning if this will be a “good” day or a “bad” day?
- Does your child complain that many foods taste or smell funny?
- Is your child unable to eat foods or dishes that are mixed, such as meat loaf, or salad with various vegetables included?
- Are mealtimes stressful because of food negotiating/refusal?
- Do you have to prepare a separate dinner for your child most nights?
Parenthood is not a straight line and sometimes, it can get pretty darned complicated. Cure Your Child with Food is a really helpful tool for parents as they work their way through a child’s health issues and learn to interpret the clues a child sends out. A child who feels bad often acts bad and that’s about the best reason to reach for this book and get to the bottom of whatever ails our children.