Mealtime Myths Debunked

girl eatingDr. Kay Toomey is a renowned Feeding Specialist and is the creator of the popular and evidenced-based SOS feeding approach.  She frequently discusses and debunks 10 meal-time myths.  Below, I discuss some of the more popular feeding myths and explain why they are false.

1)  Humans know how to eat instinctively.  Actually, eating is only instinctive in the first few months of life.  Infants eat by programmed reflexes called rooting, sucking, and swallowing.  However, after about age 6 months, infants grow out of these reflexes in favor of learned motor behaviors.  In other words, after age 6 months, eating habits are learned, not instinctive.

2)  Eating is an easy, simple process.  In reality, eating and digestion are very complicated tasks.  In order to eat, an individual must have the following:

  • Proper posture
  • Good respiratory function
  • Good gross and fine motor skills
  • Appropriate strength, coordination, and tone in the tongue, cheeks, lips, and jaw
  • Correctly functioning digestive tract
  • No unknown adverse reactions or allergies to common foods

In addition to the above, children use all of their 5 senses in a complicated, hierarchical process when learning to eat.

3)  Children shouldn’t play with their food.  This is my favorite myth to debunk.  In all actuality, children learn about the world around them through play.  This includes eating and food.  As noted in myth 2, children use all of their senses when eating.  Before children are willing to put food into their mouths, they must first assess food by smelling and manipulating the food.  In other words, children must play with their food in order to learn about it!  If a child is unwilling or unable to examine food before eating, they are much less likely to be willing to eat the food.  This is true for my typically developing daughter, and it is a concept I have had to teach my husband.  He doesn’t like to clean up messes (who does, right?), so he used to prefer to feed our daughter himself, rather than let her feed herself and experiment with her food.  Because of this, she did not eat as readily for him as she did for me.  Once I explained that she is more willing to eat after she has played with her food, she began to eat well for him.  So, let your kids experience their food!  You’ll be surprised at how much more they are willing to eat!

4)  A child will not starve themselves.  This is true in cases of picky eaters, but not true in the case of problem eaters.  For children with feeding disorders, eating is a lot of painful, hard work, and they would rather be hungry.  Eventually, children with feeding disorders learn to suppress their appetite, and soon fail to recognize hunger as a feeding cue.  Essentially, children with feeding disorders inadvertently starve themselves, because they are unable and/or unwilling to eat a sufficient number of calories per day.

Until next time,

Aersta Acerson
A Utah Speech Therapist
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