How many of you have had a powerful reaction to a food when you smelled it, tasted it or saw it? I would venture to say that every single one of us has. Positive or negative (stomach flu anyone?) there are certain food experiences that we just can't forget.
I was reminded of this recently when I gave a friend some cookies I had baked. You see these weren't just ANY cookies, they were Peppernuts: a beloved, paper thin, cookie cutter shaped, anise flavored cookie from our childhood. I had mentioned to her that my mom was teaching my daughter and I to bake them and she commented that she hadn't had any since the days of our grandmothers making them in the basement of the church. Of course I had to share some with her! I dropped the cookies off and didn't give it another thought until she sent me a text, some days later, saying that she had a powerful experience when she tasted it. Her grandmother has since passed and so biting into the cookie took her immediately back to her grandmother's kitchen, smelling the smells and tasting the tastes. It was so powerful, she became emotional at these memories and said "I felt ridiculous standing in the kitchen, tearing up over a COOKIE."
It's NOT uncommon though. As a feeding therapist I understand the relationship between food and memory all too well. So many of my clinically picky eaters have a negative "memory" that we are working to slowly, slowly, slowly erase. How can you be expected to enjoy eating if the ONLY memory you have of eating in general or a certain food brings you pain or nausea or anxiety?
There are a few foods that I STILL can't eat because I have had bad experiences with them. Most ,for me, are from my pregnancies. I was so VERY sick with both of my children that, at one point, I didn't think I'd have any foods left that I would enjoy. Orange creamsicle? Not entering this mouth and it's been 11 YEARS!!
Whether we are parenting a picky eater or doing therapy with a picky eater we MUST remember that ONE episode with a food or eating event can create a LASTING memory that shapes how we accept that food and perhaps even other foods. As I work with picky eaters, I try to put myself in their shoes.
What if someone strapped me into a high chair and came at me with an orange creamsicle? Would it be a happy time?
*No. It wouldn't.
What if they asked me to "please just take a bite" and I did, just to please them? Would it erase my unhappy memory about that food?
*No, it wouldn't.
Would it create an even bigger negative memory for that food?
*Yes, it probably would because I would likely gag and feel sick after eating it.
Would it then be even harder to get me to eat because I'm still associating bad things with orange creamsicles AND now with my high chair?
*Yes, it would.
Let's all be mindful of where the food refusal is coming from. Put yourself in your child's shoes. Think about the above scenario only with your most dreaded food to gain some perspective.
Now, I want you to comment and let me know what that food would be and why...