More boys eating badly

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 7, 2011 06:00 AM

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My son is now 13 and will not eat anything other than chicken nuggets, fries, pizza or chips. It all began as a toddler, around the age of 3, he got sick one day and began vomiting. We took him to the dr. they said it had something to do with his asthma and he would be fine. The vomiting I assumed was a flu like symptom. He did in fact get better, but from that day forward his eating habit had changed forever! He went from a normal child, eating and drinking everything to only the few items I now listed above. When I attempt to introduce regular food, he gags and vomits. It has been a struggle for years now and his grandparents have him a large part of the time while I work, and they give in and feed him what he wants. I don't know what else to do. He is getting big in his mid section and it's becoming a problem for him as he is now a teenager. But with him continuing to eat this way, I fear it will get worse. He doesn't seem to gag with the junk he eats. What shall I do? His physician doesn't have any answers for me. Please help....

From: Teresa, Stockton, CA


Dear Teresa,

I'm guessing your wrote in in response to last week's question about a 9-year-old boy's eating habits. So I want to go on record: I'm not turning the Mailbag into a support blog for boys with poor eating habits!! But I do think this situation is substantially different from last week's. This sounds to me more like a kid who was sick and got "special" food while he was sick. But -- aha! -- during this time, he got a lot of attention and, smart cookie that he is, figured out that this eating stuff continued to give him lots of attention. So why not stick with it? Of course, after a period of time, it just became who he is and what he thinks he likes. And let me guess -- every time the issue comes up, it continues to get him attention. He doesn't care that it's negative attention. The vomiting? I would attribute that more to the stress that surrounds the drama over his eating habits than to anything else.

I'm not there -- none of us are -- but it's time to figure out how to move on, not to stay stuck. At 13, it's way too late to undo whatever happened and way too non-productive to be in constant battles with him. Instead, start from scratch by letting him know your concerns -- weight gain, health issues, mental health issues -- and take him to websites so he can read for himself. Make "I" statements -- "I worry about this for you." -- rather than "you" statements -- "You're getting fat! You're going to be unhealthy." He needs to own the problem, and until he does, nothing will change. Offer to find a licensed dietician who will help him. Offer to help him get on an exercise plan. Ask him what ideas he has about how you can help him. Does he wish he could try new foods? And then wait for him to want to change. Be patient. This will not change quickly.

Of course, you also have to get the grandparents on board. Otherwise, this will go nowhere. One other thing. What role model do you offer? That's a huge piece of this. I don't just mean whether you eat junk or exercise, I'm also talking about whether you sit together to eat a meal.

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3 comments so far...
  1. What sort of irresponsible parent would feed a 3-year old toddler pizza, chicken nuggets, chips and fries in the first place? Disgusting to say the least!

    Posted by miguel November 7, 11 10:10 AM
  1. I think mom should also help him see how his eating habits will not fit into the grown-up world. How will he deal with taking a girl out to dinner, having a meal at a friend's house, having a job interview over lunch, etc.

    I think a 13-year-old spends at least part of his time wanting to be older and cool, and this behavior is not cool.

    I'd suggest she have this talk with him, tell him about the solutions, and then don't OFFER to bring him to a dietician, just do it. Hopefully one who has experience in dealing with disordered eating.

    It will be a rocky road, but that's what happens when you ignore a problem for ten years. Best wishes!

    Posted by just cause November 7, 11 11:14 AM
  1. So for 10 years the LW has allowed her son to eat nothing but junk? How does this kid not have a slew of other health problems besides being overweight? Guess we know who runs this household. Here's a thought. You are the parent, you do the grocery shopping. So stop buying nuggets and pizza!

    Posted by IMHO November 9, 11 11:54 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. What sort of irresponsible parent would feed a 3-year old toddler pizza, chicken nuggets, chips and fries in the first place? Disgusting to say the least!

    Posted by miguel November 7, 11 10:10 AM
  1. I think mom should also help him see how his eating habits will not fit into the grown-up world. How will he deal with taking a girl out to dinner, having a meal at a friend's house, having a job interview over lunch, etc.

    I think a 13-year-old spends at least part of his time wanting to be older and cool, and this behavior is not cool.

    I'd suggest she have this talk with him, tell him about the solutions, and then don't OFFER to bring him to a dietician, just do it. Hopefully one who has experience in dealing with disordered eating.

    It will be a rocky road, but that's what happens when you ignore a problem for ten years. Best wishes!

    Posted by just cause November 7, 11 11:14 AM
  1. So for 10 years the LW has allowed her son to eat nothing but junk? How does this kid not have a slew of other health problems besides being overweight? Guess we know who runs this household. Here's a thought. You are the parent, you do the grocery shopping. So stop buying nuggets and pizza!

    Posted by IMHO November 9, 11 11:54 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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