Welcome back! In part 2 of our 3 part series about “picky eating” and the potential underlying reasons behind it, we will focus on muscle weakness resulting in picky eating.
Think about being at the gym. You decide to lift weights. Someone recommends a particular weight, and you go for it. As you are lifting, you are feeling overwhelmed- it’s really heavy and you are not feeling comfortable at all! You manage to put the weight down, decide it is clearly too heavy for you, and do not attempt to lift the weight again. You then move on to something lighter and more manageable.
You may be wondering what on earth this example has to do with picky eating. In our gym example of lifting weights, you can easily imagine that muscle strength was not sufficient in the arms to lift the weight appropriately. What we often do not think about is that eating and swallowing rely on muscles and their strength to complete these tasks. In fact, there are over 50 muscle pairs involved in eating and swallowing. That is 50 muscle pairs that need to be strong enough to effectively do their job. If these muscles are weak, children are going to have the same reaction as the gym example. In other words, they will refuse the food that they are unable to successfully chew and swallow, and will focus on other foods that they have the muscular strength to manage.
Refusal of food can look like a variety of things. It can look like the child spitting out the food without attempting to swallow (because it is not able to be broken down to the right consistency to safely swallow). Or, it can look like taking a bite and swallowing it, then refusing to continue to eat the food. In this scenario, the swallowed food may have been in too large of pieces to swallow, which can be painful in going down the digestive tract and can have an impact on digestion. This pain then makes the child want to avoid eating more of this food.
If you have a “picky eater” I would highly encourage you to really look at what is going on during meal and snack times. Often these underlying issues can look like behaviors. When a child spits out food or refuses to eat another bite, this tends to be the conclusion. However, the important thing is not what the refusal looks like but the reason WHY.
If meal time is effecting your family life, if you dread these times, if your child only eats a few types of food, or if your child is not consistently gaining weight, I HIGHLY recommend contacting a speech language pathologist for an evaluation to discover the WHY. I have worked with many families who dreaded mealtime and felt like they were all alone in this. Reach out and create a happier and healthier mealtime for you and your child. Do you have questions or want to schedule an appointment? Call Integrated Therapies at (602) 763-0915.
Come back next week for the conclusion of the series: sensory issues and “picky eating”.