Psychology of Eating Podcast: Episode #243 – A Mother Helps Her Son with Food Concerns

Written By:


Amy has reached out to Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, in regards to her 9 year-old son, Xander, who has a complex, picky, and troublesome relationship with food. Marc explains the possible reasons for Xander’s anxiety around controlling what he eats. Amy learns what it could look like to support her son, while not trying to fix him. In Marc’s words, he is a sensitive, interesting soul, he is complex, and he is whole. He is not broken. In turn, Marc invites Amy into a new strategy of being curious with her son, in a way that will support him to manage and grow through his experience, as opposed to both of them being stuck in the spinning wheel of “what’s for dinner?… I don’t want that”.

Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:

Real people. Real breakthroughs. This is a Psychology of Eating podcast where psychology and nutrition meet to uncover the true causes of our unwanted eating concerns. Your relationship with food will never be the same. Now, here’s your host, eating psychology expert and founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, Marc David.

Marc: Welcome, everyone. I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. We’re back in the “Psychology of Eating” podcast, and I’m with Amy today. Welcome, Amy.

Amy: Thank you, Marc.

Marc: I’m glad we’re here. Amy, let me just say a couple of words to viewers and listeners before you and I jump in. So, if you are a returning visitor to this podcast, thank you so much. I so appreciate you. I so appreciate you being part of our world. If you’re new to this podcast, Amy and I are meeting officially in person for the first time right now. And we’re going to be spending about 45 minutes to an hour together and seeing if we can make some good magic happen.

So, Miss Amy, if you could wave your magic wand and get whatever you wanted from this session, what would that look like for you?

Amy: Tools for helping my 9-year-old son not be so worried about eating.

Marc: Tools for helping your 9-year-old son not be so worried about eating. Tell me, what’s going on with him? What does it look like?

Amy: Um, he’s a very picky eating. Which is not new or different, but he tends to like something for a little while and then not like it. To the point of, I’ve provided a meal, he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t know what he wants, and he’s just not going to eat. And he will do that all day long. He’s hungry, but he doesn’t know, and even if I give him two options of things I know he likes, he’s just kind of not excited about food. Unless it’s chocolate or chopped Ramen.

Marc: So, he’s not excited about it, and give me more information. So, will he refuse to eat?

Amy: Yes. He refuses to eat. It’s confusing, because he eats well. I do meats, I do vegetables. He doesn’t like any spices or sauces on things. So, when I’m preparing meals for the family, I’m cooking meat and setting his portions aside and then adding spices and whatever I do to ours. He gets tired of chicken, because he’s always eating plain chicken or plain steak. And so he gets tired of it. But that’s just what he wants. He’s not adventurous when it comes to food. And even if he’ll try something and say, “Oooh, I kind of like this,” then the next time you’re like, “Ok, we found something new you liked, let’s go eat it,” he just is like, “No, never mind. I don’t like it.” And I don’t know at what angle I should be forcing him to eat new things or not or how do I get him interested in food.

Marc: Interesting. What was the last thing you said? “How do I get him interested…?”

Amy: In food. In nourishing himself beyond… I cook for people. I feed tons of people, and they love it, and I can’t feed my son.

Marc: Uh huh. Do you have any other kids?

Amy: I have an older son who’s 16, and he eats anything.

Marc: Uh huh. And how does your older son and your younger son get along?

Amy: Very well. They have their differences. They’re six years apart in age, so one is in high school and one is in grade school. So they have things there that they get under each other’s skin. I guess the little one wants to be like the big one and it’s not possible. But I would say in the last 6 months to a year, things have gotten better, because I’ve encouraged the older one to be more of a, not a father figure, but a better…

Marc: A big brother.

Amy: A big brother, yeah. A really big brother. We lived in Italy, and we moved, and that was a little bit traumatic. And then, their father decided to move back there, and we are divorced now, so I don’t know if that has a bit… My son, the little one, he wasn’t a very interested eater to begin with. So, I don’t know if that could’ve compounded that, but it just seems like it’s getting worse. I assumed that eventually he might be interested in food, and he just seems to be getting worse.

Marc: Uh huh. So, right now your two boys live with you?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: Mmhmm. How often do they see their father?

Amy: It depends. The little one saw him for 5 weeks this summer, and before that he saw them in the November before. Not often, and not regularly.

Marc: What’s your younger son’s name?

Amy: Xander, with an x.

Marc: Xander, ok. So, when did all this food stuff start with Xander, that you could notice or recall or remember?

Amy: At about 2 years old, he would start asking me what was for breakfast. The night before, he would ask me what was for breakfast, and I thought, “Ok, I can tell him.” And then he’d be like, “Well, I don’t want to eat.” And this is until the next day. And then we’d have breakfast, and he would eat stuff. He would want to know, as soon as breakfast was over, “Well, what’s for dinner?” And I would tell him what I was making for dinner, and he was like, “I don’t want to eat. I don’t like it.”
And it was like he would worry about it all day. Like, “I really don’t want to eat that tonight, Mom.” So, then I stopped telling him: “Xander, I don’t know. I haven’t decided.”
“Well, if it’s this then I’m not eating. So, I didn’t know if telling him was a good thing or not telling him was a good thing.

Marc: Got it. Does he have any other health issues?

Amy: No.

Marc: No asthma?

Amy: No.

Marc: No digestive issues?

Amy: No.

Marc: Ok.

Amy: When he was a baby, he had a hard time pooping, and I found that eliminating milk—me stopping eating milk—helped that. And so, I don’t have him drink milk now. Rarely does he get cow’s milk.

Marc: Was he born in the United States?

Amy: No, he was born in Italy.

Marc: Was he vaccinated there?

Amy: No.

Marc: Where was he vaccinated?

Amy: He hasn’t been.

Marc: Oh! Was that a choice of yours?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: Good for you. Ok, that’s actually very helpful for me. Were you a vegetarian when he was younger?

Amy: No.

Marc: No, ok. Ok. What’s his birthday?

Amy: June 9, 2007.

Marc: June 9. He’s a little Gemini.

Amy: Yeah.

Marc: Ok, ok. And tell me how old your older son is again.

Amy: Sixteen.

Marc: Sixteen, ok. How was your relationship with their father when Xander was born?

Amy: It was very good.

Marc: Mmhmm.

Amy: We were very close, and we were on the same page as far as—I had him at home, which in Italy at this point, they don’t do it, have babies at home. And his father delivered him, and we didn’t vaccinate; we didn’t circumcise; we just wanted to be natural. We eat really healthy. At first, we were eating all the breads and pastas there, but then we decided to cut back, because we were eating that a lot and felt heavy from it. And so, when we did come back, that helped the entire family, I feel, have a little bit more energy, noticeably. And, culturally, things just started to fall apart and change him. He is an American, he was here 20 years, and we were really on the same page as far as raising our older son. And then, I feel, when Xander was about 3, things started to fall apart. And so, eventually, I moved them back here, and that seemed to do well for all of us. And then, their father decided to move back to Italy. So.

Marc: Got it, got it, got it. Ok. Does Xander know what he wants to be when he grows up? Does he ever say that?

Amy: An actor.

Marc: He wants to be an actor, very interesting!

Amy: He’s a dancer; he’s an entertainer. He loves people, and he’s not shy in front of adults or anything. He’s an amazing entertainer.

Marc: Ah-ha! Interesting. And how does he do in school?

Amy: He does well. He’s not head of the class, but he’s just average. He keeps up. He’s very good at speaking up and being a part of class—participation. I work in the class every other week, and I get to see him and how he interacts. And the teachers always love him. He’s a very strong personality, and he’s more a leader type. His favorite thing last year was that he got the whole playground, all the kids on the playground, to do the cha-cha line around the playground. He’d been working on it for weeks, trying to get everybody involved, and finally one time he did. So, the teachers were like, “He’s going to be a leader. Whatever he does, it’s going to be amazing.”
He doesn’t change focus very well.

Marc: Is he sensitive to smells, perfumes, odors?

Amy: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t wear stuff.

Marc: No, he would say so.

Amy: Ok.

Marc: Is he sensitive to texture?

Amy: Eating-wise. Yes.

Marc: No, on his skin.

Amy: No, on his skin, no.

Marc: Ok. And he eats meat? Different kinds, sometimes?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: Understood. Ok. I’m just kind of putting this all together in my head to have some thoughts. Who does he remind you of, in your family? Or, does he remind you of anyone in your family?
Who does he take after?

Amy: His dad.

Marc: Really! Is he aware of that?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: No, when I say “he,” is Xander aware that, “Oh, you’re just like your dad!”

Amy: Yeah, um, probably not. I mean, no. It’s not something that I like to say, honestly.

Marc: I get it. I think I understand. One last question. He’s 9 years old now, correct?

Amy: Mmhmm.

Marc: Has he ever had any kind of blood tests?

Amy: No.

Marc: Ok. Ok. So, I’ve got some things I want to say.

Amy: Ok.

Marc: There’s a subset of children who exist in the world, who do what your son does, when it comes to food. They’re picky; they worry about it; they’re planning it; they’re thinking about it; they can get obsessed about it; they change their mind: “I like this, I like that. This is too this, I don’t want to eat it. I don’t like the spice. I don’t like this. I changed my mind.” And it’s exactly as you’ve described. And sometimes worse, sometimes not as bad. Sometimes it can get very intense. Here’s what I believe happens. I think there’s a number of key reasons why children can be like that.

One of the reasons that a child can have this interesting relationship with food, where they get extremely specific about it, is because of a trauma. So, that trauma oftentimes is the trauma of vaccination. It is the trauma, it could be, of certain drugs taken in pregnancy or in infancy that impact the nervous system, that end up affecting a child’s development. And what happens is they are living with a stress, and they perceive stress, they know they have a stress. And children quickly learn that when you have a stressor that’s living in your system—which, they don’t even think these things—but you immediately try to control. Whenever there is something out of our control—my anxiety, my fear, my stress, my uncertainty—you try to control something, symbolically. And the one place children can control is food. “I don’t want this. I don’t want that.” He’s in control.

So, on one level, it’s as simple as that. It’s his way of having control, not because he’s a “control-freak,” but because there is a place where his system feels stress, anxiety, fear. So, if it wasn’t caused by an actual birth trauma or birth event or drug event or vaccination even—and those are common, by the way—what I’ve also noticed, interestingly enough, if there’s a lot of tension in the house, if there’s tension between the two parents, that the child will absorb. They don’t even know what’s going on. They wouldn’t even know to say, “Mommy and Daddy don’t get along.” But kids pick up on stuff. So, that’s why I was asking about your relationship. I was just trying to get a sense of like, “Wow, might he be picking up on something?” We’re not going to know for sure.

Here’s another piece. Another piece is, certain souls just come in, and they’re sensitive. Certain souls come in, and there are certain things we have to handle in our early years. And it’s inexplicable, and you can’t ever know for sure why, but there’s certain things we just have to help our children grow through. I am going to guess that this is probably where Xander falls into. It’s just his soul, and whatever he’s come in to learn in this life and do in this life and be in this life, at the beginning stage, he’s an interesting little cookie.

You know? He’s not a typical little kid. He’s an interesting cookie. He’s had an interesting little life, and he’s lived in a few different countries, different cultures. He’s been exposed to different things. He has two parents that care, that care about his health, that are present for him, that are tracking him. And he’s probably a complex soul, an interesting soul, a soul that has some things to learn that we can’t quite understand right now. So, give him that. That’s where I would land with this, if this was my son.
Given that, then the question becomes—the very good question, which is why we’re in this conversation—what do you do now? Given all this information, what do you do, from a practical standpoint? So, I’m going to give you some advice.

Amy: Thank you.

Marc: I’m going to give you personal advice here, and this comes from being a father. You know, I’ve raised a kid around food; I’ve been around other kids with food. I’ve dealt with this a lot. And, in many ways, I was probably Xander when it comes to my relationship with food when I was his age. So, I want to suggest a two-pronged approach for you. And I’m going to warn you in advance that these two prongs are going to sound very different. But it’s still part of a system, and I will explain.

So, the first approach of the prong is, I want you to stop fixing him. I want you to stop looking at him like there’s something wrong with him. I want you to stop looking at this like there’s something you are doing wrong. Ok? He’s not broken; you’re not broken; nobody’s broken. There is nothing to fix here. We’re not looking to fix this; we’re looking to go with it. We’re looking to work with it; we’re looking to be with it. Because as soon as you try to fix something that ain’t broken, it gets ugly. It just gets a mess, and nothing gets fixed, because nothing’s broken. And things get weird, because you’re trying to fix something that ain’t broken. And it just gets weird. And it’s not going to work.

So, what I want you to consider is that you as the parent are here to help him grow through this. And grow through it means grow beyond it. The way you help somebody grow through an eating challenge like this is you get into their world. And you don’t make their world wrong. And you get as curious as possible about all the little details. “Oh, you don’t like this, and you don’t like that? Wow, that’s interesting! Because I remember, well, it was two days ago you said you really liked this! I’m just fascinated to know, Xander. Just, I really want to know. Like, what happened? What changed for you? I’m just interested.”

The less you could react, the better. The less you could look at it that something’s wrong, the better. “Oh, wow! Yeah, we’re going to be having chicken tonight. You don’t want to have chicken? This is interesting; that’s what I bought. I’ll tell you what. You know, see how you feel in the evening. You might change your mind, and you might not. Understandably, if you change your mind, I’m not going to hold that against you. I get it. Maybe we’ll throw something else together for you, maybe not. I don’t know how I’m going to feel, but let’s just see how you feel then.”

So, I want you to try to not make him wrong for his behaviors. I want you to try to go with them. And I know you’ve probably been doing that. But there’s also a little part of you that’s trying to fix this. Or fix you. So, I want you to stop fixing it, because there’s nothing wrong. This is what he has to grow through. Different kids go through different challenges in early parts of their life. There will be a time in his life when he won’t even remember this. And if he does, it’ll be like, “Oh, oh yeah. Right.” And it’s not going to be an issue.

So, it’s not going to damage him. It’s not going to mess him up. This is something he is learning. He is learning how to manage his world by having an interesting relationship with food. He’s using food to express his tensions. He’s using food to have some kind of control. He’s using food to create intimacy. Why? This creates dialog. Mommy’s got to keep an eye on him. Mommy’s got to do this. Mommy’s got to do that. Mommy’s got to cook something else. Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. So, it actually keeps him connected to you. It keeps you in the game with him. He’s a little scared. He gets a little nervous, and it’s this interesting part of him.

So, what I’m going to say is there’s nothing wrong, and he’s going to grow out of it, and your job is to A) not make him wrong, to B) not see this as something deficient or needs to be fixed. This is something that you’re helping your child with so he grows stronger. And it’s not about food. Even though it’s about food. What’s going to happen is because your profession is about food, and this whole conversation is about food, it seems like it’s food! And it is, on one level. It is, it is, it is. I’m not denying that it’s not. But it’s really not. On a deeper level, it’s not about food. So, I need you to remember that. Deeper level: not about food. Deeper level: this is him learning how to regulate and manage his experience. He is trying to regulate and manage his experience of life. He gets nervous. He needs to plan shit. He needs to know what’s going to happen. He needs to know. He needs to think about stuff. He needs to mull over stuff. And he does that through food.

Maybe he does that in other parts of his life, but food is the place where he can do it where he gets a bunch of attention. And in part, it brings him attention. That’s another piece; he just needs attention in this way. He needs attention: “I want to make sure I’m on your radar.” So, part of it’s attention.

Amy: That makes sense.

Marc: As simple as that. Next strategy. We talked about a two-pronged approach. The first prong is you love and accept him. You get that there’s nothing to fix. You get that he’s not broken. You get that this is something I am helping in grow through, and there will come a day when this is a distant memory, and it’s so not an issue.
And then you’re going to say to yourself, “Man, I wish I didn’t worry so much.”

Amy: Right.

Marc: You with me?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: Yeah, you are. So, here’s the next prong of the approach. It’s going to sound a little different, but it’s not. I want you to have your boundaries. I want you to have boundaries. I want you to have places where you draw a line. Ok, so it’s dinner time. He said he was ok with—fill in the blank—chicken. You served chicken, and he goes, “I don’t want it.” I want you to have moments where you draw a line. You go, “Ok, listen. Xander, I’m kind of done in the kitchen today. I’m going to tell you, as your Mama, I love cooking, and sometimes, I’m just like, I’ve had enough. I don’t want to cook anymore. I’m cooking for all these different people here. And it’s a lot. And I’m your mother, and that’s part of my job, but also, I’m tired. I don’t want to make another meal. So, I understand if you don’t want to eat this meal. I prefer you not go hungry, but if you’re going to go hungry, that’s fine. I don’t want to force you to eat something you don’t want to eat. So, it’s up to you. But I’m not going to make anything else.”
I want you to have those moments where you draw a line. Have you ever done that before?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: What does he do?

Amy: He’ll go to his room, sometimes fall asleep, then he eats in the morning. Or he comes out at bedtime, “I’m hungry. Can I please just have a banana?” He has in his head what he wants, then. And he’ll ask specifically for something. And sometimes I’ll allow it, and sometimes I won’t.

Marc: And why wouldn’t you allow it?

Amy: If we got all the way to the dinner table with him being ok with what we were eating and then suddenly say, “No,” then the food that I am presenting is catered to him. It does not have sauces or spices or anything extra, and I feel like there are situations where it’s not about the food. He’s pulling a stunt. Maybe that’s his, as you say, his call for attention. And sometimes, I say, “Look, I understand this may not be your favorite thing to eat, but it’s not unpalatable. It’s not gross; it’s not something new and strange. It’s exactly what you like to eat, and you can eat some of it.” And if he still refuses, then a banana later is the wrong message. So, I’ll refuse it. If I’ve made something different and he’s tried a bite and refuses to eat the rest, and I know that there’s things in there—it’s not overwhelming and shouldn’t be that big of deal—and he still chooses to go to his room, I’ll allow that. And then, when he comes out and wants a banana before he goes to bed, I’ll give it to him. Because he at least tried a bite.

Marc: Ok, great! I think it’s great. I love what you’re doing. I think that’s perfect. I’m glad you’re drawing lines with him, glad you’re creating boundaries. I think that’s exactly what’s needed. And what you just described, I think you handle A+. I really do. Because you have to create your adult rules. Because, guess what? You’re the adult. You’re in charge here. You’re the mama. What you say goes. When he’s living out of the house, he can do what he wants. When he’s living in your house, I’m sorry, but it’s your rules. That’s just the way the system is set up.

I have told my son that time and time again, from the beginning. Whenever he objects to my rules, I’m like, “Yeah, they’re my rules, but these are the rules of life, young man. You are the kid; I am the adult. You live by my rules. Why? Because I’m the guy that brings in the money. I’m the guy that provides this house for you. I’m the guy that drives you around. I’m the guy that buys you all this nonsense and protect you and takes care of you. So, you live by my rules, ’til you’re on your own. That’s just how it is.”

Amy: Yeah.

Marc: Boys understand that, by the way. You tell that to a boy, they actually get it.

Amy: They like the—

Marc: What?

Amy: They like the lines.

Marc: Yeah, they do! They really do! They do. They need those lines. They need those boundaries. They need to know what the rules are, and they will push you and test you. And as long as the father is not consistently around, you will have to play mother and father. And this is a time when you have to play father. When I say “play father,” I’m thinking more the traditional father or masculine or male role, which is, “Here are the boundaries; here are the rules; here are the guidelines. You don’t cross over this line. That’s it. There’s no conversation here. There’s no argument. It’s just the way it is.”

Amy: Right.

Marc: So, he’s going to grow out of it is my message to you. And you have to be patient, because it might take him another 3, 4, 5, 6 years. Or less.

Amy: Ok.

Marc: But here’s the other piece. Think of this as you’re in it for the long haul, and I don’t want you, as best you can, as best you can—so this is also part of your practice now. Part of your practice is going to be to do your best to not make a big deal of it in his presence.
Amy: Right.

Marc: So, do your best. Something like, “Oh, ok. You said you wanted it, I served it to you, and the moment I gave it to you, you said you didn’t want it. But I cooked this for you, so, you either eat it or you don’t. It’s up to you. Whichever choice you make. But you’re not going to be eating anything else before you go to bed. And it’s totally up to you. Oh, gotta go! Got to go make a call.” So, you can be nonchalant about it. Be a little more detached about it. Don’t show him your emotional charge around it. Because if you show him your emotional charge around it, then he’s going to read that as he’s being successful. Because he’s got you thrown off your horse a little bit.

Amy: Yeah.

Marc: So, there’s a part in us that’s going to be tested. Because he’s a kid. Kids will test their limits. So, the less you can show him your reaction, even if you’re having it—because there are going to be times when you might get really annoyed. It’s fine to be annoyed on occasion and show him that, but overall, I’m saying, in the big picture overall: “Yup, no biggie. If you don’t want to eat dinner tonight, I understand. I don’t want to see you go hungry, but you’re probably going to be hungry. And I can’t guarantee that I’m going to let you eat anything later.”

Amy: Right.

Marc: And there it is. And, over time, he will come to gradually grow out of that. And there’s not going to be a need for him to be relating to you in that way.

Amy: Ok.

Marc: Right now—

Amy: Um—

Marc: Yes?

Amy: What would you suggest when he comes out for breakfast, and I’ve got two options that he eats all the time, and he just says, “No, I’m not interested. I’ll wait for lunch” And he does. Health-wise, I fear—not that he’s malnourished—but he should eat something! And it’s going to be 4 more hours before lunch. I guess that’s the mommy fear, that your child’s not getting enough food.

Marc: That’s an interesting one. So, is he usually hungry in the mornings?

Amy: Yes.

Marc: And, when he says, “Ok, I’ll wait ‘til lunch,” are you around him? Can you see his energy level when he skips breakfast?

Amy: Yes, and he just wants to lay around. He doesn’t have the energy.

Marc: Ok, so that’s a place where you can draw a boundary that has consequences, that has to have consequences. “Ok, fine. You don’t have to eat breakfast, but, here’s the consequence. So, in this house, here’s the rule: we eat something at breakfast. Why? Because, I know. I’m the mother. I’m smarter than you. And I see, if you don’t eat breakfast, you lie around like a couch potato. Not ok for me. I don’t want my kid to be a couch potato. So, we eat breakfast. If you don’t eat breakfast, there’s a consequence. So, you can give me, Xander, if there are other choices you want to have for breakfast, let’s discuss that. So, we either expand your repertoire, so you don’t have just these two choices, or you choose between one of those two choices. And, if you don’t, there’s a consequence.” So, you have to come up with a consequence that he will feel. Which usually means taking something away that he likes.

Amy: Right. Easy. No tech.

Marc: There it is! There it is. And it’s a simple rule. And it’s just action-reaction: “That’s fine. You don’t have to eat this breakfast. I’ll feel disappointed a little bit. It’s going to be hard seeing you sit around like a couch potato, and it’s going to even be harder watching you not have any tech to play with. That’s the consequence.” So, you always choose a consequence that he will feel.

Amy: Ok.

Marc: And that will impact him. That will make him think twice. And you keep doing that consequence, if you have to do it six days in a row.

Amy: Yeah.

Marc: I really mean that. Because he will eventually rise to the occasion. He will eventually start to eat breakfast, if you keep taking away the thing that he values.

Amy: Right.

Marc: Which is your prerogative as a parent. And, it’s not fun. I get it. Who wants to do that? Who wants to be in that kind of relationship with your kid?

Amy: Right.

Marc: Just eat your stupid breakfast so you can play with your tech!

Amy: And I can do what I need to do!

Marc: Right! Exactly, exactly. So, this is what you’re helping him grow through now. So, you’re helping him learn some things. You’re helping him learn how to be in relationship with himself, his own body. You’re helping him learn how to be in relationship with you. You’re helping him learn about life through food. You’re helping him learn about rules, boundaries, consequences, energy level, taking care of himself, how he changes his mind, how making choices and then unmaking those choices can have consequences. So, if you look at it as the larger act of parenting and helping him grow through something, as opposed to, “Oh, this stupid eating thing on my kid,” then you will understand that you’re doing him a service. Even though, it’s not fun for you. And even though it’s not the ideal parenting activity you would choose. Welcome to the world of parenting.

Amy: Right.

Marc: You know?

Amy: Right.

Marc: I have one more suggestion, and maybe you’ve done this already. Have you tried to enlist your older son in coaching your younger son around food?

Amy: No. The older one more berates him, because, you know, “I eat this. I eat that.” It’s more of a show-off. “Well, why can’t you? I eat this, and it’s not bad.” That’s not worked so far.

Marc: Yeah, in order for that to work, he’s got to be more of mentor. He’s got to not be in competition with him. He has to show his little brother why him eating food is a good choice.

Amy: Yeah.

Marc: You can ask your older son the question. If you get some ideas, that’s great. Ask your older son the question, or just tell him, “Hey, listen, you know, I’ve been thinking about Xander. I just had a conversation about him, and the thought came up, that I think you could be a real big help to your little brother. If you did a little bit of coaching and mentoring for him around food. And I almost don’t even know what you would say, but maybe you could think about it. Think about you being an older brother. What could you say that would kind of inspire him a little more? Not just, ‘Well, I ate this. Why don’t you eat this, dummy?’ Not like that. But more like, how do you get him to do it by cheerleading him, by inspiring him?”

And ask him if he has any ideas. See what he says. So, kind of draw him out a little bit. He might have some interesting ideas. Who knows? He might not. But that’s definitely something. I’m always looking to see what support can you marshal from your system.

Amy: Right

Marc: So, your older son, because your younger son looks up to him, that’s a good thing. He wants to be an actor. Does he have any favorite actors?

Amy: All of the superheroes. Not particularly.

Marc: But he likes the superheroes in the movies?

Amy: Definitely. Oh, yes. He’s got every costume there is.

Marc: Got it. Ok. So, you know, I will tell you, with a young man, you can always pull out the strength card when it comes to food.

Amy: Yes.

Marc: Do you ever do that?

Amy: Yes, yes. Yes, I have. He’s a very strong little kid. He’s short for his age, but he’s solid muscle. Which is exactly like what his father is. And so, he’s always had big arms compared to other kids his age. He even has some pectoral muscles already, because he’s done Tae Kwan Do, so he’s got good form, good balance. He’s very athletic. So, he doesn’t really care. He’s like, “I’m already strong.” But, I don’t care.

Marc: Well, you’ve got the pull the card called, “Yeah, and you want to stay that way.”

Amy: Right, and you need to get bigger. You don’t need to. You want to get as big as your body wants it to get. And if you’re not feeding it well, it’s not going to rise to its full potential.

Marc: Yeah. I would try that on, and he might be immune to that, for sure. But does it resonate for you when I say to you that this is something that you need to help him grow through? As opposed to something wrong with him or a problem to fix?

Amy: Absolutely. It’s a good insight.

Marc: Yeah, and to me, it will change the tenor and the flavor of how you’re with him. And, I’m hoping it brings you more peace as a mother. And I mean that, because there’s nothing wrong with him that this is happening. That this is just an indication of this is what the relationship—meaning your relationship and his—this is what the relationship is asking of you, as a mother. In relation to this young son. Here’s where the action is. Here’s where he creates action. So, here’s where you need to be 2, 3, 4 steps ahead of him.

Constantly. And that 2, 3, 4 steps ahead of him means 1) always understand it’s not a problem, it’s not something to be fixed. This is relationship. Your son is learning how to do relationship, and he’s using food to play around and explore. He doesn’t know he’s doing it. It’s unconscious. It’s a way that he gets to be in an interesting relationship with you. Who know? It’s probably his karma with you as well. Kids are different! Your older kid is different from your younger kid. There’s nothing you did differently with each kid that made my older one like this and my younger one like that.

Amy: Right.

Marc: There’s nothing you did different. That’s how they came out. So, in my experience, kids come in how they come in. And they come in with a soul; they come in with lessons to learn. They come in with a personality, and we just watch it unfold. Do we have some places where we shape that? Absolutely. But they are who they are who they are. And you’re learning how to be with him. And you’re learning how to help him. And the way you help him is by not thinking that there’s something wrong with him.

Amy: That makes sense.

Marc: Or wrong with you.

Amy: Right. Or I’ve done something wrong, or can’t do something right. Yes.

Marc: Exactly, so any time you have that thought, I hope you just take it off the table as soon as it comes up. And you realize, “I have not done anything wrong.” In fact, you’ve probably done 98% of things right. And it would’ve been a hell of a lot worse had you not known the things you know! You’ve given your kids a great start. You care about food; you care about health. You have good distinctions around food and health. Lucky kids! I wish I was that lucky when I was their age, when I was growing up. You know? So, you’ve given him a great head start, and that’s a beautiful thing. Good for you!

Amy: Thank you.

Marc: So, closing thoughts. Key things you’re taking away from this conversation, that are useful for you.

Amy: Right. I am relieved that I can look at this as not a problem that I have to fix, but as just, with everything in growth with your children, everything is a step. Everything is a learning process, like learning to walk. You had to get through those stages. So, I’m going to focus on this learning to eat and relate to food as just one of the steps of growing up, and I’m there to help him through it. And that is a huge change of paradigm for me, and I’m excited about that.

Marc: Yes! Good for you! Good for you! Good for you! It’s going to make your life way easier.

Amy: I hope so.

Marc: Yeah, and it’s going to help him get where he needs to go quicker.

Amy: There you go.

Marc: Yeah, yeah.

Amy: Very good.

Marc: Well, Amy, you’re such a great mom!

Amy: I try!

Marc: You’re a great mom. You’re a great mom. You’re a great mom. You really are, and I hope after we finish this call in a few moments that you take a moment and just bask in that a little bit and give yourself that. I mean it. Because I know you care, and I know you work hard, and I know you’re dedicated. And you’ve got two real lucky kids. And good for them. And good for you.

Amy: Thanks.

Marc: And I’m honored to be in this conversation, and I’m glad I can help with this. Because, what a beautiful thing, to give our kids just a great head start with food and body and health? It’s just the best foundation we can give them, you know?

Amy: I agree.

Marc: Yeah. Yay, Amy! Great work!

Amy: Thank you!

Marc: Thank you! And thank you, everybody, for tuning in. I really appreciate you being with us. I appreciate you being part of our world. I’m Marc David on behalf of the “Psychology of Eating” podcast. Take care, my friends.

I hope this was helpful. Thanks for listening to the Psychology of Eating podcast. To learn more about the breakthrough body of work we teach here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, please sign up for our free video series at That’s I for Institute, P for Psychology, E for T-i-p-s. You’ll learn about the cutting-edge principles of dynamic eating psychology and mind/body nutrition that have helped millions of people forever transform their relationship with food, body, and health.


Become a Mind Body Eating Coach

Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.


Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Get notified when new episodes go live.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Listen to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Follow Us

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.