Raising a child with selective eating disorder

Do you ever have those days where you feel like a complete parenting failure? That was me today. We’d had a lovely day, I’d done things around the house, the children had played nicely, we had lunch out and played with friends in the afternoon. I even sneaked in a little McFlurry treat. I was winning on the parenting front…until dinner time.

Dinner time will usually get me but today it was worse. Bean is the most ridiculously fussy eater (she has selective eating disorder) and I don’t deal with it as well as I should do sometimes. I’m pretty sure her baby brother is going the same way. It is a condition that is just so frustrating, and there is no help for it, no cure, no magic medicine, and not even really any therapy that can help.

I’d like to say I have accepted her eating problem, but I haven’t. Every day I wonder if I did something differently that would work – she might eat something. I waver between forcing her to try food and leaving her be. I just don’t know what to do for the best. I worry constantly about her health. She is thin, her teeth are awful and her hair is thin and lank. I worry that her bones are brittle and her high sugar diet is causing long term health problems. I worry that pressuring her to eat is causing her stress, I worry that she is feeling worried or upset herself.

Today I made hummus with pitta dips and carrot sticks for dinner. I knew she wouldn’t eat it as it wasn’t shop bought hummus. I took her aside before dinner time and just asked her not to make a fuss about it. Could she do it? Of course not. She tried a little and ran screaming hysterically into the kitchen dancing around screaming her mouth was on fire. I’m not kidding you, it was normal hummus. Not spicy at all.

I have a big issue with this behaviour because her little brother and sister are watching her, they look up to her, they learn from her. What did they learn from this experience? That the hummus was bad, don’t eat the hummus. I had to cajole a hysterical 5 year old into trying it before she realised that no, this hummus was just like normal hummus and would not kill her. Obviously the baby cannot be so easily convinced and spent the rest of dinner time crying and throwing his food on the floor – behaviour mimicking that of his oldest sister.

It’s bad enough having one child with eating problems but to have those problems spread to the others is a complete nightmare. So I lost it. I shouted, I despaired, I threatened, I was a horrible mother and human being. I handed them over to Daddy when he got home and collapsed on the sofa with some chocolate, immersed myself in other people’s lives on Facebook and cried my eyes out because I felt like a failure.

I’m writing this to let it all out. I’ve given myself a good talking to don’t worry. I don’t want to be that mother. There are lots of better ways to deal with the situation than how I dealt with it. I’ve learnt from the experience. But I am human. I am a mother and providing healthy food for my children is so vital to me. When you have a child with selective eating disorder there is no reprieve. They won’t get better. There is no answer, no specialist doctor and no magic pill. The cold, hard truth of it is that every mealtime will be a struggle for them, and for you. The worst thing is that I know that there will be evenings like this one again.

I know that I will continually feel like a failure because I can’t get my child to eat.

selective eating disorder



  1. April 8, 2016 / 9:16 am

    This was such an eye opening blog post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. April 8, 2016 / 9:16 am

    You have nothing to be ashamed about and you are not a bad mother, I’m sure there is nothing you could have done to change how she behaves around food. I hope she becomes more tolerable and doesn’t act in this way too often! x

  3. April 8, 2016 / 2:43 pm

    I’m a nutritionist and health advice blogger , I’d like to specialise in eating disorders eventually, after suffering with my own.

    I think it always shows strength to write about such important topics and it’s a great way to bring light to childhood eating disorders. It happens and there’s normally nothing you can do to have changed it and even if there was you can’t change the past, just try your best to support her. Eating disorders aren’t fixed over night and the behaviour does come with eating habits like this. It’s awful because she clearly knows what she wants and it’s hard to workout the mood she’ll be in but you clearly understand your daughter and her needs, that’s all you can do..

    Hope it all gets sorted as quickly and safely as can be! x Amy

    • April 11, 2016 / 2:47 pm

      Thank you so much. It’s just so frustrating that there isn’t more help out there.

  4. Vicky Turbin
    April 8, 2016 / 3:40 pm

    I have 2 out of 3 of mine the same and yes it makes you feel awful. Especially school trips now the youngest is older where you have to give a list of what they will and won’t eat to a sceptical teacher. I think once you realize it’s an anxiety disorder it’s easier to rationalize. My teenager grew out of it by about 10 but my current 9 year old seems to be worse. Oddly the in-between child had no issues at all despite seeing us alternating between cajoling, threats (yes we did), tears and despair with the eldest. The only thing that worked for us was to completely back off and pretend it wasn’t happening but get very sneaky whenever they showed an interest in anything new (without showing an interest just have that thing appear regularly on the table on what we call ‘pick n mix’ days). The relief when youngest actually started eating chips (sounds awful but at least he go go around friends houses for tea without embarrassment). You are a great mum so try not to get down and it will get better over time (slot of time mind you!)

    • April 11, 2016 / 2:49 pm

      Thank you! It does help to know we are not alone! I think you are right, it does help to think of it as an anxiety disorder rather than her being ‘naughty’. I like the sound of pick n mix days!! I know what you mean though – I would be delighted if she ate chips!!

  5. April 8, 2016 / 7:09 pm

    You are not a bad mother at all!!!! This is a classic case of “mum guilt” – we all get it for different reasons xx

    • April 11, 2016 / 2:50 pm

      Ah thank you! That means a lot. Mum guilt is definitely here!

  6. April 8, 2016 / 8:09 pm

    You are certainly not a bad mother – Pickle is getting fussier as he gets older, but I use Super Heroes as my secret weapon! Hulk is green because he eats his peas and broccoli 😉 It does work to a degree. Kaz x

    • April 11, 2016 / 2:51 pm

      Sadly things like that don’t work for us but I’m glad they are helping you!

  7. April 8, 2016 / 10:19 pm

    It must be so difficult. You certainly aren’t a bad mother at all hun, you are just trying to do right by your child!

  8. April 9, 2016 / 11:02 pm

    This must be a difficult disorder for you as a parent. Thanks for sharing with us and giving more understanding to what its like. Angela from daysinbed

    • April 11, 2016 / 2:52 pm

      It is SO difficult! And I’m happy to raise awareness as it is a lot more than just picky eating which most people don’t understand.

  9. April 11, 2016 / 10:49 am

    You are far from being a failure. Parenthood is trying at the best of times, and you are doing your best by your children.

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