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Feb. 21, 2022

Episode 35: Answers for Picky Eaters with Jessica Setnick

In this episode, DJ talks with dietician Jessica Setnick about picky eaters. Do you have picky eaters… only eating the same 5 things? Have the battles over eating ever resulted in tears at your dinner time table? Stop what you’re doing and listen to this episode! 

Jessica explains that individuals actually taste things differently and that we're undoubtedly creating a bigger dilemma by actually forcing a child to eat something they don't like. She goes on to tell us about her own approach in how to not berate, shame or punish our children for their discriminating eating habits. And she shares some insightful tips from getting the children involved in the meal prep process, to speak up and ask for what they want and teaching them good table manners.

Jessica Setnick is your favorite kind of nutrition expert - she knows her stuff but doesn’t take herself too seriously and brings a fresh, smart perspective to our relationships with food. In her quest to create a world where no one is ashamed of their eating quirks, Jessica blends her personal story of step-mom to picky eaters with twenty plus years working in the eating disorder field to cook up strategies that all of us can try. Her latest workbook is called Food Fairy Tales: Change the Stories You Tell About Food and Eat Happily Ever After. 


 • [3:09] Jessica explains how her two worlds of being a dietician and parent of picky eaters collided… 
• [8:17] “ First of all, I got them involved in the kitchen. I picked activities when we made…”
• [13:29] Jessica talks about her awakening as a food preparer for picky eaters that their non-acceptance of her food did not mean they were not accepting her… 
• [38:13] “Food is a mood altering chemical, and we don't allow that enough in our conversations…”

Do you have a picky eater? Share some of your tips on getting them to try new things and tag us on Facebook or Instagram @littleheartsacademy!

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DJ Stutz  0:13  
You're listening to Episode 35 of Imperfect Heroes, Insights Into Parenting, the perfect podcast for imperfect parents looking to find joy in their experience of raising children in an imperfect world. I'm your host, DJ Stutz. And in today's episode, I am talking with Jessica Setnick. And Jessica is my favorite kind of nutrition expert. She knows her stuff, but she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she brings a smart perspective to our relationships with food. And in her quest to create a world where no one is ashamed of their eating quirks. Jessica blends her personal story of being a step mom to picky eaters, when she had 20 plus years of working in the eating disorder field, trying to cook up strategies that all of us can try. Her latest workbook is called Food Fairy Tales. Change the stories you tell about food and eat happily ever after. There's so much to learn. So let's get started.

parent teacher conferences are going to be here before you know it. And do you know how to have a conference that lets you in on how your child is truly doing? What questions do you ask, what information does your teacher need to know? You can get this information in a one hour webinar called getting the most from important conversations. And you can find this webinar on my website, www dot Little Hearts Academy And be sure to listen to the end of the podcast and be one of my linger loggers. I have a very special offer for four of you. So check it out. My kids were pretty good eaters. My problem was that one didn't like beef. One didn't like chicken. Another didn't like pork. What was her mother to do? Well, Jessica actually had some pretty good ideas. So let's listen in. I am joined here today with Jessica setenil. And she is one of my imperfect heroes working to change the world one kid at a time. And we are talking today about dealing with those picky eaters. The ones that you just can't get them to eat much at all, or they just want that junk food kick. But I'm going to let Jessica introduce herself and and get us started.

Jessica Setnick  3:00  
Okay, well glad to be here. So I'm not sure if I'm here as a parent, or as a dietitian, I think it's one of those situations where your worlds collide perfectly. And I'm here as both because I have been a dietitian for 24 years. And I have a 24 year old step daughter, who I met when she was five years old and a 25 year old stepson who I met when he was six. So I got into relationship with my now husband, with his kids five and six years old, and he'll set a teenager and the little ones started to stay at our house every weekend, which was so fabulous to me Friday through Sunday. We got all the fun in my mind. And here I am working as an eating disorder dietician and giving talks on child feeding and talking about Ellen Sattar principles and the Division of responsibility. And seeing people who have kids who are picky eaters. And here I end up in this situation with kids. Essentially, in my home, I want to say of my own because after 20 years, I feel like they're my own, but I don't mean only mine. I mean, you know, my kids that I'm responsible for, and they have a list of five things that they will definitely eat. And that's it. And so we're talking about rice a Roni but only chicken rice a Roni, we're talking about macaroni and cheese but only Velveeta macaroni and cheese and only when cooked by dad because I apparently make it too wet or too dry or too something. So he has to make it ramen noodles were in there but only chicken flavor chicken fingers not chicken nuggets but you can fingers and plain spaghetti noodles. And so here I am in this situation thinking this is not right, right. I am the person who tells people how to improve their child eating not the person who's fixing Velveeta cheese, the shells every meal And so it was sort of unclear to me how significant of an issue this was going to be. Until one night when maybe the first time I had actually even had a meal with the kids and Greg, and he cooked this concoction that I would need, it looked awful. But I remember him saying to the kids, they didn't like the looks of it. And he said, Well, you're not going to eat it, then you just go to bed. And they both started to cry. And it was my first experience of parenting as a single person who hadn't had any kids of my own. And I said, You know what, nobody is going to bed right now. And it is not worth crying over dinner. So I'm going to put some water on the stove for Velveeta cheesy shells, you guys go play, I'll let you know when it's ready. And I'm going to talk to daddy for a little while. And I basically told him, that this is not how it's gonna go, like, literally, this relationship could break up. What happens next, because he remembered being a kid sitting in front of the mashed potatoes or whatever it was that he didn't want to eat and spending the night at the table, because you're gonna sit there until you eat it. And I said, we don't believe in that. And he said, we always had to make a happy plate. And I said, I get that. And I get that you're disappointed that they don't want to eat what you made. But tears at the table is not a way to fix it. So I made some rules DJ, and the lie I told to myself that made it okay, was the and I know now this was a lie. And it was probably I knew probably was a lie at the time. But I told myself the lie that if I had been in the picture from the beginning, the kids would not be such picky. Right? But because here I am coming into a five year old and a six year old and whatever went wrong went wrong long before I got here. So you know, right. And what's interesting is, and I've noticed this before and stance is that in the adoptive and foster parent communities, there is a real acceptance of kids might be picky, because who knows what happened before they got here, if they were neglected, there's even an understanding that kids might hoard food or keep it under the bed or keep it in their sock drawer. And it's interesting, because I think there is a freedom that coming in a little bit later gives you to say, I don't know what happened before. And so I'm going to accept that this is how things are, as opposed to when we parented a child from the very, very beginning. And there's no one else to blame, it can feel really hard on your ego. So I know now that it was a lie, and I could have been with those kids from the very beginning, and they still would have been five item kids and that's okay. But I told myself that lie. And I was like, well, here's how we're going to cope with it. What I tell other people when they're in this situation is there's no guarantee you can make it better. But I guarantee you can make it worse. You can make it so your kids only four things, or three things, or won't come to the table at all, or kick you when you put food in front of them, right. We're trying to give them if nothing else, but good experience with eating at the table, and the ability to navigate the world as a picky eater. And so what I started to do after I had the conversation with Greg he agreed that I was the food expert, we were going to do things my way and that we believe in happy kids not happy plates. And so first of all, I got them involved in the kitchen. I picked activities when we made breaded chicken Derek was the one who got to pound pound pound his little heart out the mallet on the chicken inside the plastic bags. And Peyton was the one who got to dredge the chicken in the flour and egg and the bread crumbs issues so meticulous and he was more of a banger. So worked out great. So different situations like that, where I got them involved in the kitchen, but they did nothing eat anything. They did have to have nice manners at the table. They learned how to say may be excused. I invited family members over for dinner so that they could get used to having adults at the table. And I made sure they knew how to put their napkin in their lap. I made sure they knew how to say no thank you. I wanted them to have competence when they went to a restaurant. So I taught them things like if you see pasta on the menu, any kind of pasta doesn't matter what cream sauce it has in it what meat it has in it. If you see a pasta dish on the menu, that means someone in that kitchen can make you a plate of plain noodles with butter or plain noodles. If that's what you want. You have to have the courage to ask for it because it's not going to be on the menu. But think about that a child sees a menu and doesn't know they can read. But they don't know that there's a backstory, let's say to everything that's on the menu. So they were going to learn how to be able to nourish themselves, no matter what. And you know, Greg sort of had some backsliding maybe sometimes when I wasn't around, I remember maybe being out of town for work and coming home and the kids. They're like Daddy children's week, we can't go to Europe. And I was like, How did this even come up? I don't know what you're talking about. And so apparently they'd gone to a restaurant and the chicken fingers look kind of funny. And they didn't want to eat them. And he said, Well, if you can't eat chicken fingers, we can't take you out of the country because they might not have chicken fingers in Europe. So what the kids took away from that was totally different than

right. So, the idea was that there was not going to be any shame or expectation that you know if Derek was going to leave for college and all he would eat is Velveeta cheese HE shells and he was not going to be ashamed of eating Velveeta cheese HE shells and we would just I guess drop a big case of Velveeta cheese HE shells to the roof of his car in college like that. That's what it meant they were going to be competent eaters, they were going to not be ashamed and embarrassed. And we were going to lower our expectations, which is hard, really hard. Especially. I mean, if you think it's hard as a parent, imagine being a parent who's a dietician, it was really hard. But I also made sure that no matter what, no matter what we were eating, there was one of those five things was on the table. One of those things was always there that they would eat. And it turned out over time, I realized there's a few other things that maybe they would eat, you know, he would eat a hot dog bun, she would eat a hot dog, they would eat oranges and strawberries. I made sure there were oranges and strawberries on that table every single time we sat down for dinner, even if it was out of season, I didn't care how much the strawberries cost I just made sure and that's a privilege. I understand that I have. But I made sure that things that they like some of the things that they like were always going to be on that table. And it was a challenge for me because I had to face the the shaming from other people when I would bring Velveeta cheese shells to my mother's house for Thanksgiving and say to my mom, can you save a burner on the stove, I need to make the Velveeta cheese shells for the kids. And luckily, she didn't have a problem with it. There were other people who had a problem. I specifically remember someone saying to me once when we were at a barbecue, and my stepdad Howard was cooking on the grill, and I said, Howard, he wants a bun with no hot dogs. She wants a hot dog with no bun. And so when snarky said, Can't they just do whatever on the table, you know, kind of thing? And I said no. I said maybe they can or maybe they can't. But no, today they can't. And they're not. And you know, we just handled it. We just handled it. And I'm so amazed at what happened. Because let me tell you, I learned that my ego was so caught up in their eating. It became so crystal clear to me the first time I made ramen noodles for Derek and he looked at it. He was like, No, I don't want that. And I said, but I made it exactly how you want it. And he said, Well, it's it's too hot. And I said, Alright, it'll cool off. And then when it cooled off, he said it's too cold. I said, I can heat it up in the microwave. And they said it's too brown. And there's too many little green things floating in it. And I started to realize this kid doesn't want to eat it. I mean, he's making a reason to try to mollify me. But he really doesn't want it and, and I was getting frustrated, like I made this for you, because this is what you told me you wanted. And finally I kind of stepped away and had a little pep talk with myself. And I came back and I said, You know what, I'm going to take this soup away. What I realized is, and this is I think at this point is this specific incident was before we were married, I said you know what? I realized I want you to like me, but you don't have to like my soup. And I realized it's not the same thing. So I'm gonna take this soup away and tell me what is something that you could eat for lunch? And I think maybe he said where it's crackers, cheese or something like that. And I was like, Oh, there's another thing that they like me. Okay, and I gave it to him. But it was this really rude awakening that wow, my ego as a food preparer. And as a step parent is really tied into accept me, you have to accept my food. And once I got over that, I realized that it's okay. I am a grown person and I can stand up to anyone who says this is not okay, because I decided it is okay. And I'm going to tell you the funny outcome of my story. This may be more than you wanted to know about my personal life. But I feel like it's, it's helpful to know that I'm not a dietitian who thinks everyone eats perfectly and so your kids should eat perfectly, too. No, I totally get it when Derek was about 12 years old. And this is after years of bringing our own food to Thanksgiving dinner dealing with the comments and all that one night after we'd made the breaded chicken and I just remember deer with the pounding and pay with the Gladdy. And we sat down at the table and there was something that they like I wasn't going to eat, they'll be too cheesy shells every day of my life. But Reagan I continued to eat other things in front of him. He said to me, can I try a piece of that? So cut him half a piece of breaded chicken, he liked it? And he's like, Can I have more? And I said sure. And I remember Greg kind of looking at me like with the side. I like what's going on here. And I remember clearly the next day we went to Chili's. I mean, I remember every detail of these incidents because it's so significant to me. We went to Chili's and Derek looked at the menu and for the first time ever, he could not order tickets, but I'm gonna order these ribs. I knew what was happening. Not with Derek I didn't know what was happening. But I knew it was happening in Greg's mind and I looked at him I gave him like the don't say anything. If he doesn't eat it, you can take it to lunch tomorrow, okay, but just keep your mouth shut because I know Greg was like, starting to mouth the words, he's not going to eat that. And I was like, you just let it go. We're just gonna see where this takes us. And he did eat them. And then maybe this went on for a couple weeks in, I kept my big mouth shut. But finally, one day, it was like I had to know. So it, uh, not not a meal time because we don't talk about meals and eating and mealtimes, right? That's too stressful. At a totally separate time. I said, Derek, it's totally fine. What you've been eating lately. All the meat totally fine. I'm just curious, what changed. And he looked at me totally deadpan, at 12 years old and said, Jessica, I'm going to be dating soon. And I am not going to order off the kids menu. And I was low.

Here is like the fruition of my belief that kids will either get better or change or not that they won't change on your schedule. And the idea that something had clicked in his mind, it was his time, he was ready to make changes. I mean, it just made me feel like the angels were singing and the dials open. And the sunrise, you know, and now both kids, I mean, they have preferences like everyone else, but it's certainly not as limited as it was before. And that was really the beginning of it was him just deciding that he wanted to start trying things. And I believe that intervening, let's say six years of not pressuring him is literally what built the foundation of him knowing he could try something. He would not be forced to finish it. He would not be berated. I mean, we've all heard, like, I paid for it. So you're all that collider, though? Yeah. So I start with a success story to say it's not necessarily that we can make everything better, we can't maybe turn everyone into a omnivore. But we can definitely make it worse. And we're trying to prevent that we're trying to give kids the skills that they can then take with them into the rest of their life, rather than sort of pushing them backwards into being an even more restrictive eater in order to protect their boundaries.

DJ Stutz  17:12  
That's such an interesting take. And it's very, in my experience, a very unique take. Especially from nutritionists, they're all sneak the little pieces of broccoli in the back. And yeah, you know what I mean? As a kid? I'm the oldest of seven. And let me tell you if you didn't eat quickly, yeah, right, because five of them were brothers.

Jessica Setnick  17:37  
Yep, thank people do not give enough credit to how much those childhood feeding experiences affect us lifelong. It's so tempting to say that happened so long ago, it's not affecting me anymore. But the longer go, it happened means the fewer skills you had to deal with it at the time. And so the more you carry it with you absolutely.

DJ Stutz  17:57  
In my life, we kind of joke about it. In fact, we went out to dinner with my nephew. And he ordered something that had brussel sprouts, and I just had the automatic, you know, gag reflex, just by the sound of the words. But I remember as a kid, my mom made these brussel sprouts. And I took a bite and actually had to run and curl them. They were horrible. And I've never had them since I never made my kids eat them. We're not doing that. And so yeah, there are certain foods that it will follow you into something you

Jessica Setnick  18:37  
may not realize, and a lot of people don't realize is that humans actually taste things differently. There's different chemicals in food that we actually taste differently. So for example, you might like a mirlo. Someone else might like a Chardonnay. But yet, we don't apply that same logic to you might like brussel sprouts, and you might prefer kale. Why can't we possibly prefer different things and taste things differently? And when it comes to the This is gross, one of the things that we teach is don't yuck my yum. In other words, someone else might like brussel sprouts, and that's fine. If someone else thinks they're yummy, that's great. And hearing you say, Oh, that's gross. might sort of hurt their feelings, let's say and so we just say no, thank you or I don't prefer those or I don't like brussel sprouts, either. Personally, I think I taste them differently than other people do. It's that certain chemicals and some of those things that a lot of people don't like blue cheese, there's a lot of things that have certain tastes that that there's a big group of people who don't like and when someone says oh, but you've never tried them the way I make up. Now as an adult. Every once in a while I'll try Brussel sprout Maybe you're right. Maybe I've never tried it the way you make it, and maybe you do something totally different. Maybe my tastes have changed, and now I like Brussels sprouts. I'll taste it every once in a while. I still don't like them. But if someone had made me eat them, I might not have the desire to want to try them. Because yeah, that whole, well, you ate them last time. So why don't you eat them this time? Or you ate one P? Why can't you eat all the peas? And so we set up boundaries when our boundaries are violated. It's very interesting to think about how we're actually creating a bigger dilemma by actually forcing someone to eat something they don't like.

DJ Stutz  20:19  
Right? Well, and then I had an issue with raising my kids. It's amazing. They're all functional. I don't know how they survived me. But I had one that would not eat pork. Another one that would not eat beef. Another one that didn't like chicken. It's like, I'm not making all these. You know, I'll make what I'll make. Eat it or don't. And maybe they'd go and get a bowl of cereal, or I don't know, whatever. But I wasn't cooking a different meal for all these different kids. I would have taken forever. And yeah, dimension be costly.

Jessica Setnick  20:58  
But no one went hungry. It sounds like everyone was able to find something else to eat if they need

DJ Stutz  21:03  
to try to guilt them into it here and there. But yeah, I could see right. And that's the

Jessica Setnick  21:07  
ego. That's the ego, right? And we want to say thank the effort, but no, thank the food, right? So you know, appreciate the person who made the food. But that doesn't mean you actually have to eat it. And I think about even food pushers are like and Sarah's like I made you this apple pie. You don't want to listen, maybe your phone right and answer what I made notes for you. We need to teach how to say no, thank you, or Oh, I love you, Aunt Sarah, that was so thoughtful that you made that pie for me. I'm not hungry right now. Could I take some home when Sarah doesn't have to know what happens once it gets home? Maybe maybe you don't. But to thank the effort that someone has put into preparing food, maybe even thanking the farmers who grew the food or right. I mean, that's all very appropriate. So I think a lot of people say grace before meals, right? We're thanking God for being blessed enough to have food. So we can thank all those things. And still no thank the food. I think that it's I don't know why I'm laughing about this, but because it's gonna sound silly, I guess. But I feel like what you put into your body is a very personal thing. And I saw a speaker on TV once say something like the same kid that says no, I don't want to wear shoes is the same kid who has the courage to say no, I'm not going to do drugs. And I think about it kind of similarly with eating the same kid that says no, no, thank you, I don't want brussel sprouts, hopefully is the same kid who says, No, thank you, I'm not gonna have unprotected sex, that you can put those things inside my body without my permission type of thing. Right. So I know, it sounds like kind of an extreme extrapolation. But I felt like to sort of violate someone's bodily autonomy is a big deal. And so being able to say there's a difference between I made food and I'd like you to appreciate that, as opposed to you have to eat it, even if it's not appealing to you or you're not hungry. It's a big distinction. And I think it's very appropriate. And I want to sort of link back to what you said about sneaking in food, I am so anti sneaking, because there's no better way to teach your child not to trust you and what you offer them, then for them to catch you putting broccoli in their macaroni and cheese, or for them to be able to taste the cauliflower in the brownies or whatever it is. And what we again, sometimes don't give enough credit to is how people taste things differently. And so those wine kind of stores can say I taste a hint them oh, can this Merleau or whatever kids can taste a hint of cauliflower in their brownies. Right? And so it just makes them not I don't want brownies either, right. So that's what I mean by saying that we can potentially make it worse and make kids retreat even further into their preferences. Because now brownies are no longer safe or macaroni and cheese is no longer safe. And I think there are probably many, many, many kids who you could put cauliflower in their brownies, and they will not care. But when you're talking about already picky kids, they're picky because they're super tasters. They're picky because they're sensitive to texture. So then you go change the texture, the taste of something. For a kid who's already been identified as sensitive. It seems like that's leading you down a path that you do not want to go or you won't like the results. And I know that is advice that is given. And like I said, there's probably lots of kids who have stuff snuck in their food all day long and don't know and don't care. But for your pickier eaters. They're going to be the very same ones who actually notice.

DJ Stutz  24:28  
I wanted to come back to something that has been on my mind. Yeah, I have a niece. She's an adult now happily married. She just wouldn't eat anything. Nothing. She would go for days, literally. And they wound up putting a feeding tube through her nose. Yeah. And that's how she got her nutrition. Yeah. And it was such a hard thing for my brother and my sister in law. And they were trying so hard to get her to eat. And I remember my mom's old school She literally raised by Lumberjacks. And so her thing is just make read it. And Chuck's like, we're not. And we can't like if we forced her to eat it, she throws it up. She's right. And then there's sort of

Jessica Setnick  25:14  
two competing situations there, which is one is parent, your job is essentially to feed shelter and keep your child safe. And when 1/3 of that is feels like a failure, I mean, it's petrified. The anxiety is unbelievable. And so in that sense, the tube feeding to me as a dietitian, is actually a blessing because a, you know, your kids can get nourished, right? You may not like it may not be the best, most enjoyable way of getting nourished. But it can take that anxiety down so that you can let a kid experiment with food, you can let a kid finger paint, essentially with food, touch food, tastes good smell food, and maybe never swallow any of it. And yet know that they're still going to get nourished while they are sort of experimenting with food. And I don't know, do you know details of how that situation came to pass? Where's your knees medically compromised? When she was born? She seemed

DJ Stutz  26:11  
okay. And I didn't hear anything specific that anything had happened. She was nursing. And so I think that she did find nursing but when they were introducing the solid foods, she was not doing that. Yeah.

Jessica Setnick  26:26  
Yeah. And so she may have not been developmentally ready, but there was something going on. And it's hard to know. And she eats now she'd solid food or she's still too big.

DJ Stutz  26:35  
No, no, no, she's Yeah, she did finally grow out of it. She's, I think she still doesn't eat much. Mm hmm. Do you know? Yeah, so she'll be cute and skinny all their life? That's fine. Yeah. And she's got this like, great, outgoing personality and this confidence that is very easy to be around. And she's laughing. She's very happy, happy kid. And like I said, she just got married this summer, this past summer. And just doing great with the college and fall. I

Jessica Setnick  27:07  
think that is such a success story and story of hope for people who might be struggling right now. Absolutely. To know I sometimes people think if we go the two beading route, we're gonna end up with a kid who never eats. And instead to realize that no, no, the two feeding actually helps you didn't decrease your panning and sort of allow a child to develop in their own time, at their own pace. Is such a gift to give your child,

DJ Stutz  27:33  
right? It was a couple of years that she was on the tube. Or even maybe more than that.

Jessica Setnick  27:38  
Yeah, at some point, they probably put in a button, they probably weren't beating her through her nose anymore. And but again, I think people sometimes think of that as giving up. And I think of it as the opposite. I think it's a really caring thing that you can do for your child. So that it's not a constant battle every single time you sit down to eat, because then What message are we giving our child about food, it's a bad thing, it's an uncomfortable thing. It makes your parents unhappy. And truly a child's relationship with food, it's going to last a lot longer than any one food they do or don't eat. So it's a very dramatic example. You have that really, I think that's great. And I'm grateful you share that. Because I think there are people listening to this right now who are probably thinking, Oh, I hope that that happens to my kid too.

DJ Stutz  28:25  
Well, and then on the opposite end of the spectrum, when grandma or auntie is pushing that pie in front of you, and you're really full, what are we teaching them then too, because for me? Eating, especially sweets, has nothing to do with hunger for me. And so I have to really watch myself, because if it's in front of me, and there's chocolate involved, it's consumed. So what is the message? How are we setting up our kids? If we're teaching them, oh, here's this dessert or here have the you know, and they might say their full will you finish your plate, but I'm full, we need to trust them.

Jessica Setnick  29:10  
I'm going to teach you a dietician secret. And that is that when you eat a meal, when you go to dinner before you order, if you're in a restaurant, you find out what's for dessert, and you plan accordingly. Because in our society, for some reason we all eat, we all get full, and then we have dessert. And instead and sometimes people judge me, why are you asking for the desert and you haven't even ordered yet? Well, because looking at what's on the dessert menu is going to possibly make a difference in my choice of if I'm going to have an appetizer, an entree, or I'm gonna have a salad and an appetizer for my dinner and dessert, right? And if there's nothing I want on the dessert menu, make a difference in what I order. Or I might plan to get home and save some room for ice cream. So actually thinking of your whole meal as a whole complete meal, including dessert rather than thinking oh, I'm not Gonna have dessert, I'm on a diet and then you end up having your whole meal. And dessert can actually be a different way of looking at that. And when you talk about being, you know, that sort of pushing food on people and food is love, and that kind of thing, we have to remember, nobody does things like that to be me, I hope. I mean, there probably are people who do it to be abusive and horrible. And I hope that no one is doing that that's listening here because something we need to talk about. But in a lot of cases, maybe all cases, I can't think of anyone that couldn't be alive today that wouldn't have least a parent or grandparent who went through the Great Depression, or a refugee situation for food insecurity, poverty, or food stamps, some situation where, literally, if you did not eat what you were given, then you were going to not have enough or World War Two, where there was rationing of sugar and butter and things like that. And so you learn that certain foods or special treats, and you learn that it's a very loving and giving thing for someone to save up their food stamps to make you some special birthday treat or something like that. And we need to keep in mind again, the separation between showing that we care about someone with them actually eating food that they're not hungry for that they don't like. And it's a survival skill, right to eat food that you don't like, because that's all you're gonna get. That's a survival skill. But do we have to keep passing those things on? Do we have to keep passing on the things that hurt us when we were kids, for the next generation, and it makes me think of the story about the ham? You may have heard, we dietitians tell this one all the time to you know what I may be the only dietician and tells it now I think of it because you said I'm going like that. So the newlyweds go to the mother in law's house for dinner. And the new wave notices that her husband's mother has cut the end off the ham. And she says Why did your mom do that? And he's an otter, no, ask her. And she said, Oh, Mrs. Smith, I was just wondering, I noticed you cut the end off the ham and where you cooked it. I'm just curious. And she said I don't know I do it because my mom always did it. Ask her. So she says, Oh, Granny, why don't you cut the end off the ham? And she says, I don't know, I do it because my mom does it. Wow. And the newlywed says, Oh, great. Granny, how can you cook the end up the ham and great. Granny says Mika. What

Unknown Speaker  32:28  
is the great depression are so poor and one pan and a whole

Jessica Setnick  32:40  
example of how we end up passing these things on and we don't even know why. And it's okay. It's okay to be the person who breaks the cycle. It's really okay to say this is what worked for them, that they weren't wrong in doing it. But it's not working for me. So I'm not wrong in changing it. We can all be doing the right thing in different situations. And that's okay. But it's hard. Because when you do something different from the way your parents do it, I think a lot of times we feel like we're somehow betraying them. Yeah. And that's a feeling we have to kind of get over or be trained our heritage, our culture, if you came from a different country, and you do things differently. Now, it can feel like in betrayal, and sometimes you have to go to counseling, sometimes you can talk with your significant other your best friend, your support team, your book club, right? It depends on maybe who's in your life that can support you and say, yeah, no, in the old country, we did it that way. And, and we're grateful now that we don't have to bury potatoes in the floor, whatever. I'm thinking of the story, my grandmother used to tell about how whoever the bad guys were, you know, fill in the blank. Everyone has a bad guy, right? The bad guys would come and steal our food. So we hit the potatoes under the dirt floor? Or the wheat or the whatever. There were stones in our bread for the next five years. Do we all have to have stones in our bread? Because our grandparents did? I think not I think our kids would revel in the fact that we have enough to eat, that we don't have to eat things that are moldy or whatever it is. I think that's a beautiful thing to be able to pass on something better to our next generation than what we were passed on with. But if I have the luxury of a big enough pan to cook a whole ham, and I somehow making my great granny feel bad that she didn't have a big enough that right, but it doesn't hurt other people for us to take care of ourselves. But I think it's a zero sum game is the idea. You know, right? Isn't that mean? If I have something good, that means it takes away from something else? And in a lot of ways, I think we're doing that to ourselves, and it's not necessary.

DJ Stutz  34:41  
I've got one other question. Sure. So keeping with these different scenarios, yes. Anyone who's listened to my podcast for very long knows that we adopted our youngest daughter. We got her when she was 12. And she had been seven years in foster care and it had been abandoned by her mom five days before her fifth birthday. So just a lot of issues, love and placements in those seven years to other failed adoptions. I mean, just this part, right? Did you know? And when we got her, Okay, I raised two boys, as well as the two girls. And I grew up with five brothers. So I've seen people eat a ton, right? But this girl, so I was working and my and she would go to my mom's house after school. And one day, I picked her up and my mom was like, ditch. She just did it does snakes. Like I know I handled it wrong. But I was really worried about that. So we finally cut her off after thirds. Just that. Okay, that's enough. You don't need any more. And she gets so upset and so incensed. And she's a big girl now. And so I wonder. I know, I didn't handle it. Right. I was trying to do the right thing with her. But how do you handle a child? For whatever reason? Now, my daughter had, I think, some really good reasons psychologically to that was her comfort, it still is. And that brought her a feeling of safety, I think. Yeah. And yet, I'm worried now, I'm worried sick about her health. And when COVID came through, and we know it affected the obese more. And so I would stress out about that, because I want her safe and healthy and happy. And I'm not sure what the right way is to handle something like that.

Jessica Setnick  36:58  
Okay, I have so many thoughts in my head, I'm gonna try to get them out in an organized fashion. First of all, you feeling like you did things wrong is laughable to me. I'm not laughing. But you're talking about failed adoptions, 11, placements, people who, for whatever reason, abandoned her, left her whatever, you parented a kid through a lot of difficulties. So I'm not willing to accept your belief that you wronged this child, you are wonderful parents. And maybe there's some things that you regret and wish you had done differently. And the beauty is, you don't have a relationship with this child right. Now, you can say that you're great. Yeah. And you can say, you know, I regret some of the things that I did. And I just wanted to let you know that I'm sorry, if some of the ways I handled things maybe weren't as supportive as they could have been.

DJ Stutz  37:50  
We've had that talk.

Jessica Setnick  37:52  
Good for you. Okay, good. So we can just check that we're not gonna talk about you being a terrible parent ever again. Okay, done. Number two is Buddhism mood altering chemical. And we don't accept that enough. You talking about sweets, and how they may cheer you and your feeling down? That's your comfort food. Right. And so food is a mood altering chemical, and we don't allow that enough in our conversations, right. So when someone is using food as a mood altering chemical in some ways, I'm not gonna say it's better than using drugs. But you know what I mean, the fact that your child ate a dozen eggs, as opposed to shooting up heroin in the corner, right. But the message is, what are their choices telling you is I'm distressed? And so that's really the question is not why do you need so many eggs? It's what's going on? How can I support you? Do you know this is a safe place, you will not be going hungry, we will not be giving you back whatever that means, right? And so how can I help you feel safe, so that you don't need this substance, whether it's food, whether it's nicotine, whether it's anything else, so that you can feel safe in this environment. And sometimes trauma is permanently destructive during chemistry. And thank God, we have psych meds in those situations where they're needed. Thank goodness, we have things like EMDR and counseling. But food is the easiest mood altering substance for most kids to get their hands on. So it makes sense that someone would go there. And it's not just, I'm going to eat while the getting is good, because there might not be any food tomorrow. It's also I actually do feel relief and feel better when I eat. And so most people don't eat to get high. They eat to get just up to a baseline. And so the question is, is this person depressed? Does this person have anxiety? Does this person have post traumatic stress? What is the, for lack of a better word, the dilemma that this person is using this mood altering chemical to help solve for them so to look at what are their choices telling you rather than saying this is bad? choice, right. And that's really I think, where we have advanced a long ways since the days of so and so didn't raise their hand before they said something in class. So we're going to make them sit in the corner, as opposed to that's interesting. This child has a hard time sitting still without commenting. Maybe we can get them in evaluation. Right. And so that's I think the take home is, I don't think that people make, no one will be able to see me using finger quotes, but bad choices, right? Smart people don't do stupid things. We are all finding a way to get our needs met as best we can. And so doing something that doesn't seem to mesh like you're talking about a little child fitting 12 eggs in their stomach, that doesn't even seem possible. Right? So what is behind that is really the question, as opposed to how do I fix this? Do I need to punish the child. And I'm just thinking of a simple example, where once a family came to see me because their child was very selective, which is just our professional way of saying picky, right? But we use people to say my kids are picky, and fix it. And it came to sort of a situation of like, All right, so we had crescent rolls for dinner, and he ate the whole basket of crescent rolls, and there were none for anyone else. And I said, Well, how many are is a whole basket of crescent rolls. Many people have made those Pillsbury right, feet, right. My mother said, there's five, five crescent rolls in there. And I suppose five crescent rolls for some one, his age is growing, who isn't going to eat anything else at the meal doesn't actually sound like that much to me. But I think it's important that you make two packs, the crescent rolls at a meal, and he can have his basket, and you have another basket for other people. Because it isn't fair for one person to eat all the crescent rolls, and then nobody gets anymore, right. But that's actually probably what he needed for his nutrition. So if we're going to try to scold him, or say, if you're going to eat all the crescent rolls, you can't come to the table or things like that, that's not gonna solve it, right? He's gonna end up sneaking something somewhere, whether it's at your house, or someone else's house or at school, the kids going to need to get nourished. Why can't we just offer him what he needs to get nourished in a setting that doesn't set him up to fail? And I think in many, many, many, if not most, if not all situations, you've got to get an outside person's opinion. Again, whether it's your best friend, a dietician, I don't, I don't want to say pediatricians because sometimes they can just be so weight focused and fat phobic, and not know necessarily about nutrition, but someone an outside person, because our ego just gets so involved into our people going to make fun of my kid or all these other things. And it takes an outside person sometimes to say, who does it hurt? If you had 20 crescent rolls on the table and he ate five, nobody would care. It's only because you only have five in the eight, five that you care. And along those lines, that makes me think of how many times I've asked families, instead of getting half gallon of all one kind of ice cream? Could you get two pints of different ice cream? Or could you get two different kinds of milk or right and it just didn't occur to people a lot of times that we could just have different people in our family who liked different things. And sometimes it just takes an outside person to say, That's okay, who is that really hurting. And really, all it's hurting is our ego because we have this idea that if we were the perfect parent, then our kid would be the perfect eater. So therefore we sort of take on that shame of if they're not a perfect leader, we're going to be blamed for not being a perfect parent. And I'm pretty sure the name of this podcast is imperfect heroes. So

I think we can also say imperfect eaters, imperfect parents, right? I mean, the whole goal is right, isn't your tagline find joy, raising independent, productive and happy kids. I mean, that's the key is that when they leave us, they will have the skills they need to thrive even when we're not there to make rules for them.

DJ Stutz  43:57  
Right? You know, and it does, it gets messy in the raising of these kids. And each one has their own personality, five kids, I have five very different personalities. And I'm one person. And I've got my personality that might interact with each one differently. Yeah. And so I think the key is, is that we're always looking for information to help us understand things better. We're willing to be open and try things. So anyway, but like I mentioned,

Jessica Setnick  44:29  
one more thing. Yeah, before we move on or wrap, and just the idea that higher weights are always health problems. I know that there can be lots of health problems for lots of reasons, but it's just really important to me to mention that. Our medical situation right now is so fat phobic and weight bias that we really have to take into account that people who are larger are not getting appropriate medical care. So it's actually very unclear whether COVID-19 actually has worse outcomes for bigger people, it's actually maybe more about not having certain sizes of medical equipment, or not getting appropriate medical care, there's a lot of research that's shown that if two people go into a doctor, let's say, both with high blood pressure, that the skinny person is going to get treated for their high blood pressure, and the larger person is going to get told to lose weight. So some of the health effects that we associate with being at a higher weight are actually the health effects of not getting appropriate medical care. And I felt like that's just something I want to mention, because it's just important that we figure out a way to fix that in society, because it's not okay, because then our larger individuals end up with worse outcomes. And then it becomes easy to say, Oh, well, that was because they're bigger.

DJ Stutz  45:49  
So well, she goes in, and she's got, you know, she's got a few little issues that are going on, she's not diabetic. But she does have some other issues that is of concern. And it seems like she just kind of gets pushed to the wayside.

Jessica Setnick  46:05  
Yeah, what you can teach her is to say, what would the treatment be for a skinny person? What would the treatment be for a skinny person with this condition? And if the answer is anything different than what she was told, she needs to say, I would like to try that. And if the doctor says no, then she she can't find another doctor. Because it's not appropriate to say that treatment is okay for a skinny person, and it's not okay for you,

DJ Stutz  46:28  
however. So if people want to get a hold of you, or find out more about what you do, where do they go?

Jessica Setnick  46:36  
So Jessica set, Nick calm is my email address, you're welcome to email me, just because that is my main website where all of my professional trainings and things are, I do want to mention food fairytales calm because I'm going to send you a code that people can use if they're interested in my workbook, which is for individuals to kind of look at their own eating, I will send something along to you about that. But email me if you're looking for a dietitian who's like me, maybe in your area, or someone that can see you or your kid or talk with you, I'd be happy to recommend someone. Absolutely, I'm in Dallas. But there's, I noticed that I liked being the only dietitian. But really, there are dieticians who are very much like minded and would be able to help.

DJ Stutz  47:23  
That sounds great. And I'll be sure to get all of that information in our show notes. So if anyone missed any of that, just scroll down, check it out. It'll be in the show notes. So my final question I ask everybody who comes on the show, is how would you describe a successful parent,

Jessica Setnick  47:42  
though? I'm gonna quote a greeting card that I read once and I have no idea what occasion this would be an appropriate greeting card. But it literally said, you know, you've been a successful parent when your kids can afford their own therapy.

DJ Stutz  48:03  
That is fantastic. I love it. There's a comedian. His name is Jeff Allen. I just love him. And he's all about family and raising kids. But yeah, he talks about when the kids are adults, and they've got to go to therapy. Does if you think I screwed something up, just write it down. I'll initial it. You can take it to your therapist.

Jessica Setnick  48:24  
This really happened. Yeah. You're not exaggerating? Yeah.

DJ Stutz  48:29  
Yeah. Anyway, that was a lot of fun. Well, I love I love your definition. was so great having you and I enjoyed our conversation. And maybe we'll talk again sometime soon.

Jessica Setnick  48:44  
Yes, let's definitely stay in touch.

DJ Stutz  48:46  
I would love that. And when you listen, you will see that she was perfectly named. Learn what I mean by tuning in to the next episode. And until next time, let's find joy in parenting.

Okay, Linger Longer. I have an amazing deal for you. And if you listen to my episode with Amy Buckley, you'll remember that she has a company that provides tutoring for students from kindergarten through high school. And Amy sent me four gift cards for $100 each. So these will pay for two sessions for your kiddos. And so be one of the first four people to email me at And I'll get you one of these cards. Now. Aren't you glad you hung in there? Okay, I'm gonna go now.

Transcribed by

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Jessica Setnick

Eating Disorder Expert

Jessica Setnick is your favorite kind of nutrition expert - she knows her stuff but doesn’t take herself too seriously and brings a fresh, smart perspective to our relationships with food. In her quest to create a world where no one is ashamed of their eating quirks, Jessica blends her personal story of step-mom to picky eaters with twenty plus years working in the eating disorder field to cook up strategies that all of us can try. Her latest workbook is called Food Fairy Tales: Change the Stories You Tell About Food and Eat Happily Ever After. Welcome Jessica!

Website section wouldn't let me add more than one website so I'm putting them in here: is my workbook for individuals who want to work on their own eating is my training workshop for professionals is where to schedule a consultation