GAPS diet: Getting a picky eater to eat

July 21, 2011 · 17 comments

distracted eater

distracted eater

Soon after we started the GAPS diet, I made the difficult decision to start helping my son eat.

This goes against pretty much everything I believe about children and their bodies, which Janet Lansbury sums up very nicely in this post about toddlers and food.

I completely agree with her, but with the caveat that it’s for healthy children.

And this is where things get really difficult for me, because I wrestle constantly with how unhealthy I think my older son is. From the time he started falling off the weight charts I defended his health, and his behavior. I’ve become active in the gentle parenting community because I believed that if I found the right way to mother, he would behave in a more typical way.

Then I hate even writing that, because I don’t want to make him seem like an un-typical toddler . . . I think he’s reasonably normal . . . but I haven’t spent a lot of time with toddlers.

There is one incident that stands out in my mind. We were at the mall, and there was a large toddler play area in the middle of the food court, with lots of room to run around, and small structures to climb on. We had a long drive to get there, and wanted to let our son get the wiggles out with the other children. When we entered, he completely froze, unwilling to leave my side.

We waited, and talked about the different play things, and then he finally decided to go and play. But almost immediately, he pushed other children, and ran into them. I had to stay close to him the whole time, and we left after a few minutes (not nearly the amount of time we hoped he would run around). That was the worst time he’d ever had with his behavior in a crowd, but it wasn’t atypical for him.

I felt then that something was different with him, but I didn’t know what. Everything about him seemed to fit with GAPS, especially the explanations about picky eaters and how they only want to eat processed carbs. I thought all toddlers were like that. . .

After a few days of tiny bites of meat and a sip or two of broth, I decided I needed to make sure my son got the nutrition he needed. He size concerned us since he started eating solids — dropping from around the 50th percentile to around the 5th. And while I’m small, his dad isn’t, and it just didn’t seem right to us.

So now our meals consist of me preparing a small-ish plate for him with a bit of everything. I let him eat what he will eat on his own, and then I sit with him and help him eat the rest. He normally asks for more of something (and can eat endless cookies or other sweets if allowed to), so I make sure he gets a few bites of the foods he needs. Sometimes it’s meat, sometimes it’s broth, sometimes it’s veggies.

Thankfully, it has yet to be a fight. It’s almost like he’s too distracted to sit and finish eating, because when I point out the additional food, he eats it. Sometimes he wants me to put it on a fork and feed him.

It’s frustrating for me, and a little baffling. It’s not the relationship to food I want him to have — I want to be able to let him trust his body and eat the way he sees fit. But I can tell  it’s just not working for him. He would eat chips all day, and he has no problem skipping meals if I let him.

He seems to be bulking up, and he doesn’t often ask for sweets or chips anymore. He asks now for healthy snacks, which is good (and all we have available anymore — homemade yogurt, bananas, raw almond-butter cookies made with only a touch of honey), but I still have to be careful to make sure he has enough room to eat other nutritious foods.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to go to the extremes the GAPS author had to — offering a chip or a cookie after every bite of nutritious food until his tastes changed, but I suppose if I were dealing with extreme health problems, I would be willing to do it.

It’s been a very, very tough decision for me. I struggle with whether or not I feel my son’s health concerns are weighty enough for me to do this, because I don’t want to cause more harm down the road. On one hand, I see him gaining weight (slowly but surely), and I see his behavior mellowing out. On the other hand, I wonder if I’m just trying to push it further because I’m excited by the progress.

I suppose only more time will tell.

Photo credit: emrank on Flickr

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jespren July 21, 2011

My son’s eating habits frustrate me so. He used to devour everything, veggies, fruit, meat, grains, dairy, didn’t matter, he had a hearty and healthy diet (and clearly needed the food being very tall and skinny) then he suddenly, around 15 months or so, started boycotting most veggies, then it was many dairies, then it was fruit. He’ll eat meat, happily, and he’ll eat carbs. Bananas and apples are also still ‘okay’, and occassionally corn and he’ll drink good whole milk, and occassionally nibble at cheese. But he used to love yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, and all veggies and fruit. Try to sneak so much as a pea into a bite of mac&cheese and he’ll gag and usually throw up. If I tell him he must eat it and/or offer a reward for eating it he will hesitantly but willingly take it into his mouth, then promptly throw up with a chagined and ‘i’m sorry’ look. It *really* doesn’t help that my husband is horribly picky, doesn’t touch the vast majority of fruit or veggies or dairy and his idea of a ‘balanced’ meal means the potatoes drowned ‘vegetable oil spread’ (can’t even get him to eat real butter most of the time!) can be balanced on one leg while he cuts his steak on the other leg (we don’t own a dining table due to small apt). My concern of our child not consuming veggies and fruit and dairy is met with casual dismissal since he is growing and developing ‘normally’. My diet and our daughter’s diet is suffering because I’m slowly giving up buying food that I know will go bad for lack of being’s driving me crazy, I know it’s unhealthy, but having him throw up what he has eaten doesn’t seem any healthier.


2 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 23, 2011

That would be so difficult to have your child actually throw something up. I think if that was happening I would have to back off — it does seem counterproductive to struggle to get him to eat if it won’t stay down anyway. You’ll have to let me know if you find something that works for you.


3 Danielle @ Analytical Mom August 7, 2011

This may not be a possibility, but do you have room for a tiny table in your apartment? I wonder if you could sit and eat healthy foods with your child and allow your hubby to continue his lap eating. I find that when I sit down at the table with my kids, they are WAY more likely to eat the good things on my plate. On the other hand, have you had him evaluated for food sensory issues? That seems like a common reason for toddlers throwing up. Sorry, I don’t really know your situation, but I wonder if that might possibly help?


4 Kelly July 21, 2011

This sounds like a difficult decision – I can certainly understand your reasoning on both sides!

From what you are saying though it doesn’t sound like you are ‘forcing’ him to eat – helping is different, and while I do get the drawbacks in that it sounds like it might be just what he needs at this time.

It’s so hard when you want to do the best and the answers aren’t clear…I hope things get easier with your son’s eating and in your mind as time goes on… :) *Hugs*!


5 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 23, 2011

Kelly, you’re right, I’m not forcing him to eat. There’s no distracting, no sneaking spoonfuls into his mouth, no restraining him in a chair. I just tell him he has to eat it, and I sit there with him and spoon it in or hold the straw, and he eats. After reading these responses, I’m more at peace with what I’m doing. He’s actually becoming very enthusiastic about eating, but he just wants me to be there with him. I’ve been so busy lately that I don’t mind having a quiet few minutes to spend with him. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it keeps getting easier.


6 Kessler July 21, 2011

I agree that it’s not easy when the answer isn’t clear… in those instances, I always rely on my mommy instincts, knowing that even if I’m messing up, at least I’m doing it because I love my child and doing what I think to be the best thing for her. Trust yourself!!


7 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 23, 2011

Thank you! I’m doing my best <3


8 janetlansbury July 21, 2011

Suchada, from what I know of you, you have wonderful parenting instincts and intuition. Since helping your son eat hasn’t become a fight, I’m thinking that he is enjoying this attention from you. It’s fulfilling a need for him. That often happens when children become big brothers or sisters. They regress a little, or just want parents to do things for them that they know how to do themselves. So, I wouldn’t worry or doubt yourself, if I were you. Just keep being the great observer you are.

Thank you for linking to me!



9 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 23, 2011

You’re welcome for the link! I love what you have to say about children and eating — I think it’s very important to trust our children. I’m so glad you mentioned that sometimes having us do things for them fulfills a need — his willingness to take food when I feed it to him makes me think that’s likely what it is. Taking on this diet has been a huge change for all of us, and even with all the positives, it’s difficult as any change would be. As I told Kelly, I’m happy to have some quiet moments to focus just on him, and looking at it that way helps me relax about it. It’s been exciting to see how both the boys are starting to eat the new foods with gusto, and to have my older one stop asking for chips and sweets. I’m very, very glad I’ve learned about RIE and observation, because making lifestyle changes is a long and slow process, and I’ve already had practice being patient with them. Thank you for your vote of confidence! <3


10 Alicia C. July 21, 2011

I am completely unfamiliar with GAPS, so I’m writing blind here. It seems as if your son is getting what he needs from you at mealtime. You’re helping him, right? That’s a good thing. He needs to have nutritious food in his body and if this is what does it, then go for it. I probably would have a hard time bribing my child to eat, the chocolate chip cookie thing had me thinking, “No way.” BUT, I’ve never been in that situation and, as you said, if that’s what I had to do to get my kid to get some kind of nutrition in him, I know I would.

Maybe, to help your conscience, you could think of these “helping” times at mealtime more as special one-on-one time? Sometimes, just changing our perspective can make all the difference in the world. And I’m glad to hear that his gain is steady. That’s the most important thing.

BTW – My 2.5 y.o. son is the same way in large groups of children. He isn’t used to this situation and tends to hit, push, and throw wood chips at other kids for no reason at all. We’ve made a point to take him to a playground near our home once a week when we know there will be many other children there. Each week, he gets a little better.


11 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 23, 2011

Alicia, these comments about making meals and helping with him the food a special time has been so helpful for me. It helps me relax so much more knowing that I’m not damaging him by asking him to eat more, and the last few meals have been much more peaceful and happy for both of us. My son is so sensitive and he just picks up on everything.

I think it’s really interesting about your son. I’m glad he does better once he gets to know a situation better. I know my son does great when he’s in familiar circumstances (and sometimes in new situations, too), and it makes me glad that I’ve kept him out of preschool for now. I really don’t want him to be labeled as something and then have to live with that. I hope that working with him at home he’ll be able to overcome it without any stigma.


12 Imogen @ Alternative Mama August 4, 2011

Perfectly timed post, Suchada, thank you! We are about to make the change to a gluten-free diet, and will eventually be taking on GAPS, and my 3yo is an incredibly fussy eater (and a very sensitive soul). I think I will end up having to offer a bite of something “usual” after every bite of the new food with him, and even that will be a struggle. Sigh. It’ll be worth it though!


13 Bethany August 17, 2011

Food issues are tough. My daughter, who has always been very underweight, has severe reflux, controlled with a low-glycemic diet. I’ve found that people are very skeptical of using diet to manage a condition, unless they have seen the difference it has made. Hang in there! It sounds like you are, if nothing else, establishing great eating habits in your son. Be grateful that he will live on something besides McDonalds and Lunchables.


14 Pam August 25, 2011

Hello! I found your blog tonight and am loving it! My husband, my 18 month old daughter, and I are 1.5 months into GAPS, and my 4.5 year old son is 25 days into a GAPS/SCD hybrid. For now my son has a high functioning autism diagnosis, and we’re stunned how much and how quickly he’s improving on the diet. I nursed him for 2 years, and during that time, it didn’t seem like he was a picky eater. Months prior to embarking on the diet, he was becoming more restrictive on what he would eat, and he refused to drink plain water. We had some concerns regarding hypoglycemia, so when he was refusing a lot of the GAPS intro foods during the third day, we became concerned.

Since I knew GAPS was based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I read a little more about that and picked up Breaking the Vicious Cycle. It’s a great read in addition to the GAPS book. I found the intro diet for SCD to be more kid-friendly, and sure enough, my son ate those foods. Bananas are available right from the start, which my son loves, and I couldn’t tell you how much easier that made this. We’re mashing concepts of GAPS and SCD for him, and ultimately we’re putting him on a path to full GAPS. It’s not that different from SCD, but there are differences.

I do think GAPS is more healing more quickly than SCD, but if my son’s not eating the GAPS food, then it’s not helping him. Since making the switch, my son is eating voraciously. Sometimes I can barely keep up! For breakfast, he can easily eat 4 eggs and a cup or more of cooked carrots! He’ll drink water with no problem, and he’s trying foods with less to no fuss. While I’m still a huge fan of GAPS, I’m definitely a fan of SCD for the kid-friendliness. Some of the intro recipes listed on sites like pecanbread are a little too desserts-centered for our tastes, so I’ve only used what I feel comfortable with. He has yet to complain about it!

I hope you and your family are continuing to do well with the diet. It is SO much work, but now that our son is becoming conversational and more centered, we know that it’s worth every effort. I was horribly overwhelmed this week and nearly had a breakdown, so if you’re ever feeling that way, you are certainly not alone! If you’re not feeling that way… erm… good for you!

Love the blog and I’ll keep my eyes open for your return!

Just a weird side note… My mom is Thai and my dad is American too! :)


15 Katie October 12, 2011

Hi everyone! I’m having trouble starting a 3.5yo autistic boy on the intro diet. He will not drink the broth NO MATTER WHAT! He won’t eat the meats/veggies in the broth either. I’ve offered him a bit of avocado on the meat and sometimes he’ll take that, but he’s been spitting it back up and throwing it up. How should a approach this? I really need some help.

I just read the last comment and my mom is Thai and my dad is American too! :)


16 Mary February 21, 2012

Hi Katie:
You need to try some ABA, as described in Dr. Natasha’s book. In order to get something desired, he must taste the soup first. I started this with a 3 yr 10 mth old on Mon. He loves stickers, so I held them up so he could see them, out of reach. He could not get one until he dipped his finger in the spoon of broth and put it on his tongue. After a while he tasted it on his finger. He got his reward immediately and we made a big fuss, with hugs and kisses, and said what a good boy he was while, dancing around the kitchen. Ten mins later, did it again. It worked. Ten mins later, a third time, it worked. Gradually add to the amount (2 tastes, 3 tastes, etc.) that he has to taste, to get the reward. Sometimes, its a toy, a movie (let him see the first bit, then turn it off for his ‘taste-test’ and then turn the movie back on again for another while), or a soother. By day 3, he was eating four teaspoonsful and we are working up to a bowl. You must go just a little at a time. Add only one new food at a time. You’re starting with way too much new food. These kids have altered taste and senses, from all the toxins leaking out of their guts, to their brains. Baby Steps are needed. See “Oh No, It’s Feeding Time”,in Dr. Natasha’s book. If you still have trouble, there are many GAPS Practitioners to help you out. Look on Dr. Natasha’s site at “” Good Luck.


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