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The Top Mistake Parents Make When Changing Their Child's Diet

food choices & feeding mood learning & behaviour parenting

Truth Bomb… changing your child’s diet to help them learn, behave and feel better does not mean you’re going to have to say ‘no’ to them all the time!

So if you've been putting off diet changes because taking a bunch of stuff out seems too hard, then today I'm here to put your mind and heart at ease and let you know there’s a better way. 

Now, don’t get me wrong… there will definitely be room to explore the stress caused by food as you move through this journey.

We live in crazy times of too much sugar, soaring rates of food sensitivities, chemicals with unpronounceable names lurking in our food, and grocery store shelves packed with food that isn't really food. 

And if we were trying to change your health, addressing that added stress is probably where I would start.

But we’re talking about kids here, so we need to move forward cautiously and consciously.

The work I do with food and nutrition is rooted in the perspective of attachment. Attachment theory is based in the undersanding that relationships profoundly affect the developing brain and body. 

Now, if you've been here a while you know that I believe nutrition is foundational. Getting the nutritional building blocks in place will support all the other educational, medical, behavioral therapies you might be using, because what your child eats affects how they feel. When they feel better they function better. 

But rooting my nutrition work in an attachment perspective has taught me that what and how our kids eat is no more important than their relationships.

What this means is, if we make diet changes without keeping an eye on the critical relationships that also affect the growth and development of our kids, the diet changes, while good in theory, might do more harm than good. 

When changing a child's diet we need to keep 2 relationships top of mind at all times so they remain intact.

We need to support their relationship with you, and we need to support their relationship with food. 

This means we have to get our kids to eat healthier without saying ‘no’ all the time; we need to improve their diets without them becoming fearful or resentful of food.

A tough challenge. But do-able, if you shift your lens. 

Here's the trick ten years of nutrition coaching has taught me: focus on nourishment first, instead of food restriction

I know this might go against what you’ve been told, but focusing on taking things out of the diet without paying much attention to nourishing, is the #1 pitfall I see parents making when they try to change their child's diet.  

Have you ever been given that advice?

Take out sugar, the gluten, the additives, the 27 food sensitivities, the grains, the…. 

This approach rarely works with kids. It too often causes stress and anxiety in parents and causes them to throw up thier hands saying "it's not worth it"

It is worth it, but that approach adresses only a fraction of the food story.

There are two parts to the process of getting your child healthier that I outline in the Raising Resilience system.

Step one is to focus on getting more nourishment into them so the body can function better.

Step two is to find the hidden stressors that are making it hard for them to cope. 

That’s the recipe for stronger, more resilient health. 

If we start with food restriction we risk missing the nourishment piece altogether and making things worse; not only by risking nutritional deficiency, but also by straining our children's relationships, and creating fear and stress in the home. 

Again, don't get me wrong... there will certainly be room for exploring the stress caused by food as you move through this journey. Addressing stress and irritation is one of our Pillars For Resilient Health™. It's just not where I suggest you start in most cases (of course we have to exclude established allergies from this... that's not what I'm talking about). 

Know that I’m in your corner. I’m rooting for you and I’m here to help. 

Food impacts how our kids feel, act and function. Food is at the foundation of all your treatment and behavior management strategies because nutrients make the body work.

But when we try to change a child's diet without an understanding of attachment and the power of relationship, we risk making things worse instead of better.  

About Jess Sherman, FDN-P, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Educator specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, and the creator of The Resilience Roadmap™ - a systematic process to help parents help their kids feel and function better. Her book and online resources have helped families in 44 countries improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by helping them find hidden stressors and fit the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to bring an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a  contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at 

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The content on this website and in the guides and courses offered here is meant to provide information so that parents can make informed decisions and discuss these issue with their health care teams. It is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or individualized care.