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Best Tips Ever for Constipated Picky Eaters

By Steve Hodges, M.D.

Don't be discouraged by a picky eater.

A while back, Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food blogged that her 2-year-old became a poop machine when the family stopped eating processed food. Within the first week, Lisa wrote, “my daughter’s constipation problems were seriously 100% gone.”

Dr. Hodges and I thought that was seriously 100% awesome — if every family in America tossed their Go-Gurts and Nacho Cheese Goldfish, we’d certainly cease to be constipation nation.

But curing constipation isn’t always so simple.

A Lunchables-based diet doesn’t explain every case of a clogged colon. Some kids gobble up beets and broccoli and still end up severely constipated (that would be my son Ian), sometimes because their moms potty trained them too early (that would be, um, me). Or because they steer clear of their school bathrooms due to the “mystery smells” emanating from them. (See Chapter 7 of It’s No Accident.)

At any rate, once a child is constipated to the point of having pee accidents (enuresis) or poop accidents (encopresis), kale smoothies won’t fix the problem. Even a 100-percent real-food diet won’t dislodge the large, hard lump of poop that is stretching the child’s colon and squishing and irritating the bladder.

Shrinking the colon back to size requires a high-dose laxative cleanout or, much better yet, an enema regimen. (Yes, enemas are safe, and they work much better than MiraLAX.) So if your child is dealing with toileting problems, don’t let anybody tell you that all the kid needs is lentil-chard-prune-flaxseed stew.

However . . . clearing the tunnel is only the first step. One of Lisa’s commenters reported that several doctors were “pushing medications” for her daughter’s constipation and told her “not to bother” with changing her daughter’s diet.

MiraLAX is Not a Lifetime Solution

That’s seriously 100% wrong, because curing chronic constipation is a two-part process. Keeping a child’s insides clear over the long haul is essential for preventing a relapse. MiraLAX is not a lifetime solution.

Recently Dr. Hodges and I have received several emails from moms who know this but are nonetheless struggling to get their children on board with fruits and veggies. One mom posted in our new private discussion forum (try it; you’ll like it!):

“My kids, 3 1/2 and almost 8, boys, are very picky, and I have tried all things possible. If it's a different color or slightly burned or a different texture, they won't eat it. I have put it on their plates anyway, and they won't try it.”

Parents trying to turn around their kids’ eating habits are up against a lot. Not only does Big Food relentlessly market crap to children (have you read Salt Sugar Fat?), but the very organizations that should be looking out for our kids have cozied up to the food industry and are actively undermining reforms and promoting processed foods.

Just to name a couple recent outrages, there’s the School Nutrition Association’s indefensible opposition to the government’s nutrition standards for school meals. And in a surreal development, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — a 75,000-member organization of registered dietitians — has allowed Kraft Singles, the very embodiment of processed food, to be the first product to earn its “Kids Eat Right” label.

That is seriously 100% insane.

So what’s a mom of a constipated picky eater to do?

For advice I turned to three of my favorite food bloggers: Lisa of 100 Days of Real Food, Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, and Stacy Whitman of School Bites.

These three moms are refreshingly honest about their own families’ struggles, and their websites are loaded with realistic advice, helpful free downloads, and delicious recipes. And they're all inspiring to me because they've made a real impact. I've linked to some of their best blog posts on picky eaters, and with their permission, I’ve included one recipe from each blog here — recipes my 7-year-old twins can vouch for.

Now, if only I could get my husband on board! In our family, he’s the picky eater — and, unsurprisingly, the one on MiraLAX.

Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food

One day this suburban Charlotte mom read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and a light bulb went on: her family needed to cut out processed food. They took a “100 days of real food” pledge, and Lisa began blogging about it. She struck a nerve and now has such an enormous following that if all her Facebook fans lived in one place, RealFoodville would be the nation’s fifth-largest city, bigger than Philadelphia.

Lisa’s family of four went cold turkey (cold organic turkey, of course), and she admits that suddenly nixing, strawberry-flavored milk, Kraft Mac and Cheese, and the like was not a breeze, involving, among other dramas, a meltdown over a forbidden donut.

For families on a similar mission, Lisa advocates taking baby steps, like cleaning up one meal of the day or trying her 14 weeks of mini-pledges.

“The easiest change to start with is to make meals you know your child loves with higher quality ingredients,” Lisa told me in an email. “So, for example, make spaghetti with whole-wheat pasta, organic sauce and grass-fed beef, and make PB&J with with 1-ingredient peanut butter (peanuts!), all-fruit spread with a natural sweetener, and whole-wheat bread that’s made with only 4 or 5 ingredients (look into local bakeries or make your own).”

Another way to transition away from processed food is to take Lisa’s 10-day pledge.

In an attempt to get my husband to ditch his diet soda and Go Lean Crunch, my kids and I went for a 20-day real-food pledge not long ago and invited Dad to join. Alas, he said, “You guys have fun!” And we did. During our 20 days, my boys kept a chart (see above) documenting any time any of us cheated, like when the boys ate “jely beens” they found on the floor of the supermarket. (Nah, I didn’t try to stop them.)

You’ll find lots of useful tips in these blog posts by Lisa:

Here’s Lisa’s 100% seriously delicious recipe for Chocolate Truffles made with just five ingredients, including dates and pecans. (Photo is hers, not mine!)

This Columbus, Ohio, mom has made her mark as the founder of Snacktivism, a grassroots movement to reconsider our entire snacking culture. Sally’s wake-up call came one Saturday morning when she watched her son’s soccer team scarf down a post-game snack of frosted cupcakes, cookies, and chips. Her “Soccer Mom Soapbox” blog post caught fire, and a force for good was born.

I highly recommend Sally's Sports Snacktivism Handbook, which includes sample emails to coaches and fellow parents. I was so appalled by the packaged junk served at my own kids’ soccer games that I sent the handbook to our local Parks & Rec department. Apparently I wasn’t the only one because faster than officials could have responded to my note, the packet was dispersed league-wide by soccer coaches.

Go, Sally!

Our first-grade team instituted a fruit-and-water-only snack policy, and guess what? Nobody complained, and the kids gobbled up all the grapes, tangerines, and bananas!

Incidentally, Sally is well acquainted with the connection between constipation and bedwetting. As Sally wrote on her blog, “Reading It’s No Accident was a lightbulb moment for me, because I realized my younger son’s bedwetting was likely due to constipation–something I’d never considered before. Once I resolved the constipation, the bedwetting stopped.”

Sally has endorsed both It's No Accident and our children's book, Bedwetting and Accidents Aren't Your Fault. Thank you, Sally!

Working with picky eaters is a focus of Sally's blog. Here are some of Sally's most helpful posts:

And here’s the recipe for Sally's scrumptious Peach & Vanilla Green Smoothie.

Stacy was a mom of three fed up with the processed food her kids were getting at their central Idaho school, from Froot Loop necklaces to McDonald's field trips. Moms with older kids told her not to bother lobbying for change. Stacy didn't listen.

Today at their school, candy rewards have been replaced by extra playground time. Cookies and donuts have been replaced by clementine pumpkins and apples. How'd she do it? Read "Frustrated by Junk Food at Your Child’s School? How I Fought Back–and Won."

Stacy's Healthy Classrooms Initiative, aimed at educating teachers, includes a trove of free downloadable documents written in conjunction with a nutritionist. Dr. Hodges and I have included them in our own packet aimed at teachers, the K-12 Teacher's Fact Sheet on Childhood Toileting Troubles.

Not only has Stacy worked diligently to change her school's eating culture, but she has shown the same passion and creativity at home, where she has long struggled with her older son's aversion to vegetables.

Her challenges may sound familiar to you: “I tried roast­ing and stir fry­ing. I paired veggies with dips and sauces. I added them to pasta dishes and grilled cheese sand­wiches. I served them up fam­ily style and held taste tests. I took him gro­cery shop­ping and cooked with him. I even started a back­yard garden. Nope, no way…not gonna do it. The kid was stubborn.”

How'd she get through? Read these posts:

Finally, here's Stacy's amazing recipe for Creamy Chocolate Pudding, made with ripe avocados and bananas. I make this recipe all the time, though I substitute coconut milk for regular milk because that’s what I usually have in my fridge. At first my husband couldn't get past the idea of avocado in his pudding, but when he saw that our boys loved this creamy, chocolately yumminess, he gave it a try and now proclaims it "actually pretty good."


If you have any tips that have worked for your constipated picky eater, please post them on our Facebook page.

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