That’s an MST3K reference there, in case you wondered. And I use it because my kid has taken picky eating to the level of an extreme sport. Chloe is naturally a fairly high-anxiety, control-enthusiast type personality (wonder where she gets that?), and when she was 2, she got a dreadful stomach virus that caused continual vomiting for days. It was bad enough that I actually stopped nursing her for 24 hours, because her stomach seemed unable to digest anything. We wound up giving her 10mL of water a few times an hour to keep her hydrated, and had to give her Phenergan suppositories to even let her keep that down. It was horrible and traumatic. And ever since then she’s had almost a phobia of any new food, and tends to stick with bland, uniformly-textured, familiar foods. She would quite happily eat nothing but refined baked goods and dairy products if I let her.
Let me tell you, I’ve grown to hate advice about picky eaters. Making food into fun shapes, smiley faces, or forests of broccoli standing up in mashed potatoes is totally ineffectual. Might work on amateur picky eaters, but not on my champ. I bought The Sneaky Chef in hopes of getting some nutrition into her, but so many of the recipes are about sneaking vegetables into things like meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, and macaroni and cheese, none of which my kid will eat in the first place. The other problem is she may be a supertaster. Despite Missy Chase Lapine’s assurances that all her recipe shenanigans were undetectable to test audiences of real children, Chloe immediately called out my attempt to include a smidgeon of orange puree in a cheddar quesadilla. My best friend says the truly epic level of Chloe’s sensitivity to flavors came home to her when she made macaroni sprinkled with cheddar cheese for her kids, and saved out a bowl of plain macaroni for my kid. Much like a gustatory Princess and the Pea, Chloe politely declined the pasta, saying it tasted funny, and my friend found one lonely shred of cheese at the bottom of the bowl.
We tried therapy for Chloe, and the therapist suggested we use Ye Olde Sticker Charte as a motivational tool. Chloe chose a toy she reallyreallyreally wanted as her goal, and agreed to the plan. But even when she was 100% invested in eating new foods to earn stickers, she would choke and gag. I honestly think that for her, swallowing a pea or a bite of chicken feels as scary and gross as it would feel for the average American to eat ant eggs or maggot cheese. Soon, she decided that it wasn’t worth enacting her own personal Fear Factor to earn a measly sticker, no matter how cool the toy at the end of the chart. (Due in part to this total misread of Chloe’s personality and the fact that the therapist advocated meridian tapping, we fired her.)
Here is what has worked (however slowly and gradually): her pediatrician talked to her about nutrition, and asked her to agree to two rules. She won’t have second helpings of starch – one serving only. And she needs to try a bite of one unfavored food at dinner each day. Chloe agreed, and she seems to take her personal integrity much more seriously than a sticker chart. When she’s reluctant to try a bite of something, I remind her that she won’t feel very good when she goes for her checkup and has to tell the doctor she didn’t stick to their agreement. She still doesn’t like trying new foods, but she’s becoming much more inured to it. Each time she survives having a bad taste or weird texture in her mouth, it helps her move away from her dread. It’s very slow going. Last week she opined that if Italian sausage was the last food on Earth, she would probably eat it, and her dad and I did a celebratory dance once we were out of her sight line. The important thing to us is there’s progress, even if it’s extremely gradual.
The other thing that has helped is giving her control. I taught her how to make scrambled eggs (using the only correct method – Alton Brown’s). No kid can resist the allure of being allowed to crack eggs. She will now make eggs for the whole family, all by herself, and she will eat them. For a child whose sole sources of protein were peanut butter and cheese, that is HUGE. I’m letting her help plan meals and cook more and more, and the kids are also helping us plant and tend a garden. Perhaps a zucchini or blackberry that she observed forming from a flower, and which she tended herself will be less scary than an anonymous vegetable plunked on her plate.
Next week, I’ll post my review of The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, as well as a couple other tips that have helped us get our kids eating better.
Quick and Easy Guide to Spotting Altmed Bunk
(Another busy day today! I look at it as an opportunity to recycle – an oldie but a goodie.)
Immersed in the world of breastfeeding and attachment parenting as I am, I am unfortunately bombarded with loads of alternative medicine hogwash. As I dutifully (and usually futilely) research and dissect the latest advice from someone’s naturopath, or the information they got from their chiropractor, I have noticed certain signs that will cause my bullshit meter to bury the needle. What follows isn’t a detailed discussion of why altmed practices are unscientific, or how to decide if a research study is reliable, or a treatise on the philosophy of science. It’s just a quick and dirty list of features that anti-scientific quackery tends to share.
1. Most of the hits on Google are sites that promote or sell the product in question. Typical site names are phlebotinum.com, phlebotinum-advisory-group.net, drlaceyunderall.net, yournaturalhealth.com, and so on. Many strive to look like health information sites, but if they have only good things to say, and an easy link to purchase the product, you can bet it’s just a commercial site shilling. If you get a high proportion of hits like Webmd, Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, and maybe stuff like CNN or ABC stories, it has a much greater chance of being a real thing.
2. The remedy is promoted as a solution for vague and ubiquitous maladies. Usual suspects are fatigue, insomnia, body aches, headache, mood problems, low sex drive, weight gain, nausea, and constipation. Now these can be real symptoms of real problems. But when you see a product promoted as solving a long laundry list of these issues, it’s time to raise an eyebrow. These symptoms are typically experienced by most people at least some of the time, especially in a culture plagued by poor diet, low rates of exercise, too little sleep, social isolation, and chronic stress.
Most of these symptoms are self-limiting, or can be alleviated by lifestyle change. But most people don’t relish a prescription of “eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and get 8 hours of sleep a night.” Lifestyle changes are difficult to initiate, harder to maintain, and are frankly a total drag. But give us a pill, a cream, or someone waving their hands over us once a week, and we perk right up – seems easy!
3. Self-diagnosis is encouraged. Whether it’s checking off the laundry list of vague symptoms, or buying a test kit you can do at home, do-it-yourself is the name of the game for quacks. And if you did get tests at the doctor’s office, they encourage re-interpretation. Doctor says your thyroid levels are fine? Well check your number against this web site’s “more accurate” scale. Doctor says your hormone levels are healthy? Take a saliva test to find out more!
4. Remedy is promoted by an actress of fading fame. E.g., Jenny McCarthy and Suzanne Somers.
5. Proponents laud how natural the remedy is, and decry the toxins in the environment and/or conventional medicines. Arsenic is as natural as it gets – it’s an element! Hemlock is a plant (make sure you get organically grown). Meanwhile insulin for diabetics is synthetic. Using “natural” as a synonym for “good” doesn’t make sense. (Also look for the keyword “allopathic” to describe conventional medicine.)
6. Relies on testimonials, anecdotal evidence, appeals to authority. Approaches that work don’t need this type of weak support, because they have strong scientific evidence – the kind that attempts to sweep away all the human foibles that can prevent us from seeing what’s really happening, and determine if an intervention has a real effect.
7. Provides citations as though they refer to peer-reviewed scientific journals, but the cited material is actually a book, presentation, or web site of an individual proponent of the remedy. It doesn’t matter how many letters are after your name – just because you say it doesn’t make it reliable. Publication in a respected journal indicates your claims have been examined and probed for mistakes and found robust. Publication on a website means you successfully Googled GoDaddy.
8. Users respond to skeptical inquiry and questioning of the evidence by saying, “I KNOW this works – it worked for me.” When the people trying to sell you on something have no clue about placebo effect, confirmation bias, coincidence, self-limiting conditions, and general methods for removing human perceptual bias, you can dismiss pretty much everything they say.
9. Praises or demonizes according to fad. Acai berries are magically delicious, but
VDTs, power lines, electrical transformers, cell phones, Wifi is evil.
10. Invokes the Pentaverate. Promoters wave away criticism as the result of wide-reaching conspiracies involving doctors, pharmaceutical companies, the CDC, and other entities.
11. The remedy is said to have no possible side effects or risks. Generally if something can have an effect, it can have a side effect. If it can change your body in some way, that change might turn out badly for you. Even such benign and universally prescribed practices as exercise and high fiber diets have risks and side effects.
Scene from an Acupunturist’s Office
Patient: So, I’ve never done this before. Can you tell me how this goes?
Acupuncturist: Well, first I clear an hour for your appointment. We spend a lot of time sitting and discussing your problems, your life, and what you’re looking for in treatment. I try not to talk too much, but just to listen to you.
Then I have you get comfortable and completely relaxed in our treatment room. It is decorated in a serene theme, and has scented candles and soft, tranquil music. You lie down on our padded table and close your eyes.
In my practice, I focus on respecting you as a complete person. I don’t treat you like a broken machine with one part that needs fixing; rather, I concentrate on supporting your total wellness, including mental and emotional health.
I provide caring, supportive human touch in a professional context that is all about you and what feels good for your body.
Oh, and I also stick needles in you.
Patient: Maybe we could just skip that last part?
Would you, could you, in a pill?
After giving birth, truly dedicated earth mothers don’t just delay cord clamping or ceremonially bury their placenta under a tree.
They eat it.
Why would they do this? It’s not completely out of left field. Many mammals, including herbivores, eat their placentas. We don’t really know why yet. Some people have taken this fact, together with the information that the placenta contains iron, estrogen, and progesterone, and concluded that eating your placenta will restore nutrients and hormones lost during labor, and help prevent such problems as anemia, low milk supply, and post-partum depression. Most people seem to go for having the placenta dried and made into pills (“encapsulation”), to cut down on the ick factor. Advocates of the practice are passionate and certain, employing a lot of bare assertion and very little actual evidence.
Check out some of the breathless claims from this placenta-preparation service:
The placenta has great restorative properties to assist you with your postpartum recovery. It contains many vital nutrients including iron, protein, vitamin B6, and the hormones it excreted during pregnancy. Just as it supported and nourished your baby, the placenta, when carefully prepared, nourishes the postpartum mother. It supports lactation and assists in the involution of the uterus to it’s non-pregnant size. It facilitates an easier postpartum recovery by increasing maternal energy and easing transitions.
Placental Services also gives this citation:
“181 out of 210 women who were given dried placenta to increase milk supply had positive results and saw an increase in their milk supply.
Placenta as a Lactagogon; Gynaecologia 138: 617-627, 1954”
Now, first let me say, if you would like to consume your baby’s placenta on the off chance it will do you good, I suppose you should go for it. I don’t see much harm. If it does nothing, you might lose some money to a professional encapsulator. (Of course safe handling is important, just like with raw beef or chicken or whatever.) But really, whatever floats your boat.
I’ll also grant that it’s possible that placentophagy could have some benefits. It’s not completely ridiculous, the way homeopathy is. It’s at least feasible that recouping iron and hormones could be beneficial.
But here’s my problem – this is at best a hypothesis. It’s testable, but hasn’t really been tested (as far as I can tell, that study didn’t use a control group, and the sample is small to boot). It’s a pretty big leap from “animals do this” and “it contains hormones” to “ingesting dried placenta prevents depression and low milk supply.” There’s also no particular reason to think that, say, iron from your placenta would be more beneficial than a Walgreens iron supplement.
And why are people so eager to make that huge leap? Because it’s “natural.” You won’t see this wide-eyed credulity when it comes to vaccines, for damn sure. People who avoid ingesting acetaminophen or corn syrup jump at the chance to chow down on placenta, because that’s what sheep do. It just doesn’t make sense to me. And I’m worried about the general mentality because it leads to distrust of science-based medicine and encourages faith in altmed woo – something that occurs in nature and seems like an alternative to Big Pharma products catches on fast, but any inquiry into whether it’s true is ignored.