By Jen Wittes
Wondering when to start solids? Sneaking vegetables into brownies, spaghetti sauce, and smoothies in order to get some greens into your kids? Wondering if it’s OK to let them exist on yogurt and Goldfish crackers? (Hey, at least they’re eating.) Enter Katja Rowell, a Twin Cities family doctor turned feeding specialist with a passion for ending struggle at the dinner table and teaching parents how to feed with instinct–from the heart.
Recently, Jen sat down with Dr. Rowell for a quick chat about her work, her book, and her advice to parents.
JW: What exactly is “The Feeding Doctor”? What do you do?
KR: I’m a family doctor by training, and for the last three years I have stepped out of the clinic and into families’ homes, either via house call or by phone, to help parents who are struggling with feeding. My business was called, “Family Feeding Dynamics” but parents kept coming up to me and saying, “You’re the Feeding Doctor, right?” So, I embraced it! I love helping families find hope by turning around feeding problems, from picky eating to food preoccupation. I also help with so-called overweight and underweight issues, which often means simply offering perspective about a label that has been placed on a child. Families often feel relieved to not fight and fret over food anymore. One mom said, “I am grateful I get to be a mom again, not a food cop.”
JW: What sparked your passion for feeding issues?
KR: Having my own daughter and quickly realizing that though I knew WHAT to feed her basically, I had no idea HOW. As a family doctor, I had treated both eating disorders, and the consequences of adults who struggled with eating in other ways, from diabetes to heart disease. I had to examine the research, and what I learned was so compelling and life-changing for our family, that I felt that I had to pursue it full time. If I can help children grow up to feel good about food and their bodies, it’s the best preventive medicine I can think of!
JW: I know you recommend child led weaning. Can you give a brief explanation of what that entails, and perhaps some direction as to where readers can research the concept further?
KR: Actually, I recommend families find what is comfortable for them! Baby Led Weaning has become very popular recently and is often touted as the answer to weight problems and picky eating. I think the benefits come from following the child’s lead. Some babies will thrive just feeding themselves and skipping spoon-feeding, and others want and need to be spoon-fed, many will do best with a combination. The key is either way, feeding your baby foods that are developmentally appropriate, and following her cues: letting her grab the spoon and feed herself, or letting her scrape food into her mouth with her palms, paying attention to how it all feels. If you feel stressed, anxious, like you have to try to get your child to do something, you could probably use some support. This transition period is super important. If parents get stuck here, it can be hard to turn things around. There are some great resources to help families with this transition. My favorite is Ellyn Satter’s DVD Feeding With Love and Good Sense, or her book, Child of Mine. I’d love to see both in every baby-shower gift list!
JW: If you could share one golden piece of advice with parents when it comes to kids and food, what would it be?
KR: Don’t worry so much, and trust yourself and your child. Follow your child’s cues. Do your jobs with feeding your little one, and let her do hers–that is, letting her decide how much to eat from what you provide. Sorry, I couldn’t just do ONE piece of advice!
JW: What’s next on your horizon?
Right now, I’m working on my book, which will come out this fall. It’s tentatively titled Love Me, Feed Me: An Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More… and am heading in April to NYC for the annual Child Welfare Symposium. I want to get the word out about a healthy feeding relationship any way I can!
Visit Katja Rowell at thefeedingdoctor.com for more info on Baby Led Weaning, establishing a healthy body image, and ending table wars! You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.