Overcoming math anxiety is an approach that can work for overcoming a fear of new foods.

Math anxiety exists around the world. I have a little myself. It turns out, though, that one of the main problems in combatting math anxiety is that we believe that people are born with a fixed amount of math ability. Research says otherwise.

So what’s this got to do with eating? When I read this recent article in The New York Times, An Antidote to Math Anxiety (called Fending Off Math Anxiety in the online version), by Perri Klass, M.D. I was struck by the similarities. Even the central question resonated.

  • Does being bad at math lead to anxiety or does having anxiety lead people to be bad at math?
  • Does being uncomfortable trying new foods lead to anxiety or does having anxiety lead to being uncomfortable trying new food?

An article linking Selective Eating with anxiety, that appeared in Pediatrics in 2015, sent shockwaves through the parenting community. All of a sudden, picky eating didn’t seem so benign.

Incremental exposure to skills is the key to resolving both math and food anxieties. Think about this like teaching kids to read. First kids practice identifying letters by sight, then they practice identifying letters by sound. Next, they put letters together and learn how to sound words out. And finally kids learn the meaning of new words. And the key to this all is practice, practice, practice. So there you have it. Break down trying new foods into the smallest steps.  Read my step-by-step- guide and check out my new Super Taster Kit.

More similarities between math anxiety and eating anxiety:

  • To the, Which comes first question, it’s increasingly likely that the relationship is bidirectional. “Poor performance in math can lead to math anxiety, but there are also studies that point in the other direction: if you have math anxiety it disrupts your concentration.”
    • Some children are naturally cautious about trying new foods. Their anxiety produces the picky eating. Others, however, have a bad experience (such as gagging) and that leads to anxiety.
  • “Parental math anxiety can be transmitted to children.”
    • Parents who think of themselves as picky can transmit this to their children. Moreover, parents who feel less confident in their parenting skills often feed children a worse, more selective diet, research shows.
  • “One problem is that we tend to believe with math that you either have the ability or you don’t, rather than assuming that your skills and abilities are the result of study and practice.”
    • Parents routinely tell me they have “good” or “bad” eaters and that they believe this is a more-or-less “fixed” state.
  • “Researchers believe that the skills—and the anxiety—are actually shaped even before children start formally learning math.”
    • The skills needed to eat right start from the get-go, well before we begin any kind of nutrition education. And certainly well before kids get to school.
  • Although many young children know how to count, “they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the number words.” In other words, kids can count from 1 to 10 but if asked to grab two of something, many just grab a handful.
    • Children can identify “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods but they don’t know how to put this knowledge into practice. Here’s an interesting study about the limits of nutrition education.

And finally…

Giving parents the tools to teach their children math skills —in this case with an app called “Bedtime Math” reduces anxiety and improves math performance.

  • Giving parents the tools to teach children to explore new foods improves eating “performance.”

So there you have it. Start by recognizing that eating is a skill.

Skills can be taught. And skills helps kids combat anxiety. For more information about eliminating your children’s anxiety, read Picky Eating and Anxiety and for more information about your own parenting anxiety read Vegetable Anxiety.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~