Who is Jo?

Dr Jo Cormack is both a clinician and researcher, specializing in the perspective of parents of avoidant eaters. 

She works extensively with feeding professionals, both through her small group seminar program and clinical supervision. Many of you will know her as a speaker through RFPro and others. Her book for Early Years practitioners, Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) explores how educators can adopt responsive feeding practices in a childcare or educational setting. 

Jo spends half her week in her academic role at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, where she is a Senior Lecturer in the counseling department. She researches avoidant eating and responsive feeding, collaborating with other feeding researchers around the globe.

What do you do?

My core professional training is as a therapist; I draw on psychological and psychotherapeutic theory to help families unravel the complex emotional issues that can be associated with feeding challenges. 

Academics and clinicians know what constitutes positive feeding practices. However, I believe that it isn’t enough to tell parents what to do differently. Instead, I’m interested in holding space for them while we work together to develop insights into their feeding practices, and focus on understanding as well as change. 

This understanding may take several forms: understanding the child’s difficulties, understanding their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but most importantly, having sufficient self-compassion to move away from the place of self-blame where so many of the parents we work with find themselves.

My research is largely phenomenological, which means I look at how parents make sense of their experiences. In my doctoral study, my findings centered around parental sense of self, the notion of agency, and the parental need to understand. This was specifically in the context of an examination of pressure to eat. Watch this space for publications coming out of this study. 

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

For me, the thing that really lights my fire is a need to make research evidence underpinning a responsive approach to feeding accessible, so that more of us can share it with the families who so desperately need it. As an early career researcher, being in a position to contribute to that evidence base is pretty exciting too. 

What one thing would you like ALL professionals working with feeding to know?

That you need to give it time. It is easy to feel rushed into ‘doing’ by the powerful anxiety many parents experience in relation to their child’s eating behaviors. Many parents would love us to ‘fix’ their child, when so often we need to just be alongside them while they work on the feeding environment and feeding dynamics. 

Of course, in medically complex cases, this work may be happening in tandem with other interventions, referrals, and so on. But if you can give parents permission to reconnect with their child and then step back, watch, and wait… given time, children can blossom like a flower that has been given space, nourishment, sunlight, and water.

How can folks find out more?

Jo’s latest publication: Cormack J, Rowell K, Postăvaru GI. Self-Determination Theory as a Theoretical Framework for a Responsive Approach to Child Feeding. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2020 Jun;52(6):646-651

website is: www.jocormack.com

Jo is on Instagram: @Jo.cormack

And Twitter: @Jo_Cormack

You can also read the articles she (and others) contribute to the RFPro blog.