On Raising Non-Dieters
Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Parental Units! Let me start by telling you...
YOU ARE DOING AN AMAZING JOB! BEING A PARENT IS EFFING HARD!
Now that I've reminded you of that...This post is in no way intended to create shame or guilt! We get enough of that sh*t by just breathing as parents. Rather, this post's sole purpose is to point out the power we have as caregivers to shape our kids relationship with food at an early age, and to give you some tips on how to start.
Anyhow, I'm not claiming to be an expert in childhood feeding. Am I raising a baby? Sure. Am I feeding him to the best of my ability as a mother, and as a Registered Dietitian? You bet.
But, I don't "specialize" in picky eating or nutrition for the kiddos beyond the basics that all RD's learn during training. For the child feeding gurus, I'd suggest visiting https://www.kristenyarker.com/kids and https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/
HOWEVER, there are some SIMPLE & EFFECTIVE things we can do to give kids the best chance of becoming intuitive eaters that we all started out as when we were babies.
What's "Intuitive Eating" exactly, you ask?
It's EATING when are physically HUNGRY, enjoying our food (not mindlessly eating, or eating due to emotional or other triggers), and STOPPING when we are full (not stuffed).
It's EATING HEALTHY food, most of the time, and doing it instinctively (not because a diet told us to), because we can feel how healthy foods energize us, and make us feel well more often than not.
So, why would this help little Sally or Johnny?
Because: When we raise intuitive eaters, we take away future customers of the diet industry!
Know all foods fit
Don't deprive or restrict themselves
Experience ZERO guilt or shame associated with eating.
In other words, raising kids to eat intuitively gives them a far better chance of having a healthy relationship with food as they move through life.
That's right, suck-it Bernstein, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Snake Diet, Daily Dozen, etc, etc, etc. Our kids will not be needing your services. They will not unsustainably restrict foods/calories to lose weight, only to gain it all back back and then some, triggering the next diet, and so on. Thank you, next.
"Jess, get to the point please, I'm busy" you say?
Roger that! Just start here- its called Ellen Satter's "Division of Responsibility" (complete details are in the 2nd link I gave you at the beginning):
As the parent, you are in charge of WHAT is being served and WHEN you serve it.
The baby/child is in charge of IF they will eat, WHAT they will eat, and HOW MUCH they will eat.
In real life this looks like:
Not trying put food in a baby's mouth when she starts to turn away, or looks disinterested in her food. This is letting the baby decide HOW MUCH, or IF they will eat. Sometimes they don't eat at all, but don't be alarmed (more on that later)!
It also looks like:
Putting a variety of foods, family style, in the middle of the table, at a mealtime decided by YOU, no distractions (TV, etc). Its not cooking and plating 5 different meals for each person.
Letting the CHILD decide what goes on their plate, and what goes in their mouth. If they are very wee, its plunking safe sized foods on their tray in front of them, letting them decide what to dip their hand in, smash, or spread around until eventually finding their mouth. Ya its messy, but necessary. It's called "Baby Led Weaning".
Let the kiddos decide IF they will eat and WHAT they will eat. NOTE: It can take a child about 30 times to accept a new food. So don't fret! If they don't like something now, keep offering it occasionally, and eventually they'll try it when they're ready!
It does NOT look like:
Child: "Mommy/Daddy, I'm full."
Mommy/Daddy: "Eat two more bites of x,y,z, of this portion that I plated for you, THEN you're done".
This last point puts the child at risk for losing touch with their hunger & fullness cues (AKA to not TRUST THEIR BODY). Need a humorous situation to bring my point home?
Imagine you and your bestie, or spouse, are at a restaurant. Say you're done, and you told the waiter "You may clear my plate, I'm full". If the waiter responded with "No, you're not done. You didn't eat everything on your plate. Keep eating past the point of fullness, patron", how would you feel? Specifically, if you were forced to eat a particular food remaining on your plate (maybe you just don't like beets), how would you feel about that food after?
Its tough to break this mentality, being raised in the land of "clean your plate because there are starving kids in (insert developing country here)". I get it. But we CAN break the cycle of how WE may have learned to eat growing up.
Maybe you're like me, and you grew up watching the adults, & learning that:
Being on on a diet was desirable, & meant you were in control.
Avoiding certain foods is normal. "Mom avoids carbs, this must mean I should too".
Talking negatively about their hips/thighs/tummies/calves/bodies is acceptable. I grew up thinking that no one likes their body, and that dieting is normal. "Gee, maybe I should be on a diet too" at 10 years old). Yikes.
It could also be the simple act of rewarding kids by giving food, or punishing them by taking away food. Repeated over time, it may cause us to associate food with an emotion (hello Emotional Eating).
I'll end with a simple point:
As parents, we tend to worry that our babies/kids aren't eating enough, right? Let me ease your mind: If your kid is growing, seems happy, and is energized; they're likely eating enough. Always consult with your doctor if you have concerns, of course, and take a look at this handy link from Dietitian's of Canada https://www.dietitians.ca/Dietitians-Views/Prenatal-and-Infant/Infant-Feeding/Is-my-child-growing-well-.aspx
I challenge that the larger issue, over the lifespan of kids, teens, and into our adulthoods, is actually:
The horrendous instances of disordered eating patterns, AKA an unhealthy relationship with food.
The lack of body positivity due to our society's tendencies to equate "skinny" with "healthy". We do know now, that people can be healthy or unhealthy, regardless of their shape or size.
So, let's make the diet industry go out of business shall we? Let's start by raising some intuitive eaters who have healthy relationships with food, now and always.
Questions? Fire away.
As always, thanks for the love.