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talking to kids about eating and wellness

Posted by on Sep 3, 2009 in Blog Posts | 3 comments

This NYT article on feeding kids is a mixed bag. Some good points, but mostly a lot of the “common wisdom” kind of thinking that got us into this mess with food in the first place.

The author started his first serious diet at age 8, which led to years of binge eating and bulemia. He’s published a recent memoir of his struggles, but I fear he still doesn’t get it.
Good Points:
1) He acknowledges that there is a lot of angst on the part of parents about how to talk to kids about food without making matters worse. I see this when I talk to parents, and it’s oneof the reasons why I founded Family Feeding Dynamics. This angst is making things worse.
“I was struck by just how much thought they had given to coaxing their children toward a sensible eating and away from extreme indulgence or self-denial.”
“Every parent fretted over the right language to use with children.”
2) He acknowledges that appetites vary. I talk to parents about this. Some kids are born hungry, others seem to care less about food. I, for instance get antsy if I don’t eat at least every 4 hours most days. I get preoccupied and feel icky if I get too hungry. My spouse on the other hand could go without eating for most of the day and not really notice. There is a physiological difference. There is a hormonal, psychological, food-related, neural basis for people having different appetites. (Dieting and deprivation radically effect hunger, appetite etc.) If you are one who has a mild appetite or interest in food, having a child who is the opposite can be baffling and scary.
One expert said, “Food lights up some people more than it lights up other people. We’re not born the same.”
And then the bad news…
One mom in the story worked hard to “restrain” portions and be healthy, and then when the daughter came home from a trip to Italy a few pounds heavier (the story suggests) she gets the girl signed up at a gym. (Though this anecdote seems to be portrayed positively.)
A 16 year ols who is “slim and gravitated naturally towards less fattening foods” dared to go for a bowl of ice-cream after a 3 mile run. When Dad tried to steer her away from the ice-cream to a “healthier choice” she got upset, insinuated her Dad was calling her fat. (Was it really a bad choice for her to enjoy a bowl if ice-cream?)
The author concludes that appetite is “mysterious” and notes the “tricky task parents face in trying to regulate it.”
And here is the failure of thinking that we fall back on too easily.
It’s tricky to “regulate” or control our children’s appetites because we can’t. And all that angst and effort leads to heavier kids and more disordered eating. Kids pushed to eat more tend to eat less, and kids pushed to eat less tend to eat more, and no one is very happy during the process.
In fact, given the right support and structure, we can trust that our children’s bodies can regulate themselves. We need to do a good job feeding our children reliable and tasty meals and snacks, with a variety of foods. We need to move our bodies and give them opportunities to do the same because it feels good. We need to enjoy treats and “forbidden” foods without guilt and shame. We need to reject dieting and weight loss as a goal. We need to love our children unconditionally.
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  1. karim

    A valuable post on wellness.

    Karim – Mind Power

  2. familyfeedingdynamics

    Thanks Susan, I read the article. I think as folks don't cook as much, its harder to get the healthy fats. It amazed me when I taught a cooking class for my diabetic patients how they recoiled from putting a few teaspoons of oil into a pan to fry some vegetables, but didn't think twice about the fats etc in fast food and processed foods. I use canola and olive oil, regularly eat walnuts and leafy greens. there is also a great article in the Montessori Foundation site about fats and brain development. ( then search Satter. I'm having trouble with the link.) I think we underestimate the role diet (structure in feeding as well as the specific foods) and sleep play in behavior etc. Thanks for writing!