Sandra K. remembers her mother constantly worrying about her weight, forbidding foods like ice cream in the house, and telling Sandra to watch what she ate, too, to “keep from getting fat.” Today Sandra struggles not to recreate that scenario with her daughter, knowing that the attitudes and behaviors Sandra learned as a child have exacerbated, if not caused, her eating and weight struggles as an adult.
Fortunately for her daughter, Sandra is an enlightened parent when it comes to eating and weight issues. Far too many parents remain in the clutches of the diet mentality, believing that the key to successfully achieving healthy weights lies in ignoring our internal cues and following diet advice instead. Their anxiety about their own eating leads them to try to manage their children’s eating in the same way.
According to Ellyn Satter, RD, well-known child feeding expert and author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, children can get too fat from overfeeding and, in a sense, from underfeeding, too – that is, feeding children in a way that interferes with their ability to regulate their own intake. By teaching children they cannot trust their internal cues to tell them whether and how much to eat, we set children up for lifelong struggles with eating and weight.Just observing a parent’s disordered eating behavior can also set a child up for struggles. It doesn’t go unnoticed when we regularly skip meals, count calories, exercise excessively or otherwise try to ‘control’ our weight.
Modeling Healthy Eating
Clearly, to give our daughters (and sons) the best chance of developing healthy eating attitudes and behaviors, we need to adopt those attitudes and behaviors ourselves. Consider these thoughts to help re-frame attitudes about weight and healthy eating and help your child remain or become a normal eater. Most of these tips are from Francie Berg’s excellent book Women Afraid to Eat and thoughts from the Green Mountain healthy eating program.
- Healthy eating does not mean dieting. There’s room for rich foods in a healthy eating plan. Read “Mindful Eating: Eating What We Want & Loving the Result” for more input on healthfully eating all kinds of foods.
- Avoid a focus on weight or shape. Promote self-acceptance and size tolerance. Read “Accept Your Wonderful Self” for more insight.
- Eat at least one family meal together daily, if possible, with the television turned off. Studies show that meals together as a family enhance the health and well-being of our children.
- Teach decision-making and problem-solving skills. Healthy eating, and healthy living in general, involve decision-making and problem-solving. Work through problems ‘out loud’ so children can learn the process.
- Promote positive self-talk. Read “Changing Negative Self-Talk” for insight into how we can talk more positively to ourselves around the issue of weight and healthy eating.
- Promote communication and sharing of feelings. Emotional eating is often an attempt to bury feelings that we would better deal with in the open.
- Develop interests and skills that lead to success, pleasure and fulfillment without emphasis on appearance. Sports, not modeling, for example.