“EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR KID AND THEIR FOOD, BUT DIDN’T KNOW WHO TO ASK”

I would like to start this new column so that I can respond to all of the questions you guys have out there about your kids and their food. Kind of like old school monthly magazines that have Q and A’s! So please send your questions to: donna@donnafish.com

I look forward to hearing from you!

TREATS BEFORE THE MEAL: WHAT TO DO?

Q: “Every time I pick up my 4 year old son from pre-school and they’ve had a birthday party, he has a treat that he then always wants to eat on our way home before lunch. I am
a bit torn, as I don’t want to make a big fuss, but I get glares from the other Moms if I say fine, since most of them tell their kids to wait until they finish their lunch. What is the best thing to do?”

A: This is a great question because it brings up not only a food issue and how to handle it, but how to deal with the pressures and at times judgement we get (or feel,) when we do something that goes against the grain.

I got my fair share of glares and nasty intrusive comments; not just because I didn’t care too much about giving my kids sweets before meals since it never affected their appetites, but also the fact that my oldest daughter never wore a coat outside all winter! I used to respond: “Would you like to try to put it on her?”

So, this is my attitude about treats before meals. It doesn’t matter all that much. I have always found that if you make too much of a fuss about it, you over glorify the treat. I also never really find that it does interfere all that much with a kid eating their meal. Perhaps they are less hungry in that moment, but if you wait a bit longer and can be flexible if they aren’t all that hungry right away for lunch, they will end up eating their usual lunch, or certainly eating more later on.

If, however, you adamantly disagree with this, and/or you worry that because you have a very picky eater that they won’t get anything nutritious that day, several things to keep in mind:

Kids’ nutritional needs are met on a one to two week basis, so if they in fact do just have a cookie for lunch that day, not that big a problem as they will probably eat more of a balanced meal later on.

Kids in preschool are trying to not only assert their control, but their separateness and individuation from you, the parent. Clothing and food tend to be big choices since they have the most power over these things. (I am sure we all know or have kids who insist on the superpower p.j.’s or shirt day in day out!) This is their developmental stage!
So, to avoid turning treats into fights, you could give them the choice of when they want the cookie: before or after lunch? But you have to stand firm with the choice they make, even if they are pushing for more after lunch if they chose to eat it before. Respond calmly: “I know you wish you still had it, maybe next time you can have it as dessert.”

Treat their pushing the limit like any other.

Keep it simple. And as regards to the judgement issue, get used to it. Everyone will always have an opinion. It’s yours that counts.

“She’s Not Making Any Friends Today”

Said Natalie Morales this morning on The Today Show in response to a photo someone put up of herself with a ‘sixpack’, 4 days after delivering a baby.

Interesting response, Natalie.

Aside from the ridiculousness of a woman having a flat stomach 4 days after giving birth, the fact that this was morning news and the reaction it got was fascinating.

I am going to set aside one part that many reacted to, which is the idea that a photo like this could provoke women to think that this is how they are supposed to look after giving birth and possibly create bad ‘self esteem’.

If you think this is what you should aspire to when your boobs are leaking milk, your hormones are going on a nosedive to blues land and your stomach is the closest thing to jelly you have ever imagined, (not to mention that baby whose life depends on you?!) then I think you have bigger problems. Like, perhaps, insanity?!

So no, I am not even touching that one. What totally interests me however, is how we as women respond to each other when we feel envious of each other’s looks. Was this what you meant Natalie, when you stated that this woman was “not making any friends today”? Inciting all that jealousy in other women, was that it?

But all silliness aside, that comment about the friends, grabbed my attention. How do we react when confronted with feelings of envy about another’s looks? How do groups of girlfriends, coworkers, families, all sorts of social groupings of girls and women navigate competition, envy and connection? Specifically around looks.

I am always pondering these issues from different angles since I work as a psychotherapist with eating disorders, and I do alot of workshops in schools on body image and eating issues.
In this day and age of bullying, mean girls, are there things we can continue to learn about that can help us navigate the reality of envy and jealousy, and the ways we respond as those feelings get touched off? Can that have any relevance to helping girls and women navigate these very real issues?

I once had a really close friend who broke up with me. Yes, you heard it right. I think it was truly the most heartbreaking breakup I had ever dealt with. I have to say this felt worse than any time a guy had dumped me.

This friend agreed to meet to try to explain why she wanted to end our friendship after 8 years. This wasn’t a case of growing apart, different lives, different needs; she said it simply: “I can’t deal with the feelings of envy I have when I’m with you. Maybe it’s because I never had sisters, I just can’t deal with the feelings of competition and envy.” My guess is that there had to be other things she couldn’t stand about me, maybe that was her ‘nice’ version, but I was totally flabbergasted by that statement. It also left me feeling that I had done something ‘bad’ by being ‘too something’ and now was being alienated and ‘shunned’.

I pondered the relationship I had had with my sister and thought that perhaps she was not exactly the best preparation for me in the land of ‘girlfriends’. She is probably the least competitive and envious person you will probably ever meet. I never felt her begrudge my need for attention or the strengths I had; besides which, she said years later, she always knew she had the edge over me anyhow, being the older one.

So perhaps I was a bit naïve; it never occurred to me that you wouldn’t want to have friends that you admired, respected, perhaps envied and felt a bit jealous of. In high school I always wished that I had my friend Karen’s legs, my friend Debby’s body; they were beautiful! While I may have felt insecure about my own body in ways, it never occurred to me that my envy was a feeling I had to avoid. When I entered the dance world, (and especially in New York City!) well, no shortage of envy and competition while surrounded by the beautiful women with gorgeus bodies. So yeah, it was certainly not new for me to wish I had that girls’ legs, or that one’s hair, or eyes. The beauty was astonishing and certainly something to appreciate!

Alot is written about mean girls, bullying, but not that much is focused specifically around the issue of looks. One of my friends calls it “the elephant in the room”. A recent New York Times article “A Cold War Fought by Women” by John Tierney, discussed a study that focused specifically on women’s reaction to a woman who was dressed by the researchers to attract attention, and on other days with other groups, to draw no attention to her figure. There was a statistically significant difference by the responses to this woman by the other women in terms of disparaging comments that were made about her when she left the room.

Perhaps not a shocker.

But what part of a woman looking good and perhaps drawing attention to those good looks is what provokes our hateful reactions? Is it our discomfort with our own envy and feelings of competitiveness since we are also hardwired for connection? These days one would argue that we only need each other for emotional sustenance, but back in the day those hunter gatherers truly depended on each other to help raise each other’s children while they picked the berries and the men hunted the meat.

As a psychotherapist working with eating disorders, I obviously talk about looks a lot as it relates to self esteem, management of anxiety, the wish for perfection and the fantasy of how that might make someone feel. The irony is that most of the girls and women that I have treated with eating disorders are highly attractive, but don’t see it. At all. In fact, I have had to coach some of them, that despite their own belief that they are not at all attractive, (which in fact may never change,) that others will see them as beautiful, and that it will be an issue. It might help them, hurt them, but it will not be a benign issue and that they need to know this. They may never think it themselves, but they need to know that others will think it of them.

Is it possible in any way that this negative belief about one’s looks is socially self protective? We know that nobody likes an ego maniac; is it possible that we tend toward self deprecation because of our fear of being alienated? Amy Schumer did a great video where one friend after another arrives, is complimented, and makes some radically self deprecating remark to downplay the compliment. Until the last woman responds simply: “Thank you”, and gets shot. Literally. Killed off.

We laugh, but boy do we ‘get it’.

So what is the message here for ourselves, our daughters, the next generation? It’s okay to have good self esteem, but not too good? It’s okay to feel good about your looks but don’t show it? Be confident, but not too confident? Some girls have instincts that give them the information about how to play this with others, some do not. Perhaps it is something we can learn. Or teach.

I think these issues are complex and there are no simple straightforward solutions. But we don’t necessarily need solutions, do we? We love to talk, to dissect, to connect around issues! We don’t need to solve anything, there is a relief in understanding our human nature, and being able to talk about it openly.

I want to start a conversation where girls and women talk about their relationships with each other and how looks have affected those relationships in any way. I am not talking about romantic relationships between women but all others, including mother/daughter, sisters, colleagues, boss to worker, friends, grandmother to granddaughters.

In all of their shapes, sizes and configurations. Let’s start a conversation to ‘out’ the topic of our own experiences of envy, competition and connection. And perhaps any shame associated with our desire to look beautiful, our wish for this attention while at the same time never wanting to incite any disconnect alienation from other women.

Please help me in this endeavor if you can, by emailing me anything that strikes you on this topic; or answer any of the following questions:

Do you think having sisters helped you (if you have them,) learn how to compete without feeling worried that it will destroy the connection? Or do you think it hurt?

If you went to a girls’ school do you think that environment did the same?

Have you ever lost a friendship over looks?

Have you ever felt that your parent or grandparent was disappointed in your looks?

Have you ever felt that a parent or grandparent was overly invested in how you look?

How if in any way have you dealt with envious feelings regarding looks with your own friends, family or colleagues?

Have you ever felt that your looks have affected your relationships with female bosses? Negative or positive?

How if in any way have you dealt with envious feelings regarding looks with your own friends, family or colleagues?

Given the ability via social media to get a constant ‘status update’ on the ever shifting social circles of where you are in, or out, connected, or disconnected, thanks for contributing to this conversation.

Please email me at donna@donnafish.com

“Flipping the ‘Off Switch’”

Nothing like having kids to reinforce the nature part of the nurture debate when it comes to personality traits.  Forget things like hair and eye color; any parent with more than one kid knows how different and unique their personalities and temperaments are, from Day One.

I broaden this to what I call your kid’s “Food Personality”.   It is rare for there to be kids in one family who all have similar eating styles.  More often than not, I hear parents including myself, talk about having one kid who’s a fairly picky eater, stops easily, while there are many children who have trouble stopping.

I call these kids, my Trouble Transitioners.  Since I coined this term for the 6 Styles of Eaters I write about in my book, I have come to see that some kids don’t necessarily say: “More, More!” because they have trouble with transitions, but simply because they have a  well developed palate, and love the stimulation of the tastes, smells and the sensations of the food!  I think back to when my middle daughter who delights in whatever she is doing at the moment, would be eating bowls and bowls of cereal, with the biggest smile on her face; humming the whole time.  I had to teach her how to flip the ‘off’ switch by waiting and checking back in with her body 20 minutes later.

This is the opposite of the Picky Eater; kids whose palates and senses don’t develop until they are older.  (If at all, there are some adults who are still picky eaters, and not that ‘into’ food.)   Trouble Transitioners are so stimulated by the tastes and sensations (early ‘foodies’; and I say that in the best sense of the word), that they are on their third helping before they feel the signal that they are ‘Done, or Full”.  By the time they hear the signal and stop, they are usually STUFFED.  This way of eating can, over time, become habitual as the cue to feeling ‘DONE’ and STOP EATING, is triggered after larger quantities.  The obvious result can be weight issues, which create other problems.

Parents can worry about how to handle this without at best, creating bad feelings and power struggles, or at worst, an eating disorder.  (Although parents, you can let yourself off the hook, it takes more than that to create a true eating disorder; some disordered eating, perhaps, not a full blown eating disorder.)

So in the interest of giving your ‘foodies’ some tools to prevent problems from developing, here are some tips:

1)    Enjoy and show your kid that you love how much they love food and the tastes.  Celebrate this.

2)    Teach them that they are their own “BODY EXPERT”, and it is their responsibility to become the best “BODY DETECTIVE” possible.  This means listening carefully to their stomachs for the signal that they are DONE, OR FULL.  Educate them that some bodies take longer to send the signal; it can just be a whisper after one bowl of cereal, but they need to WAIT 20 minutes to hear it well.

3)    While they are waiting, let them do an activity with you like clearing the table, doing the dishes.  If they want more, leave their food on the table so they know they have access to it and can have it if their body tells them they are genuinely still hungry.  (Avoids power struggles)

4)    Teach them how to listen to their bodies; Think of gradations of Hunger/Fullness; 1-7 from Starving, to Stuffed.  Help them to Listen Carefully and EAT WHEN HUNGRY STOP WHEN DONE, OR FULL.

5)    There are some foods that lend themselves to stimulating your tongue and mouth to the point where it makes it hard to flip the “Off Switch”; some salty foods, or sweet, depending on your palate.  Teach your kid to just step away after some, and remind them they can have more later.  (Try it yourself!)

Teaching kids HOW to WAIT and STOP, is a part of preventing eating problems from developing, and empowers them to eat well for life.

Happy Mealtime!

Think Outside the Lunch Box

It’s coming up to that time of year again, and if you pack school lunches 5 days a week, it is just the beginning of this particular job that can be just a teeny tiny bit monotonous.

Whenever I do any lectures on kids and food, concerns about lunch and school often come up.  I figured it would be a good time of year, to put these common concerns along with some tips, out there.  Feel free though to write me or send comments about your own particular worries, or questions, and I will be happy to continue this conversation.

Concern #1:

1)    My kids’ school won’t allow nuts or peanut butter; what can I give them that they might eat?

Edamame, hummus, and of course turkey and cheese are great protein alternatives if your kid will eat them.

2)    My kid never seems to eat their lunch; they always come home with their lunchbox full, or they will only eat the treat.

Don’t sweat this one.  Many kids are way to excited and busy at lunchtime to focus on the food.  They are distracted, socializing, thinking about who is sitting with whom.  Capitalize on their hunger which is always massive right after school.  Bring them a turkey sandwich, stop off for chicken rice and beans, basically in a word, if they are hungry feed them real food.  Otherwise they will be snacking until dinner and not want to eat what you serve them in the evening.  Focus less on needing to eat dinner type food at dinner and if they aren’t that hungry, they can eat cereal or yogurt.

3)    My kid is a really picky eater and doesn’t like to eat much at once.  How do I make sure they eat enough?

IF they are really picky and won’t try new things, let them have the same thing every single day.  Don’t sweat it.  Regarding amounts, think smaller; half a sandwich, a burrito, a yogurt and fruit with whole wheat crackers.  A piece of cheese.  Let them also portion out their own food, so they are feeling like they have some control over the amount of food they are eating.  They will be more likely to ask for more.  Most of the time, picky eaters are still getting what they need, and they grow out of it.   They are probably eating just right for their appetite and body.

4)    My kid always eats the other kids’ treats.  They have Ring Dings, and I want him to stay away from that kind of junk food.

You can’t protect your child from the junk world.  What you can do is teach him how to balance junk food with healthy food that does good things for his body.  Let him pick his favorite junk food and figure out when he wants to have it;  limit it to once a day but he gets to pick when.  Perhaps he can bring in his own Ring Dings and trade them for the apple if it isn’t forbidden and overvalued in his mind.

Teaching your kid balance and thinking through their own food decisions will arm them to eat well for life.  Try not to sweat the small stuff, and don’t get obsessive about healthy food.

Happy end of summer!!

Don’t Do The Diet

I am the mother of three daughters.  I am also a psychotherapist with a 25 year practice working with adults and children on a variety of issues, one of them being eating problems.

In my former life, I was a dancer.  The reason I am compelled to write this piece now, is that this time of year is particularly filled with diet information in your face.  “THIS IS HOW YOU WILL LOSE WEIGHT”            is basically the promise set out in every magazine cover, every daily news show segment, every commercial.

What I always wonder about however, is this:  “If we were such experts at weight loss, why is this such a recurring problem for most people?”

For most people, diets don’t work.  Plain and simple.  If they did, you would never have to try another one for the rest of your life.  There wouldn’t be a market of chronic users.

Diets are easy in that they are prescriptive; they take the thinking out of the equation.  You just follow the directions and they promise you weight loss.  Almost always works.

You do in fact, lose the weight.  Then what?  Life happens.  Regular life.  You want to have one, you go out, you have holidays, birthdays, vacations, you can’t work out or get the ‘right’, ‘healthy’ food and boy are you ever sick of eating it all anyway. Or you land up getting so rigid that when your friends are having pizza and fries, you are left wanting.  Or you crack and then promise you won’t have that tomorrow.

The problem with this ‘good’ and ‘bad’ idea or thinking about food and eating, is that it leads to weight gain over time.  You end up on that yo-yo cycle.  Even if it is not a ton of weight, you gain, and lose that amount over time and you simply train your body to weigh more.  Plus you’re miserable, thinking you are the failure, and that it is simply your lack of discipline and self control that is the problem.

WRONG!  Dieting is the problem.  Unless you change your relationship to food for life, you will continue to believe in your victory, (when you are ON your diet), and failure, (when you eat what you want to eat.)

Which brings me back to the beginning of this piece:  When I was a dancer, I too was a dieter.  A pretty radical one, at that.  I believed, like many, that there were “good” foods, and “bad foods”, and that to stay thin, I had to stay away from these “bad foods”.

“Bad” foods became pretty powerful.  If I were preparing for a show or audition, I would stay away from them, and then when I had the chance, boy, I would eat them!  Now I did not eat them moderately, because of course I was always facing that next audition, so I would tell myself this:

“I won’t have this tomorrow, or starting Monday.”

Little did I know: that very thought somehow gave me a weird permission or even mission, to eat more of that food I had allowed myself, than I even felt like having at that moment.  I stopped listening to whether I was satisfied, or even full, because of course I was not having that food again.  Or certainly in the near future.  I better get it all in now.

That put me in this constant ‘on’, ‘off’ cycle of eating.  It made me think about what I was eating and how I was going to get it and took up way too much space in my brain.  I always say that if we could harness the amount of mental and psychic energy people spend thinking whether they should or shouldn’t eat that and what they’ve eaten and how much of it, etc. etc, we really could cure cancer!!

Aside from the bind of this I was still never happy with my weight.  I always thought I was too big, (until I got a job with a dance company where the choreographer said she almost didn’t hire me, because I was not as large as most of the women she likes to choreograph on!)

Fast forward past my dance career, and I am now working as a therapist and in a psychiatric hospital.  I get to wear clothing, and I figured:  “Hey, clothing!  Not just leotard and tights!  I can hide some parts of my body I am less than thrilled with!  I can experiment with eating the foods that I used to think are ‘verboten’, and see how it goes.  No biggie if I gain a few pounds.”

My rule was this:  I could no longer say to myself that I would “start that diet tomorrow and stop eating that food.”  I had to say this to myself:  “I can have this food now, but I need to really think if I want to eat it now, or have some of it later.

I practiced really checking back in with my body and thoughts, to make sure that I wasn’t continuing to eat out of the habit of thinking: “I won’t have it tomorrow.”  This was key, as we are fed by every message and most people that there are foods that are ‘unhealthy, fattening, and that we ‘shouldn’t’ eat them.  These are powerful beliefs and until you have mastered a new approach that shows you can lose weight or keep it off by changing this, you won’t trust it.  You don’t trust yourself yet, and you don’t have the evidence to go on to prove it works.  However, you probably have the evidence that chronic dieting doesn’t end up keeping your weight down or help you feel free from worrying about eating.

Continuing with this led me to ironically, a lower weight overall, but more importantly freedom from over thinking food.  It also fueled my passion to help free others from worrying about food for the rest of their lives.

So here is how it goes: try it, see what happens:

When you are confronted with the idea of what you are or want to eat isn’t what you ‘should’ eat, say:

“The belief that I cannot eat this is old.  It does not end up helping me because I end up wanting that food again, and it feeds this belief that I have no control over this food since I always end up eating it compulsively, bingeing on it, or simply overeating in general.”

“The behavior that leads me to believe that I cannot eat the food is not the issue that I have to keep focused on.  It is the belief that this food that I want to eat will no longer be available, makes me BEHAVE with this food in a way that reinforces my belief that I have no control over the food, and am a failure.  I need to change my belief that I can’t have this food.”

“The belief that I cannot eat this or that is what leads me to disconnect from my body and give me permission to eat it all and anything else that gets in my way, because I will stop tomorrow.  That is the problem that leads to the behavior I need to change.”

Here is a new belief and skill to try:

“I can eat that food but I am not allowed to tell myself that I won’t have it tomorrow.  In fact I can have it again tomorrow, but my rule is that I have to really feel like I need to have it now.”

“I need to continue to stop and consider how I am truly feeling; in my body, and my head.  How satisfied, or done, full am I?  Not yet, perhaps it will be in a few bites, after another helping.  My job is to stop to consider how I am feeling and delighting in eating this.”

New skill to practice:  Stay connected to how satisfied you are.  Knowing that you can stop whenever you choose, because the food is still there, allows you to practicee WAITING.  In this process of waiting, you can play around with how you feel:

Do I want half now, and save the rest for an hour later?  A few hours later?  Perhaps tomorrow.”  “Let me see how I feel later on”.  Knowing that it is still there, and truly believing that will help you to check into your body and practice seeing whether you really want it, or is it just an old habit that you follow because of your old belief:  “I shouldn’t eat this therefore I will have no more after today.”

This sounds easy, but is actually something that takes practice. I still have to remind myself never to diet, or deprive myself, if I want to drop the pounds I gained over vacation.  I trust that the process of regular life, eating, works.  The proof has been in the pudding, but I still have to override that tape loop that tells me that staying away from ice cream will be what helps me lose those few pounds.  It never works for me, makes me just want ice cream and stop listening to when I’d like to stop.

Not dieting works.  It works, because it radically changes your relationships to what you eat.  To HOW you eat.  It give you the power back, the food no longer has the power over you.

If you really practice this, you will see how you end up spreading out your calories.  You will keep your metabolism stoked as you keep yourself fed; no more on/off cycles which train your body to hold onto weight, and best of all, you gradually stop over-thinking your food.

Not to sound like an infomercial, but this has worked with hundreds of people in my practice; from a woman who had gained and lost hundreds of pounds, failed gastroplasty surgery, and now has maintained her hundred pound weight loss differently.  She says it was ‘easy’.  She is simply ‘different’ with food, and can leave the pastries, and formerly binge food lying around.  It helped a lifelong bulimic who thought she was addicted to chocolate and had failed every treatment.  It worked with all people who were sick of over thinking their food, and wanting something that isn’t a diet, but transforms their relationship to food for life.

Sounds radical, huh?  Radical and simple: Don’t Do the Diet.  Spread the word.

No more New Year’s Resolutions.

“Mom, Do I Look Fat?”

Anyone out there deal with this one yet?
If you have trained yourself to stop saying: “Do I look fat in this?” out loud, particularly in front of your daughter, hoping to communicate a positive body image, it can be a shock when you hear for the first time: “Mom, I feel fat!” or “Mom, I am fat!”

Preteens and Their Changing Bodies

While many people focus on issues in “teenage years,” the preteen years, when your daughter’s body is preparing for puberty, can come with its own specific challenges. Several things to consider are:
This is a time of increasing body consciousness. Girls are beginning, if they haven’t already, to compare their own bodies to those of their friends. They are navigating images of bodies in a world where the emphasis is on thin. The media encourages this perception with an emphasis on body types that are out of the average range. Although we want to protect our daughters and tell them not to be obsessed with America’s Top Model, we can’t stick our head in the sand and pretend that this world doesn’t exist.

The surge of hormones brings on more sensitivity. Along with increased social and peer pressure and the wish to ‘fit in’, girls do compare their bodies and body parts. Their worries about who is friends with who, and the shifting alliances between groups of friends, can all be funneled into focusing on their bodies.
Girls often appear chunkier, or ‘fluffier’ as their bodies prepare to menstruate. They will put on fat in the areas where estrogen is stored; namely, the stomach, butt, thighs, and upper arms. Nutritionists I have consulted with say that this can be a time when they get the most referrals. Keep in mind that this is often a transitional stage, until their bodies ‘settle out’. It is vital that preteens don’t restrict their eating too much, or start a diet unless medically necessary. This can trip off an eating disorder, or an eating pattern that creates long-term problems.

Tips to Help You and Your Daughter Navigate the “I Am Fat” Complaint

When you have a calm moment, sit with your daughter and ask her more about her concern: “You worry that you are fat; what makes you think that?” Begin a conversation. Ask about their social lives and any hurt feelings. If your child is concerned about a particular body part, remind her that every body is different. Everyone’s body has its own shape, and its own timetable for its changes.
Don’t let your preteen start to diet as a result of their worry. If in fact they have a weight problem, or are beginning to eat compulsively on a regular basis, consult a professional. Dieting can cause long term problems related to unhealthy eating habits. Remind them to eat the foods they love, but to always eat when hungry and stop when full. Try to notice if they are eating out of boredom or anxiety and ask them about it. Distract them with talk.

If your preteen is spending too much time in the mirror, keep them moving! Set a time limit! Joke about it, and just keep them putting one foot in front of the other. Be aware if your daughter is withdrawing from her friends or avoiding social situations. Help your daughter move through her negative feelings and teach her that it is normal to not feel great about all of the parts of herself. If these preoccupations persist and interfere with your daughter’s functioning or she is overly restricting her food, seek professional help.

Have a ‘matter of fact’ attitude. Teach your preteen that feelings pass. Treat her anxiety in a matter of fact way. Show your preteen that it is okay to feel anxious, not great sometimes, and that it can pass. Show her that you can hold onto a larger view, while empathizing that she feels badly. Don’t avoid her feelings.

As a parent, our impulse is to reassure, and soothe. As our children become preteens, they need more than a Band-Aid to comfort them. Often, our preteens need to vent their frustration and negativity. So, just like in any other parenting issue, listen and acknowledge your daughter’s feelings while forgiving yourself for any of your own feelings that get triggered. If your preteen’s negativity becomes too much, you can simply respond to her: “Please don’t insult my daughter.” We all have our limits after all.

Recently posted on the great blog: www.achildgrowsinbrooklyn.com

Do you have a child who loves to eat…and eat and eat? Do you wonder if it’s an issue? My daughter will say “mmm” with such enthusiasm when she slurps down her soup that it gives me great happiness to serve her another bowl…and even another sometimes. My husband is concerned. I’m not. So, when Donna Fish wrote this article about an overeating child, I knew it would not only resonate with us, but with some of you.

Flipping the “Off”- Switch: Teaching Your Overeater How to Stop by Donna Fish
Nothing like having kids to reinforce the nature part of the nurture debate when it comes to personality traits. Forget things like hair and eye color; any parent with more than one kid knows how different and unique their personalities and temperaments are, from Day One.

I broaden this to what I call your kid’s “Food Personality”. It is rare for there to be kids in one family who all have similar eating styles. More often than not, I hear parents including myself, talk about having one kid who’s a fairly picky eater, stops easily, while there are many children who have trouble stopping.

I call these kids, my Trouble Transitioners. Since I coined this term for the 6 Styles of Eaters I write about in my book, I have come to see that some kids don’t necessarily say: “More, More!” because they have trouble with transitions, but simply because they have a well developed palate, and love the stimulation of the tastes, smells and the sensations of the food! I think back to when my middle daughter who delights in whatever she is doing at the moment, would be eating bowls and bowls of cereal, with the biggest smile on her face; humming the whole time. I had to teach her how to flip the ‘off’ switch by waiting and checking back in with her body 20 minutes later.

This is the opposite of the Picky Eater; kids whose palates and senses don’t develop until they are older. (If at all, there are some adults who are still picky eaters, and not that ‘into’ food.) Trouble Transitioners are so stimulated by the tastes and sensations (early ‘foodies’; and I say that in the best sense of the word), that they are on their third helping before they feel the signal that they are ‘Done, or Full”. By the time they hear the signal and stop, they are usually STUFFED. This way of eating can, over time, become habitual as the cue to feeling ‘DONE’ and STOP EATING, is triggered after larger quantities. The obvious result can be weight issues, which create other problems.

Parents can worry about how to handle this without at best, creating bad feelings and power struggles, or at worst, an eating disorder. (Although parents, you can let yourself off the hook, it takes more than that to create a true eating disorder; some disordered eating, perhaps, not a full blown eating disorder.)

So in the interest of giving your ‘foodies’ some tools to prevent problems from developing, here are some tips:

1) Enjoy and show your kid that you love how much they love food and the tastes. Celebrate this.

2) Teach them that they are their own “BODY EXPERT”, and it is their responsibility to become the best “BODY DETECTIVE” possible. This means listening carefully to their stomachs for the signal that they are DONE, OR FULL. Educate them that some bodies take longer to send the signal; it can just be a whisper after one bowl of cereal, but they need to WAIT 20 minutes to hear it well.

3) While they are waiting, let them do an activity with you like clearing the table, doing the dishes. If they want more, leave their food on the table so they know they have access to it and can have it if their body tells them they are genuinely still hungry. (Avoids power struggles)

4) Teach them how to listen to their bodies; Think of gradations of Hunger/Fullness; 1-7 from Starving, to Stuffed. Help them to Listen Carefully and EAT WHEN HUNGRY STOP WHEN DONE, OR FULL.

5) There are some foods that lend themselves to stimulating your tongue and mouth to the point where it makes it hard to flip the “Off Switch”; some salty foods, or sweet, depending on your palate. Teach your kid to just step away after some, and remind them they can have more later. (Try it yourself!)

Teaching kids HOW to WAIT and STOP, is a part of preventing eating problems from developing, and empowers them to eat well for life.

Happy Mealtime!

Donna’s Other Articles:
How Do You Teach Eating?
Starting Solids
How To Get Those Greens In
Dining Out With Children
Flatware That Is Fun
Who Wants To Eat Vegetables?
Finger Foods Strike
Yogurt For Kids With Sugar?
Finger Foods For A Baby

Donna Fish
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Donna Fish is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and three daughters, writes her own blog and blogs for The Huffington Post. With the publication of her book: Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, she has appeared on and in NPR, Parenting Magazine, Weekend Today Show, Fox News, USA Today and MSNBC and has lectured at Early Childhood Centers of Sarah Lawrence College, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and trained the Head Start Staff of NYC. She lectures to private schools in NYC: Bank street, Village Community School, Dalton, Chapin and more. Donna blogs for us every month- lucky us!

“Eating Outside the Box”

What on earth does she mean by that, you are wondering to yourself. I know, I know, There are a million diet tips out there, what could this one be?! The premise is simple in two ways, but demands some work in a different way than simply following a diet. It goes like this:

1) Connect with your body’s signals. This is called self-regulating. Unfortunately though, we can have very set ideas on how we are supposed to be eating, which may not be what works for your partiular body or mind, i.e.: “I need to eat breakfast, that is healthy, but I really don’t want to eat until 10:00 a.m. and if I do eat breakfast, I end up eating more than if I skip it.” ONE WAY OR EATING DOES NOT FIT ALL. Some thrive with structure, some rebel and end up overeating. Some people graze and would prefer to eat all day. (Many women’s blood sugar levels don’t remain as stable as those of men, which is why you might find yourself needing to eat every 2-3 hours while your boyfriend, husband can go all day).

2) Figure out how you ‘talk to yourself’ about your food. Our head can override what our body tells us to eat at a fairly early age, and the conversation continues your whole life: This is your ‘tape loop’. It is the way you talk in your head to yourself about how you have eaten, are going to eat, or are eating. Key, is figuring out what your response in terms of these conversations tends to be: Do you tune out the voice and land up overeating? How nasty is that voice? How self-congratulatory the first three days when you have dieted successfully? What about after that?

I know that from working with people on eating issues for years now, that until you can figure out not only your ‘tape loops’, your inner dialogue, but most importantly, what really tends to work for you, YOUR FIT, in terms of food and your lifestyle, then all attempts at eating in a particular way will be temporary and be harder to maintain and roll with the changes as you move through more sedentary jobs, childbearing and rearing, stressful events, and vacations and good times. I believe food should be savored, enjoyed and should fit for you; as I always say: You may not be failing your diet, your diet may be failing you. In fact, you CAN figure out how to ‘Eat Outside the Box’. FOR LIFE.

TAKE THE FIGHT OUT OF FITNESS AND FOOD: Ways To Create Successful Strategies From All Of Your Past Failures

The other day my 15 year old daughter decided to get back into exercise. She set up the Wii Fit game on our television, stepped on the platform, and was promptly told by her ‘person’: “You have gained 5 pounds, and you haven’t worked out in three months!”

What did she do? She immediately stepped off, and hasn’t gone back to the Wii Fit since.

We joked in the family about how this little ‘person’ (which she had in fact, designed!) had totally psyched her out. I thought to myself: “Do we not have enough of an inner critic when it comes to our body image? Do we really need that outside person; friend, neighbor saying: “Now dear, you really have gained some weight?” Really? Geez, I hadn’t noticed, thanks for the help!”

How you take that criticism, how you handle the accusation, whether it is self directed, or from the outside; how you handle failing or FEELING THAT YOU ARE FAILING, will have a huge impact on your motivation and ability be consistent in your goals. Some people can shrug their shoulders and take self criticism in stride, some people are motivated by harsh self criticism. When the criticism becomes excessive however, often the only response is to for duck and cover: basic avoidance of that critic by shutting down. Usually vis a vis dieting, it goes like this: “I blew it, so I will start again tomorrow. Better not really notice or think about what I am eating now.” Total shut down from that voice that is noticing what you are eating and berating you. All that ‘conscious eating, counting points, calories, carbs whatever, out the window. Anyone out there ever start and then stop a diet? How many times, right?!

I would argue however, that FEELING LIKE YOU ARE FAILING IS NORMAL AND PART OF LIFE. Making mistakes, messing up, not succeeding in exactly the way you had imagined it to be, or had set out is absolutely part and parcel of any effort and achievement.

Okay, I know FAILURE is not exactly a headline grabber, or a word that we like to use. Well, I am here to take “FEELING LIKE A FAILURE” OUT OF THE CLOSET. Again, it is totally normal and you can bet that the person you admire most in the world has felt it too. In fact not just felt it, but achieved it. I would venture to say that most successful people have failed multiple times. The difference is that they keep trying.

Your failures are DATA; this information will help you adapt and modify your efforts. In a word, you will learn what you need to about the situation, about yourself, and how you can make the necessary adjustments to create small successes. This will keep you going.

In the book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours; the time it takes to be able to do things well. To succeed. What is barely mentioned however, is how those people who are able to put in those 10,000 hours, cope with the days they feel they have failed. I would put money on the idea that they don’t feel successful every moment of those 10,000 hours, but they are able to handle their failures, their disappointments without abandoning their efforts entirely.

What is talked about in the book is the concept of delayed gratification. We know that in order to do this you have to be motivated to show up and keep working, to get to the gratification piece. That is the key: How do you stay motivated to show up, to keep up your efforts in the face of difficulty, failures, disappointments?

Given that failure is kind of ‘built’ in to a lot of dieting history, plenty of people have lost and gained the same 10 – 20 – 150 pounds over many years, I would venture to say that we are primed to feel like we are failing, the moment things start to go badly. Okay, let’s say it: “fail”.

So how do we keep up the efforts in the face of failure, like those ‘outliers’, to put in those 10,000 hours to ensure success? A lot of how you ‘self- talk’ and respond to your inner critic in the face of failure, will have to do with how you handle a bad day on a diet, and then how you put in the time.

Typical scenario:

You’ve joined the gym; you’ve even been working out with a trainer, or signed up and started going to those classes. You feel great! You’ve changed some of your eating habits, even started that new diet that everyone’s talking about and it is terrific! You’ve been doing it a month, and you’ve noticed your body changing; you’ve lost 8, maybe even 10 lbs.

Then you notice that the weight isn’t coming off so fast. You have a day when you are desperate to eat without thinking, without measuring, without counting, without being conscious, and boom! There you are. You wake up the next day, feeling like crap.

You say to yourself: “I have totally blown it; I will definitely start my diet tomorrow, but given how much I ate last night, I might as well ‘let go’ today too, and I will definitely re-start tomorrow. Forget the gym today”.

You spend that day eating all the things you don’t let yourself have, and you don’t let yourself notice how full you are, because you know that tomorrow you are back to the regime. What’s another day?

You go back to the gym, and you get on the scale. You of course expect that you’ve gained weight, but the next few days you are ‘good’. But you step on the scale 4 days later, and the weight still hasn’t budged. You’re really getting pissed now, and starting to think that this whole gym thing isn’t working. And this diet is obviously not working either. You feel totally discouraged. Your motivation is down, you feel like a failure, and you again are feeling fat, even though the same weight two weeks ago, felt thin. (In fact, it was thinner than you had been in 5 years!)

This happens to be one of the most common places that people tend to lose their motivation. Their enthusiasm for the diet and exercise wanes as the result doesn’t seem to be coming and what is that word again? “Failure!”

How you self talk in the face of your ‘inner mean girl or guy will have a direct result on your ability to get back to your efforts. If you are brutal to yourself, it is likely that you will totally shut down, and want to avoid this whole thing entirely; face it here you have failed again, just like all those other times!

Some options to consider:

“I needed that time off and I am going to see it as restorative. If I keep this up I am likely to continue losing as I had been doing before.”

“I know I have failed at this a million other times, but I think I need to change my current plan. I can’t get to the gym more than 2 times a week, so I will also walk to work one day.”

“I need to build in more carbs, because I can’t live like this. I know that if I eat the bread I love every day, but don’t overeat it, I can probably balance things.”

Small changes and adapting your goals keeps your motivation up as you achieve them. Always re-evaluate your diet and your fitness program to tweak things to fit your life and help you stay consistent. A few tips:

PREDICT THE PLATEAU:
EXPECT TO ‘POOP OUT’ SOME WEEKS WITH NOT JUST YOUR DIET BUT YOUR ATTEMPTS AT EXERCISE. PREDICT THEM. BUILD THEM IN.
Leave room for days here and there where you feel need to eat more than usual and hang out on the couch. Your body and mind need breaks. Let them energize you; don’t’ use them as an excuse to stop your efforts entirely

PREDICT A DAY OF EATING WHAT YOU HAVEN’T ALLOWED YOURSELF. Particularly if it s food you can’t live without. At least knowing you can have it maybe once a week, will help you from shoving it down your throat, thinking it’s your ‘last supper’ as you make promises to resume your low or no carb diet tomorrow. If limiting this food works for you, great. If it doesn’t, give it to yourself every day and then see if you really want to have it, or have less of it. It is always there tomorrow. Yes, you can lose weight eating the foods you love.

MAKE MODIFICATIONS AND CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR YOURSELF IF YOU ARE FAILING:
Change some of your goals. You might have started off too big and are overwhelmed. Changing the plan to fit you is what is going to help you keep it going. Don’t worry about the endpoint. Small bits really do add up, and again, consistency is key. Your goals will keep adapting as you keep succeeding.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, YOU ARE THE BOSS AND THE EXPERT IN WHAT WILL WORK FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOURSELF AND YOUR LIFE.

Quick story: The other day a friend was telling me how fantastic she has been feeling having cut out all carbs and sugar for a few months. No bloating ever, no weight gain, she feels fantastic! Despite all my anti-diet preaching and beliefs, for a moment I started to think about how maybe I should try this, hey, maybe I wouldn’t wake up feeling bloated, or puffy when I eat whatever these things are that make you puffy and bloated. I have to tell you guys, that no sooner did I even have the THOUGHT to try this, did I find myself stuffing candy and bread down my throat. I was starving! What on earth was this, I was wondering after the second day I was not just failing at cutting out carbs and sugar, but hey, that was all I was eating!!!

I simply had to laugh. I think I was failing this diet big time. And I hadn’t even started. The minute I realized that this was not going to be a good idea for me, I resumed my usual eating, which feels by and large, successful to me. 80/20. It’s good enough.

I will live with my puffy days.

Happy Eating!

Teaching Confidence in Eating

Anyone who has read my book, or hears me speak, knows my basic theme; that if we can reconnect with our body’s signals, and teach our kids to stay connected to theirs and then use some common sense about nutrition, then we can maintain and/or rediscover a healthy relationship with food for life.

I thought to post this feedback to share some of how others put it, and to share another useful website; http://butterbeanskitchen.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/

This morning I had the pleasure of hearing Donna Fish speak at a school about kids and their relationship with food. She is a parent of three, a clinical social worker with a private practice in NYC, and the author of Take the Fight out of Food.

Her general approach to creating healthy relationships with and around food for kids, has less to do with food and more to do with helping children develop decision-making skills about food for life. Children can be taught, as babies she says, to think about their decisions, to check in with themselves and be body-detectives. Each of us knows better than anyone else what feels right – from the inside out. Encouraging our children to experiment and listen to the messages their bodies give them, and then encouraging them to trust their instincts, creates confidence. this is the type of confidence that will allow your child to think through their decisions, and then feel good about their decisions as they grow and are faced with peer pressures.
At Butter Beans, we do believe that food changes everything. Eating, affords many lessons that influence just about every other aspect of our life. It isn’t just about the food though. In the case of school lunch, students line up to make their plate, and there are choices to consider! Do I want soup? Do I want both sides, or do I want to save room for a salad or a sandwich? Do I want yogurt? What’s the fruit today? What is my friend going to have?
Having only good things to choose from is great, but choosing, for a timid eater, or for a student new to the lunch line, takes some getting used to. Learning to do so – to take in options and making the most appropriate ones for you on a daily basis, is an amazing life tool. Giving students support in honing this skill, is important.
How to do that? Reviewing the menu with your child before they are faced with lunch, works wonders.
Taking your child shopping and letting them pick out different types of foods, is fun and empowering for them. Donna Fish recommends talking about the food groups as they relate to your child. Protein – essential for focus – let them pick out the protein foods they like at the store.
Having supportive, friendly staff is also important – we’ve got that covered:)
The lessons don’t have to come all at once. In fact, a little at a time is probably the best way to go about it. Teaching our children to chew is a gift that literally lasts a lifetime. Chewing on our food allows for proper digestion and assimilation, and also makes it easier to connect to our body wisdom that lets us know when we have had enough, or when we need more of something. Chewing on information, is a similar process.
Our children’s number one job is to take care of their bodies. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to do so well.

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