Sitting Like a Frog

Do you have a child who can’t sit still? Who you can’t get to the dinner table and when they finally do, she or he sits for a minute and then jumps up after eating two mouthfuls?

I recently came upon a wonderful book called “Sitting Like a Frog” ( Snel, E. Sitting Still Like a Frog, Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). Shambala Publications, Boston: 2013. This book gives parents simple exercises to do with children that helps them to focus and actually sit still!

Working for years in the field of eating issues, I know that a huge influence on under or overeating is agitation. I always encourage people to sit for two minutes and use a breathing exercise to calm down before they eat. This helps slow down your eating, helps you to focus on each delicious bite,
and to notice how your body feels; is it getting fuller? Are you done? Satisfied? Stuffed?

Alternatively, some kids are so excitable that they barely notice that they’re hungry until they melt down. This exercise can also slow and calm them down enough that they learn how to practice ‘feeling’ their body, and their hunger, before it gets to a crisis point.

It’s not always easy to get kids to focus on their breathing, but I will give you a simple game to play with your kids before dinner which may help them to SLOW DOWN. (An adaptation from the book.)

1) Imagine a frog sitting on a rock by a lake. We know that frogs are capable of huge leaps and huge bursts of energy. They are also able to be incredibly still and sit without moving anything but their stomach that you can see moves up and down with each breath.

2) Now imagine that you are a frog. Notice if any part of your body is moving and if you can, let it be still.

3) You are that incredibly still frog that can when you need to, make that huge jump. But if you let yourself be distracted, you won’t be able to use
that energy that you can store up. So again, focus on letting any part of your body be very very still.

4) Notice your breath filling your body up and then down. Notice if you can see your stomach rise and fall.

Yes, you can teach your child to relax and practice slowing down. That keeps them connected to their body which is the most important protection from developing any eating problems.

Happy Eating!

Eating Instructions

All of you out there know that I treat a lot of eating issues whether it be compulsive overeating, anorexia, bulimia, you name it. Or simply the usual chronic dieting that most women subject them to, landing them up with an extra 10 – 20 pounds while eating the same amount of food.

If you have struggled with chronic dieting and weight that you want to get rid of and are sick of avoiding the foods you love, try these tips. Small bits add up when it comes to behavior change, and when you shift from thinking that you aren’t allowed to eat certain things and land up eating them, most likely you don’t eat them ‘mindfully’, and you more than likely take in more calories in one sitting.

This is a way to spread out your calories, increase your satisfaction and ability to stop after a certain point.

So good luck, and here are my Eating Instructions:

This is not a diet. This is a behavioral approach to eating that can be applied to all foods, all the time. The more you practice, the easier it gets to incorporate into your everyday eating, helping you to be aware of the more subtle signals of satisfaction.

Try to avoid letting yourself get too hungry but even when/if you are starving, you can practice calming down before you eat which helps your brain to register satisfaction.

You are not allowed to judge what you are eating as BAD or GOOD; No matter what you choose to eat, you deserve to savour and enjoy it. Why waste the experience of the food by rushing through it? These two exercises will help you calm down enough each time you put anything in your mouth.

1) Either before you sit down, or after you are sitting down to eat a meal, try to simply slow yourself down.

2) Notice how keyed up you may be feeling. Think of a gear shift; you want to be able to bring yourself down from 5th gear, (a place many of us operate from all day long!) to about 3rd. Try not to begin eating until you have slowed yourself down. IF you’ve started to eat already, try it as soon as you remember.

3) Try to sit somewhat still for 30 seconds. Notice your back against the chair, your legs against the chair. Feel your bones getting heavier, and the muscles around your bones releasing.

4) Even if you are sitting with people, try to notice your breathing and try to expand your breathing into your stomach.

5) Feel your ribcage and your back and belly expand with your breath. Take a few more deeper and slower breaths before you begin or as you have started to eat.

6) As you take mouthfuls, count at least 20 chews before taking the next mouthful. Don’t worry about being too exact, but try for a minimum of 20. Notice how it slows you down and how you can pay more attention to the taste, texture and feeling of satisfaction as you are swallowing and filling your belly.

7) As you begin to slow down more, put your fork down between bites but only if you want to do it. Notice if you can take longer in between bites. Even if you start out hungry, if you calm yourself down, you won’t feel as frantic and likely to ‘stuff’ the food.

8) Begin to notice when you start to feel satisfied. Stop and wait. If you want to eat more, do so, if you don’t, you can always eat more later or leave it for tomorrow

Try to do this with all foods, not just the foods you think are ‘healthy’. You want to savor and enjoy everything you eat, don’t rush the foods you think you ‘shouldn’t be eating!

If you Hate and Don’t Want to Count the Chews:

1) Slow down and breathe and calm down before eating, as much as possible.

2) Practice slowing down repetitively during the day, not even only before eating.

3) Make a rule that you will not put food in your mouth if you are feeling frantic and pressured, even if you are starving. First take 30 seconds to slow down and breathe.

4) Rather than count the chews, make sure to take longer to feel the sensations and tastes and textures of the food in your mouth even as you are swallowing and there is less food in your mouth.

5) Notice the diminishment of the amount of food in your mouth and remind yourself that there is always more to take and you are in charge of making the decision when you want to stop and either end the meal or take a break. Remember, you are in charge of that decision and only you can feel your way to it, based on what you want to do in that moment

6) Practice putting your fork down between mouthfuls reminding yourself that there is more. Slow down between mouthfuls.

Notice as you have less of a full mouthful again remind
yourself the food is not going away, (Old eating at your
dinner table loops and diet tape loops which tell you
need to stuff it because it’s either being taken away or
you shouldn’t be eating it!)

The “Beige Food Eater”

A recent question sent to me for the Q and A;

Keep sending your worries about feeding your kids to: donna@donnafish.com

Q: My 2 and a half year old daughter who used to be a pretty adventurous eater, now only eats white or beige food; I really worry about how much protein she is or isn’t getting!

A: Ah, the “Beige Food Eater” I call them; your daughter is precocious; this style of eating usually hits 4 or 5 year olds!

Most importantly, this style of eater is very typical of childhood, which is why I gave the them their own identifying ‘food personality’ along with the “Picky Eaters”, the “Sugar Demanders”, the “Grazers”, and the “Trouble Transitioners”. Like astrological signs, it is rare that one child fits one type perfectly; it’s usually mix and match!

But it is totally normal for parents of kids who only eat ‘white or beige’ food to worry either that their kid will never eat a vegetable, (no greens touching the plate, please!), or like this parent, that your child won’t get enough protein since all beige food seems to be carbs!

When I was writing Step One for my book, Talk to Your Kids About Nutrition, I consulted with Joy Bauer, RD; (nutritionist for the Today Show) who helped clarify exactly how much protein in fact, kids age 9 months to 9 years old actually do need a day. More importantly, how did that relate to real food, I didn’t only want to know the grams they needed. So here is the info in answer to the question posed today:

On average, a 1 to 3 year old child needs about 16 grams of protein per day. Roughly, it works out to .54 grams of protein per lb. of the weight of your child. Example: If your child weighs 29 lbs., he/she needs about 16 grams of protein per day.

This roughly translates in the following way:

An 8 oz. sippy cup of regular or chocolate milk contains 8 grams of protein.
1 ounce of cheddar cheese has about 7 grams of protein
1 TBLS. of peanut butter contains 4 grams of protein
1 oz. of chicken, even in nugget form, contains 7 grams of protein
8 ounces of yogurt contains 8 to 12 grams of protein

Pick the beige foods that your child will eat, (usually that includes white,) and lay them out on their plate. Perhaps you might offer the protein options first if you are truly worried that all they’re getting is carbs. Perhaps a slice of pizza with cheese, and a glass of milk. If you are worried about veggies, how about mashed up cauliflower with some cheese in it?

More than likely your ‘Beige Food Eater’ is already meeting their protein requirements and you can relax. Like most stages that they are going to go through, this too, (most likely), shall pass!

You’re Never Too Old For a Baby Gift

I don’t know if your kids are like this, but my girls love looking at old photo albums of themselves as babies and little kids. We have stacks of random pictures and photo albums and tucked amidst the books on our shelves, my oldest daughter (now 20!) came upon a baby diary.

She was thrilled and started reading about the day she was born, her first bath, her first few days at home, and then after a couple of weeks and maybe 5 pages, the rest was blank. “What happened here?” she asked.

Anyone who has had a baby knows that taking the time to actually write in the baby book after the baby is born, frequently takes a back seat. That along with showers, sleep, sex, etc., etc., until life takes on some of a routine. (And then changes again!) Despite how beautiful that diary looks at the baby shower, it is hard to imagine if this is your first child, that writing down those precious firsts may not be the first priority when you can’t see straight. And as for the second, or even third baby? Well, they’re lucky if they get a few snapshots! (Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, they might even have their own Instagram by now! )

But the other day when I was looking for a baby gift for my cousin, I came upon a baby diary book unlike any other. As I leafed through this book called “When We Became Three.” my head started filling up with images of that bewildering and transformative time when my now college-age daughter was born and my husband and I went from two to three, (and a year and a half later to four and then five!

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You’d think those moments were lost, but the amount of details I had internalized was fascinating and somewhat thrilling. There was something about how this book framed the prompts that stimulated my memories, but also made it so easy to imagine filling out, and presenting as a gift to my kids the next time they were perusing the old photo albums!

There were questions of how my husband and I met, along with details about those first years with our first born. I could remember “which of the seven pregnant dwarves” I was. (From the choice of happy, sleepy, weepy, moody, hungry and queasy, I was definitely the moody, hungry one!)

I know that these memories are so vivid in all of our minds, whether you are expecting, have just delivered, or in fact like me, that your kids are in college or even older. A mother never forgets. The visual images that this book stimulated made it unbelievably easy for me to imagine taking an hour and filling it in.

So here’s my idea.

For this Mother’s Day – which I always advocate as a time to buy yourself a present – buy yourself a baby book and relive and record that early history of when your first was born. (Or that early history of your growing family.) Even if you don’t remember everything or go through the whole book, there will be an assortment of wonderful memories and feelings that will come back to you – and you’ll be creating a biography of that remarkable time.  It’s also a compelling way to reconnect with your husband.

Baby gifts never get old.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Visit me at: www.donnafish.com

“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.

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