October 2007

“It’s Hallowe’en candy coming up…..how do you handle it?”

Yikes! “How should i deal with all that Hallowe’en candy?” all the Moms working with me ask around this time of year. I smile as I think of the piles of candy in pillow cases my kids stash. I think that most years I finally end up throwing it out by June when it is clear that they have moved on.

Alot of parents handle Hallowe’en by letting their kids eat a ton of candy that day, and then limit it to one, two three treats per day, (they are small portions, after all!) that kids can choose for themselves. This is pretty much where I have landed as I have put some limits around sweets that feels reasonable yet not too depriving or restrictive. (At this point, my kids regulate themselves and I don’t have to say anything; they have figured out how to make those decisions.)

When my oldest daughter was a toddler, I experimented with my theory of self regulation: That if I allowed her the amount of sugar she wanted to eat, she would ultimately limit herself, and we would avoid the power struggles we were starting to get into: “One more, one more” she would say. In fact I will never forget when she asked for a second, third, and fourth lollipop at the age of two, and taking a deep breath, I experimented by giving her the whole bag. She sat there on the floor surrounded by the candy as the pops had fallen out of the bag and were everywhere. She looked all around, and said: “Oh my, Oh my”…. Took one last lick, and moved on.

As she grew a bit older and we could talk about treats as one of the food groups that made your tongue and head happy but didn’t do too much to help you on the soccer field, limits were put on treats, and choices made about when to eat them; she began to develop a sense of responsiblity toward her own nutritional intake.

But I must say, that when it comes to Hallowe’en, I like to eat to my heart’s content as well, and mutter to myself happily: “Oh my, oh my” . What fun.

“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.

“Does hiding veggies in their food help your kids to eat healthy?”

A new book came out this week on teaching kids to eat healthy. Delicious recipes that are guaranteed to help your child eat the foods you wnt them to eat. I can imagine the hordes of moms who are breathing a sigh of relief, rushing to get this cookbook so that they can rest assured that their kids are getting the nutrients that they need.
While this is certainly not a bad thing, I am always interested in what we do when our kids get older, and have more control over what they feed themselves. I want to arm kids with the decision making tools so that they can feed themselves well for their lives. For themselves. Eating habits are not just about nutrition. Eating habits are HOW eat, how quickly; can you wait, do you eat out of boredom, anxiety, control? Control is a big deal for kids and they will use food to control their world if we let them. Eating is the last thing you want to fight about, but it is important to teach them how to take good care of themselves and our job as parents to make sure they are safe and we are doing our part to make them healthy. Maybe for little ones, if we can hide nutritious food, they will eat it and make us feel good about the job we are doing. But it gets more complicated as they grow. Here are some tips to arm yourselves:
1) Teach them about the food groups in ways they can connect and relate to: i.e. the protein, (chicken nugget or whatever they like) helps them concentrate at their games longer, or kick the soccer ball and run faster
2) Help them to know their body and how full and hungry they are; help them to take charge of that; they can feel it on the inside; help them become a BODY EXPERT
3) Help them to know the difference between: “I am hungry”, from ‘I am bored”, (Or tired, anxious, sad)
4) Give them tools to make decisions: “If I eat this treat now, how will I feel when everyone else is having dessert and I have already had my treat?” (If your rule is one treat a day, if it is two, then let them pick the time and stick by the rule if that is what you have set)
Giving our kids healthy eating habits is hard. Eating nutritious food is just one part.

“What’s your ‘Food Personality?’”

How many diets have you tried and ultimately failed at? I find it fascinating that we are expert dieters, most people face it, can certainly lose weight when they want to; the ultimate challenge of course, is keeping a maintenance weight while enjoying food and life, right?! (Free from overcontrol and preoccupation, uh, hah! Not so easy, right?!) I am convinced that if you figure out what will work for you, for your body, your lifestyle, AND most importantly, your FOOD PERSONALITY, (along with sensible rationale information about exercise and food,) that you will find the secret that will work lifelong. I have spent 20 years now counseling people on weight issues and it all comes down to that. That is what lasts. There are umpteen books and programs out there, all of which promise to give you the secrets, if you follow that program. Some of course work for many, some don’t. Again, to me it is finding out which program is going to work for you. There are lots of approaches, the key really, is finding the one that will fit for your food personality. Because ultimately, it is quite possible, that your diet is failing YOU, YOU are not failing at your diet. More to come on the various ‘Food Personalities’; maybe you will find your ‘fit’ and if not, send me a comment about your particular ‘F.P.I.Q. (That is, Food personality, I.Q..!)

“I don’t want to eat that!”

As I ponder what to make for dinner tonight, I alternate between wanting to grab the latest take-out menu (one of the benefits of living in NYC!) and then realize that of course, to please my one vegetarian kid, the other almost vegetarian and now incredibly picky eater, and the youngest who has shifted from being the pickiest eater in the family to now really wanting her well balanced meal with veggies, I just feel like giving up before starting. I have to admit that I hate preparing food. Ironic given my field and the book I wrote, focusing on food and kids and all the lecturing I do on the topic. Even more ironic, the fact that the less I am invested in needing my kids to ‘eat well’, the more they seem to want to. (Yes Mom, we do need a vegetable tonight!) Don’t get me wrong, I really do try to feed my kids healthy foods and have that array on hand, but I have to admit that with work, their crazy schedules and everyone’s crazy tastes shifting around from week to week, (“No mom, I hate salmon! Where’d you get the idea I’d want to eat that?!” ‘Just from the last three months of asking for it and eating it happily, I feel like yelling back.) Countless parents say the same thing; they either cook several meals for different kids, or have other rules. I will share the one I go by and of course, cave at times, and say: “Go get a slice!”
1) Have one meal you are serving that seems to make some people happy; you, your husband, wife, one kid perhaps
2) For older kids who can use the microwave, allow them to pick when you are grocery shopping, something that can be heated up and eaten for a meal.
3) For younger kids, have them pick something they can get from the fridge or make themselves; yogurt, a bowl of cereal, a piece of cheese.
The rule is they have to figure out how to eat it and it has to offer some nutritional value. I don’t get too hung up on what kind of nutrition as it seems to all balance out for the most part with me checking in from time to time: “What are you going to have for protein?” With the information they have on hand, the more responsibility I put on them, the more they take. Of course, I may just order take out tonight!

“Does Practice need to make Perfect?”

Practice, practice, practice. The old line to perfect a skill. Parenting however, certainly takes practice, but too often, we think that we have to be perfect. I think about this when I meet with moms who struggle with their Picky Eaters. I find that one of the things they struggle with the most, (asides from worrying that their child will never grow up to enjoy food and that they will be unhealthy), is that they themselves, as Moms, must be failing somehow, if their child won’t eat what they prepare, or if they eat a very narrow range of things. That somehow as mothers, we are failing if our kids eat in a particular way that worries us. One of the most important things i think we need to learn as parents, is that we cannot control everything. That we will sometimes disappoint our kids; disappoint ourselves, not be perfect. That no matter how hard you try to get your kid to eat in a certain way, they may put up a battle, or thwart you. There are lots of things to try, and hundreds of books out there that will tell you how to ‘get it right’. Along all of this trying however, (which is useful to do, and everyone finds what works for them or doesn’t work, ) is facing the fact that Parenting IS practice. Sort of like yoga practice. It is never perfect, we can always make mistakes, and most importantly, there is alot more margin for error than we think. In fact, all we can do is keep trying. In the very trying, our kids learn how to be honest with themselves, real, and successful, because they see us trying, failing, sometimes getting it right. And they learn. So the next time you find yourself angsting over your picky eater despite the doctor telling you they are completely healthy and thriving, Try to let this thought nourish you: You are being the best mom ever, by learning to handle that they sometimes don’t do exactly what you think they need to do, and it is not a reflection of you as a Mom. Good job, Mom

“Eat Like a Kid”

Come on, confess; you love candy. You want to eat chocolate. Cookies, Ice cream. And then there is the way you dialogue in your own head, that either allows you to do it some of the time, all of the time, none of the time. Everyone has their own inner dialogue; I call it ‘tape loops’ that they hear that get ingrained. Mine, after spending years dieting when I was a dancer were: “I shouldn’t eat that”. Of course, there was the rebellion from that by eating as much of it after a show was over, and I didn’t have an audition! I figured out a way to solve this rut and stop dieting, by learning how to eat every single food I loved. I got back to my stomach. I call it “Eating Like a Kid”. A particularly young kid, because kids early on, can stop eating from their belly, and eat to please mommy, or rebel from mommy or any such thing. As early as 2, kids can eat for reasons other than what their bodies tell them. I consult with so many moms who fret when they have very picky, small eaters. (Usually this is in toddlerhood, early childhood.) I encourage all these moms that in fact, they are doing the best thing as a Mom, to let their kids’ bodies guide them, that in fact when they are toddlers, they are as close to eating from their tummies as they will be and to give your kid good eating habits, is to help them to preserve that connection. To in fact, ‘eat like a kid’.

“Flipping the Off Switch”

Of course as a ‘foodie’ myself, I have known for years, that there are certain foods that are hard to stop eating. At some point it may be my favorite barbecue soy chips, when I was nursing my three daughters it was a particular Ginger snap that I must say I was completely unable to eat any less than the whole container. My own little trick doesn’t work for everyone, and you may not want to do this with your kids; it is not for the faint of heart. Basically, I let myself eat the food till I am done. Till the allure leaves. But that doesn’t work for everyone. (Although this cure worked for someone I consulted with who was sure she was ‘addicted’ to chocolate and was completely cured of her addiction within two weeks.
With our kids, we can be nervous about this “All Access” method though, and it is important to teach them about idea of WAITING. Yes, that simple but yet very hard to actually do, concept and exercise, is all that it takes. Because in fact, for some kids, it really does take more time for them to register ‘fullness’, or even ‘I am done’ and ‘want to stop.’ Between the time their stomach sends that signal to their brain, they’ve consumed three bowls of cereal, or three portions of whatever, and by then, full, turns into STUFFED. Do this long enough, and your signal to stop is usually set at stuffed, and lo and behold, you set a pattern for eating more than your body may need to burn.
SO, with the young ones, distract them, promise more later if they are still hungry, let them know the food is still there, and help them wait by getting them to help you clear the table, move onto homework, whatever. Basically, distraction, or ‘shifting gears’, is what it is all about. That way, if they truly are still hungry later, it is coming from their stomachs, and not their heads, or the stimulation of their tastebuds and mouths. Good luck!

The Food Inhaler

Is one of your kids a Picky Eater and the other a Foodie, or at times what I call: The Food Inhaler? There are thousands of books out there for the Picky Eaters and some say to offer a food a thousand times and one the thousandth and second time, they will likely try it; to never try that at all. I obviously don’t subscribe to the offer the food over and over camp; I think that can create struggles and in my experience, the more a kid smells your agenda; the likelihood that they will be contrary as they are moving into separation issues toward the twos and threes, the more likely they are to say no just to spite you, or be different. Even worse, not great to eat for mommy, for the kids who won’t go against you and want to just focus on what you want, as oppose to what their tummy is telling them they want/need. Now of course, this is not a black and white thing, but my feelings and how I practice and coach people to do so falls along those lines.
(More specific tips on that of course to come!) But what I love hearing about, are the ‘Food Inhalers’. Those kids who love love love their food, are the last ones eating the cake at the birthday parties, and can at times, seem obsessed! (I have countless parents coming in to see me for this!) Tips:
1) Congratulate your kid on their wonderful ‘palate’ and how wonderful it is that they love the tastes, smells, textures of their food so much
2) Teach them how to wait between portions by either distracting them if they are younger, or teaching them about waiting if they are older; for kids like this, they do need to wait to feel the message from the tummy to the brain that they can stop; I call it ‘flipping the off switch’. Some foods, (like potato chips for instance), stimulate the taste buds so that our mouths tell our heads we want more and it can be hard to stop. Simply pulling your kid away, while reassuring them that of course there is more if they still want it say in 20 minutes, is often all it takes, to flip the ‘off’ switch. Gives them tools to prevent a life time of overreating.

What Style is your Eater?

More to come on this. (The topic is endless!) In my 20 years of experience dealing with eating issues and with children, I have come to understand that each kid goes through and has their own style of eating. We have our Picky Eaters, Beige Food Eaters, (That is what I call the kid who only wants beige, or white food, no veggies of course!) The list goes on. I will definitely write alot about this, because it can make you want to pull your hair out as a parent, but if you understand it better, you will be able to use different strategies to take the stress out of mealtimes! I have written alot about this, so as we go along, you will also be able to access this through some of the articles I have published, and my book of course, but I will definitely be putting little tips and strategies to help you cope as we go through one more day of: “Mom, there is nothing to eat!”, or, “No, I won’t eat that!”

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