Last night I attended a benefit dinner for the National Eating Disorder Association. This is a wonderful association that works on alot of fronts, in the hope to move us toward a world freed from disordered eating.
Jamie Lynn Sigler works with NEDA and spoke eloquently about her own experience having and recovering from a profound eating disorder. Many other celebrity guests attended and I was moved by the openness with which people spoke of their experiences struggling with children, their own selves, and hopeful stories of recovery. It is clearly time for eating disorders to come out of the closet, and out of the stigma and shame that surrounds this most deadly of mental illnesses.The newest research that is showing biological causes and temperament traits that increase the risk of developing eating disorders including obesity, is profound, and is helping us to move to work together with families, and not against them. Like years ago, when schizophrenia was blamed on the mother, we are now moving to understand the role families can play in providing support, rather than being distanced from their children who are not eating, or are binge eating and purging. This shift is profound and of course one treatment, does not fit all. But as last night’s eloquent speakers and the research is showing: It is time to for us to move from seeing eating problems and obesity as disorders of vanity or laziness. There are ways we can decrease the risks of our children developing a full blown eating disorder, and how we can help each other and provide support to friends struggling. The science is leading the way, and we need to know more. Thank you, NEDA!
“My kid only eats three things!” Many parents say. Today’s article in the New York Times speaks of a company that now can analyze your DNA and find out such specific information as to why in fact, you might have never wanted to drink milk when you were a kid. (Lactose intolerance tells your body to stay away!)
Parents can pull their hair out, worrying about their kids who refuse to try any new foods. These kids will fight you on it, and short of World War three erupting at every meal time, parents capitulate and feel guilty or inferior with other families, or relatives whose kids are more adventurous. (Or of course with grandparents whose attitude is critical of your parenting if you are not more dogmatic about it!) Also, you have the “try it once, twice, three times, and then you can say you don’t like it rule’, but your kid still eats only three things, or fights you each time.
For you parents who don’t want to fight it, don’t worry. Look at your kids’ food over the course of one to two weeks, not just each day. (What nutritionists advocate.) There is more room for those days your kid barely eats anything, or it seems like they really do only exist on mac and cheese. Teach them about the major food groups and what they do for their body. Get them to go grocery shopping with you and pick out the ways they want to eat their protein. Let them pick the fruit, if they won’t eat veggies, that they are interested in, to get the vitamins they need. If they won’t even do that, challenge them to find another way to get their vitamins. Make it into a game. They are the expert on their body, but they do have the job of taking the best care of it that they possibly can, you say to them. Empower them to take more responsibility. Get them to do some of the work. Most of all, remember that there is alot of evidence to help you as a mother, not take it personally. Think of your own and your husband’s background. Were you a picky eater? Are there any food allergies in your family? After all, it could just be in their DNA, not that you are doing a bad job. Happy mealtime!
Is what I say to my kids when I am forcing them to exercise. Okay, I am the exercise nazi. Forget food, we have to MOVE. It doesn’t matter how, it can be simple, walking alone is great. But if we were just heads, we could forgo the exercise. Unfortunately, we are not. Did you catch the New York Times article that promotes exercise as helping brain power? Great! I always knew it!
So, you can be dogmatic with your kids about moving; if they slow down or don’t have any formal exercise in their lives as they turn into teenagers, figure it out. Get them to walk places. If you live in NYC, you are lucky. We live on the street. We get to walk places. Forgo the subway, the bus. Help your kids’ leg muscles get stronger. Get smart and do it easily. Less is often more. Don’t sweat the gym, just move. However you like. It doesn’t have to be fancy. And of course, don’t do too much. It backfires and doesn’t help metabolism. Plus, you don’t keep it up, so you don’t get the true benefit.
Need I say more?
Everyone keeps asking me: “So how do you get them to take responsibility for feeding themselves well through life?
Okay, let’s get real here. Number one, most parents of toddlers are just trying to get through the day without thinking of the ‘rest of their life’. Yes, yes, I know. I remember those days. In any case, I am a big believer in getting kids to take some responsibility in whatever small ways they can. Kids love to be the expert on things, and I always teach them that they are the experts on their own body. I believe this to be true, because in fact, they are the only ones who can tell, I say to them, how they are feeling ON THE INSIDE. HOW HUNGRY OR HOW FULL THEY MAY BE, AND WHAT THEIR BODY MIGHT BE ASKING FOR. That said however, they do need to take good care of this body. It is THEIR NUMBER ONE JOB. You can put the food in front of them, but they have to eat it, and eat well when they are off on playdates, at school, and on and on.
This to me, is the non-negotiable. In the same way that you keep them safe and they have to wear seat belts, they need to learn to take good care of their body. With responsibility, and growing up, comes the good stuff too. That they love. They love to feel proud of themselves that they are doing a good job. So put it on them. Teach them how. Teach them about eating things they need and why. Don’t make it vague like: “It keeps you healthy”. They could care less and can’t connect to that. But will it help them get to the top rung of the ladder of the big slide? Will it help them run that last bit on the soccer field when every muscle is screaming to stop?! Or even concentrate to play one last game of nintendo? (Protein keeps blood sugar levels stable and concentration levels high.) Set limits as you would with any safety issue. Don’t worry that it is around food, and that you will create a problem. Have a matter of fact attitude and set limits if they are behaving irresponsibly.
SO, please help up your kids’ motivation to take good care of their bodies. Get them to take the responsibility they can. BUT, your job as the parent, is to really make sure that when you think they are not getting what they need to nutritionally, that this is really the case. Write things down for two weeks, and really look. In fact, they may be getting more than you think. Even in just the three or four things they will eat. Try to make sure that if you are concerned, you really know what you are concerned about. As I always say: “What is the problem, and whose problem is it?” Then you can figure out what to do.
One mom wrote to me directly to say: “Jenny saw the interview on Oprah re: pureeing the veggies and sneaking them into food. Jenny was OFFENDED by what she was saying. She pleaded with me, and said, “Mommy, please don’t trick us like that! We know it’s important to eat vegetables!”
I have had multiple people ask me. Okay, you know the one we are talking about; did you catch her on Oprah?
Now I am not saying that it is a bad thing to want your kids to eat well. It is not a bad thing to cook up those beautiful recipes and feel good that you are helping them to thrive by serving them good food. But I hate to feel pressured that if my kids are not eating, or that if one is off veggies, or will only eat three things, that I have failed as a mom. More importantly, what do you do when they don’t want or like what you are serving? Or continue to buck you, or want to make a power struggle out of food? How do you set limits and teach them how to be responsible for their own body and how to make decisions for themselves around food?
So, if this approach doesn’t sit well with you, you are in good company. I worry that Moms who OVER worry, will not have the tools to decrease their anxiety and will put their kids off veggies even more. I am completely relieved that most kids in fact, end up thriving and are quite healthy, without getting their dose of zucchini for that day.
Now I don’t mean to completely knock it. Many things are useful, and I do believe if it works, it works. But, if you can’t get your kids to eat what you want them to, please don’t fret. You are not failing as a Mom. Chew on that.