said one mom to me during our first consultation, after she had heard from her 7 year old’s pediatrician, that he was ‘obese’. Her oldest son who was 10, had her husband’s body type; long and lean, and her second son had her body type. ”I swore I would never do to my kids what my mother did to me; she put me on a diet when I was so young, and she was always telling what, when and how to eat. But I am so worried about Devon and I know that he is starting to get teased at school. I have no idea what to do!”
This mom typifies so many parents whose food legacy includes a parent who was overly involved and critical of their own food. As a result, they have been what I call: ’under-involved’. Paralyzed by fear that they will create an eating disorder, they don’t have any tools to help their kids who might have a body type or food style that lends itself to eating more than their body can metabolize. Although this is a sensitive subject, and while you don’t want to get too overly involved or critical here, sometimes kids whose body doesn’t register fullness as quickly as their lanky, non-’foodie’ sibs, can end up eating more portions than they need.
I try to stay away from depriving kids of their favorite foods, but rather try to educate them on how to take better care of their bodies. Here are some tips:
1) Tell your kids that they are the EXPERT on their body, they are the only ones who truly know how they feel from the inside, but they also have a job to do.
2) Their job is to be the best BODY DETECTIVE possible, to take good care of their bodies. Let them know that some bodies’ signals from the belly that tells the brain it is ‘DONE’, FULL, can be a whisper, it is softer than others, and takes longer to talk to hear.
3) Teach them to WAIT, the half hour while you keep the food on the table so they see it is there. If they are still hungry after that time, they can eat. They need to eat FOOD, FOOD, not dessert to fill up if they are truly hungry, so have them eat another portion of the chicken, or veggies, fruit, and then have the dessert. The dessert keeps their tongue and head happy, but not their body to kick the soccer ball, play nintendo, whatever your kids is most passionate about.
4) Again, remind them that ‘eating healthy’ is not just about what you eat, it is eating HOW MUCH your body can use. If they see that they can still have their favorite foods, reminding them of their job to take good care and feed their body the other food groups it needs, they are less likely to struggle. More likely to take this on as their responsibility and to experience it as critical. Have a matter of fact attitude. Don’t overlay your own anxiety or legacy of criticism.
Some kids need more involvement and connection and structuring than others. Hang out during that half hour with your kid, let them feel like they are in control. Don’t expect change right away, but within a few weeks, it is more likely that after the half hour, they will not insist that they are hungry.
Lastly, teach your kids that some foods, like dessert, chips, salty things, don’t flip the ‘OFF SWITCH’. It is only WAITING that flips it. Then they can truly check in with their body and see what it wants. Don’t be scared of the F-Word. This is not about changing their body type, If you adopt a ‘matter of fact attitude about their needing some ways to shift their ‘eating style’, you will teach them some tools and tricks for their lifetime that they can be in charge of.