I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this post lately. As a mother and future dietitian, you can bet I encounter questions regarding what I feed myself and my daughter. Often conversations at parks and gymnastics class flow like such:
“Oh your in nutrition? You must eat so healthy!”
“We are taking the kids for ice cream, is your daughter allowed to have some?”
“Look at her eating that, you must be proud she eats so well”
What bothers me with these statements is not that I have a child who is well abled, is able to move for pleasure and enjoy nourishing foods- it’s the fact that there is so much emphasis on these “healthy” behaviors. As someone who embraces and teaches intuitive eating, I embrace Food neutrality. Part of making peace with food is not giving it too much power, this means categorizing foods as “good” and “bad” or “healthy” and “unhealthy.” Food neutrality means that food is simply that, a substance that can bring pleasure, nourishment and energy, not something to be counted, manipulated or assigned an overly important value. I want my daughter to know we can invest in the food we chose, prepare and enjoy every bite, but that there are many other ways we can experience pleasure and joy in our lives. We eat and enjoy a meal then move onto other non food related activities.
Maintaining food neutrality if we (as parents) have our own food biases can be difficult not to relay to our children. Add on top of this, the challenges of parenting, and the media rearing its head about the ever increasing “obesity epidemic” and it natural for any parent to want to perfectly portion each meal and engage in hyper-vigilance over their child’s diet. Research, and child feeding experts have shown the opposite see relevant research here. Parents whom attempt to restrict or control their child’s diet are often met with the exact opposite response. What’s a parent to do?
Some helpful thoughts for you:
Embrace & Explore a Weight Neutral Stance
Encourage your child to see the wide variety of body shapes and sizes in others just as easily as they see differences in eye and hair color. Feel confident that with the right feeding practices, your child will grow into a body size that is right for them. Also, never praise others for weight changes, instead compliment the other facets of their personalities.
Develop Confident Feeding Practices
When I receive questions on the normal child feeding challenges such as “should I offer dessert as a reward for eating vegetables?” or “should I encourage my child to eat their plate, what if they don’t get enough of what they need?” I point straight to the Division of Responsibility. Parents are responsible for the foods that are offered, the time and location of the meal or snack and for making the eating atmosphere pleasant. Children are in charge of how much and what they eat of what is being offered. This helps me be at ease, rather than spending hours cutting fruits and vegetables into fun shapes, I involve my daughter in grocery shopping and preparation of our meals.
Throw out all Diet & Fat talk in the Home
This goes hand in hand with embracing an intuitive approach, it is important to NEVER discuss dieting, calorie counting and the effects of weight on children. Instead of shaving down food and exercise as “calories in and calories out” help children see that food provides pleasure & nourishment for our bodies, helps us create strong connection with others, and that movement should enhance how we feel and connect with our bodies.
Lastly, seek out help if you find yourself struggling with your own relationship with food and body image. Don’t think that you can follow the tips above in attempt to help your loved ones without actually internalizing it for yourself. You serve as a role model for your loved ones and they may cheer you on as you attempt to heal your relationship with food and your body from the inside out.