Picture this. You take your child into his or her yearly physical. Overall, your child is a happy and healthy young kid. You may or may not have any concerns about your child’s health, but of course, you are anxious to hear what the doctor has to say. It turns out that your pediatrician thinks your child “should lose some weight” or “should watch what he/she is eating.” You may or may not be surprised by this, but still, something stung deep inside. Worried about if your child is “overweight” or if they will start “gaining too much.” At that moment, maybe it makes sense to start cutting back on the sweets and to monitor your child’s portions. After all, you don’t want weight to be a “problem” for your child, so it’s important to start instilling those healthy habits at a young age.
Stop. Take a breath.
This type of scenario has been happening more and more in my office. And, I can certainly understand why parents may want to try to control what their kids are eating. Maybe you’re worried about your child’s weight because you don’t want them to grow up in a larger body. Maybe you had the experience of growing up in a larger body and remember being horribly teased and bullied. Which is terrible. Kids can be so mean. Maybe you are getting pressure from a pediatrician, other health care professionals or messages from the news or media. Maybe your child has expressed to you that he or she feels uncomfortable in his/her body and you just want to take that pain away. Maybe you’re thinking, “well if I don’t control what my kid eats, he/she would just have sweets all day long and no fruits of veggies!”
Whatever the reasoning, yes, I can completely and totally understand why you may want to manage what your child is eating. I am here to tell you that there is another option. Trying to control your child’s eating and weight is not the answer. In fact, it will backfire. And here’s why…
1. Increase Cravings
Taking a food away from someone, whether it’s a child or even an adult, actually increases cravings for this food. If I told you that you could never have oranges again. Or that we were going to not buy oranges anymore. Or that oranges were a food for a special occasion. You would probably be really excited whenever you could eat oranges. Maybe even over eat them because you rarely get to have them! I bet your craving for oranges will even increase. We’ll get into what to do about this later in the blog. I just want you to keep in mind that taking a food away or controlling the amounts of certain foods will backfire in the long run.
Similar to the increase in cravings, it’s possible they may binge or overeat these foods when they become available. They may consciously or subconsciously have the mindset “well, I’m not sure when I’ll have chocolate cake again, so might as well eat as much as I can.” Also, sweet/salty foods (foods most individuals tend to “overeat”), taste good!!! So, if you’re child isn’t used to have these types of foods, again they may binge on them. Children are very driven by taste! If you feel that your child is already bingeing/overeating, this behavior may stop once all foods are legalized. However, it could also be a sign of an eating disorder, so please pay close attention (without making comments!) to see if your child may need more support in this area.
1. Good foods/bad foods dichotomy.
ALL foods can be part of a healthy diet. Thinking otherwise is a black and white way of thinking. If you tell a child, “you shouldn’t eat that” or “that’s not good for you,” or more blatantly, “that’s a bad food.” This sets the child up for feeling guilty or bad about themselves for eating said “bad food.”
4. Sneaking foods.
Trying to limit or control your child’s eating may result in them sneaking foods. This is because they feel guilty about having a certain food and do not want you or anyone else to see they are eating it. If your child has already sneaking foods, this behavior may stop as all foods are legalized.
So then, what do you do about it? Below are some tips on how you can support your child in growing up with a healthy relationship with food.
1. Change the language.
Think about some of the ways we talk about food. “Ice cream, that’s no good for you.” “Veggies are super healthy!” “ Look at you eating that chocolate cake! I wish I could have some, can I have some chocolate cake?” “Won’t french fries make you gain weight? You shouldn’t eat them too much.” Here’s the deal. Saying these things about foods.
2. Treat all foods the same.
Cupcakes aren’t any more special than a cucumber. Don’t talk about how special eating a cupcake is without also talking about how special eating a cucumber is. We have this tendency to get really, really excited about eating sweets and salty foods. Which I totally understand. I love eating donuts and will always be excited if a donut is put in front of me. But, if a child is constantly getting those messages he/she will put certain foods up on a pedestal. So, when appropriate talk about how special all foods are.
3. Model behavior.
If want your child to eat veggies, but you don’t eat veggies, chances are, your child isn’t going to either. If you want your child to have a healthy relationship with desserts, show them what that’s like. Make sure to eat a wide variety of foods in front of your child so he/she can observe what normal eating is like. If this is something you are unsure about or struggle with yourself, that’s okay. You might want to consider seeing a dietitian to learn more.
4. Have a variety of foods in the house.
I encourage parents to have all types of foods available to eat at home. If you refrain from buying “fun foods,” chances are, when your child is exposed to them at other places (think birthday parties, schools, grandma’s house…), it’s possible them may “overeat” them a bit. If they are able to have them at home, these foods will eventually just become a normal, boring food. Now, your kids might like certain foods more than others. I think it’s okay for you to guide them and say something like “Hey, you’ve already had X food today. Variety is a very important part of the diet, why don’t you try this?” Make to to say it in a matter of fact tone.
5. Division of responsibility.
This is the idea that you decide the what, when and whereof eating. Your child decides whether they will eat what is served and how much. For example, you can serve steak, broccoli and mashed potatoes. You can put your child’s serving on his/her plate, in the kitchen at 6:30pm for dinner. Your child then gets to decide whether or not he/she will try all the foods and which foods. Maybe he’ll only have a couple bites of the steak and finish all the mashed potatoes and broccoli. And that’s okay. Refrain from encouraging the “clean plate club” or “eating all your veggies.” This will separate your child from hunger/fullness signals and make them resent eating veggies.
To sum up and answer the question, “What to do about your child’s weight?”
Well, you can only do what you can control. Keep in mind that you cannot control their appetite, you cannot control whether or not they’ll like a food, and you cannot control their weight. BUT, you can continue to feed them a variety of foods, including, but not limited to, desserts, proteins, fruits, grains, dairy products, veggies, and any of their other fave foods. You can allow your child to regulate their hunger on their own and decide how much and if they want to eat what you served them.
If you would like to meet with a dietitian to get advice about talking with your child about food and nutrition, call our office at 240-670- 4675 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org