Yeah, yeah, I know, it is a cheap shot, riding the news wave of sex talk this week following Spitzer's resignation. But really, I am referring to what one woman said to me during a consultation, after she had heard from her 7 year old's pediatrician, that he was 'obese'. (Now this is also understanding that the technical term obese refers to someone who can be as little as 10 - 15 lbs. overweight at this point, it is not the older use of the term which conjures up images of true 'largesse'.)
This mom reported to me that 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 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 that does something to help them kick the soccer ball, grow taller, etc., as oppose to the dessert that makes their tongue happy. Don't criticize dessert, it has its place, but they need to fill up on food that helps their body do the thing they are most passionate about. (Sports, playtime, even computer time their body is helped by certain nutrients that give them longer concentration.)
4) If they say they are hungry after that time period, they eat the food. AT first they may not trust that you aren't secretly wanting them to stop, and will try to exert control. Stick with this; in time, they will see that you are allowing them space to listen to their bodies and not depriving them of food. But it can take a few weeks.
5) 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 help you clear the table, do the dishes. Connect with them. This helps feelings of fullness in the belly believe it or not! Don't expect change right away. Still remember though that our hunger levels shift around; some days you are hungrier than others. We are not machines.
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'. (We are so scared to use the word 'fat' now.)
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.
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