This blog post is especially hard for me to write, not because it’s something I’m not well versed in, but something that tugs on my heart strings. I’ve come to understand it’s an important issue to understand and address with parents. As parents we always want what is best for our children. We want them to excel in school, grow up to function well in society and have friends. What happens when our children don’t meet all our expectations? Do we blame them or do we look within ourselves to see how our beliefs are getting in the way?
So what does this have to do with nutrition you are wondering, right? What about when our expectations of our children’s bodies don’t meet societies expectations or even our own expectations. Today, we live in a society that is paralyzed by the idea of obesity. Just today while driving to the office, I heard a commercial for weight loss pills, plastic surgery and a bariatric surgery center. It’s a multibillion dollar industry. It’s interesting though because if weight loss actually worked or we found a way to make it work we wouldn’t have the need for all of these “interventions.” Ever wonder why the harder we try to “fight” obesity the worse it’s getting?
The fear of obesity has been deep ingrained in our brains. What happens when it’s your child? The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) report that obesity in children has quadrupled in the past 30 years. That sounds scary, doesn’t it? It can be especially scary if you fear your child will one of these statistics.
When you worry too much about your children’s weight and try to intervene in the wrong way, things typically get worse. The problem is adults haven’t figured out how to lose weight, how can we expect growing children to. In a recent study published by Pediatrics, it concluded that children that were identified as overweight actually gained more weight after the identification rather than lose weight.
Now, to the part of all of this that tugs at my heart strings…the children! A child that is told they are overweight feels worse about themselves, typically tries to eat less only to sneak and hide food later. They often feel guilty with eating and feel ashamed for eating certain foods or maybe all food. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t feel good or end well. When these children walk into my office they look sad! Children shouldn’t have to feel this burden, after all, they are children.
It’s important we first understand what normal growth looks like. You can read my blog post here to understand growth in children. If weight is indeed accelerating above their normal growth pattern it’s important to look at what is getting in the way. Addressing how your child is fed is even more important than the what in the beginning.
You Can Begin By:
1. Reliably Feed Your Children
Your children needs consistency and predictability for food. They need to know when and what is coming next. This will give them basic food security and feeling/believing they are getting enough. If feeding is chaotic, eating can be chaotic. My typical recommendation are feeding your children every 3-4 hours. Meals and snacks should be planned and served at the table with no distractions. Yes, even snacks! Serving snacks at a table helps children identify it’s their job to be eating now and will fill up better.
2. Serve Food Family Style
Children do much better with eating when they can pick and choose from what is served. Seeing all the food allows them to see what and how much is available. When food is on the stove and dished up for them, it interferes with them feeling as if they are getting enough.
3. Allow Them to Eat As Much as They Need
Wow, this probably sounds like a scary one! If your child has not been self regulating their eating for some time, they won’t know their stopping point at first, but they CAN relearn. We can’t do this for them, only they know when they are indeed full and satisfied. This will mean trial and error. In the beginning they may eat too much or too little. Let them figure it out. Then do it again and again for all meals and snacks.
4. Don’t Talk About Nutrition
Children can’t fully grasp nutrition concepts. Telling them foods are not good for them or even telling them foods are good for them only interferes with how they feel about the food after they eat it. Feeling bad about a food doesn’t make them eat less of it only feel guilty after they do. If all food served is neutral children will grow up to do a much better job regulating different foods.
5. Serve Forbidden Foods
Recently a parent told me they were advised to take all junk food out of the house. It sounds good in theory, but this isn’t practical. Children are very resourceful, if it isn’t served at home they will find places to get it (friend’s houses, school, etc.). If the food isn’t included regularly when they do have the food they will have a harder time stopping for fear of when it will be served again. The more forbidden a food is the more they will want it. Start by including one serving of a forbidden food with a meal. For example, serve 3 cookies with dinner. Allow your child to eat the cookies in any order they want. Once they eat them, they can fill up on dinner. You’ll be surprised after a few weeks of doing this, children often ignore the cookies (or whatever you serve) and eat their food first.
So, if you have gotten the dreaded talk by the doctor or you feel your child’s weight is too high, it’s important you seek out assistance on how to best address the issue without doing more harm. A full assessment of how you are feeding your children is much more important than someone trying to tell you what to serve them. If you don’t fix the how, you can’t fix the what!