It seems like you can’t turn a corner nowadays without being bombarded with messages about the obesity epidemic. This fear around obesity seems to be one of the reasons parents have started to police their kids’ food. They think that policing helps them, but recent research has shown that this is not the case.
In a recent study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, they looked at diverse population (racially/ethnically and socioeconomically) of 2231 adolescents and 3431 parents of those adolescents to explore parent behaviors surrounding both food restriction and pressure to eat. Here are a few of their findings:
Mean food restriction was significantly higher among parents of overweight and obese adolescents compared with nonoverweight adolescents
Mean pressure-to-eat was significantly higher among nonoverweight adolescents.
- No significant interactions by race/ethnicity or household income were found in the relationship between pressure-to-eat or restriction and adolescent weight status.
The authors also suggest that “the relationship between parental restriction and child weight status is likely to be bidirectional” and that “results from a small number of studies indicate that parental restriction often precedes excess weight in young children, suggesting that the bidirectional path begins with parental use of controlling feeding practices; this exposure then leads to weight gain over time for the child and creates a feedback cycle in which both food-related parenting practices and the child’s excess weight gain persist across time.”
My advice? Don’t police them to start with.
We all know that labeling something “bad” makes a kid (or adult for that matter) want to do it more probably because they’ll wonder about the appeal of this forbidden thing. Instead of restriction, and telling them food X is bad and off limits, think about introducing structure, and the concept of moderate restraint around food and meal times.
Moderation vs. Restriction
Moderation means that each person is responsible for eating in a way that feels pleasurable and calm vs. something they think they should be ashamed of or sneak and hide. It also means being able to pay enough attention to what you’re doing to know that food doesn’t feel good when you overeat it. It means baking a fresh batch of cookies with your kids, and sitting down together at the table to enjoy them.
Restriction means setting strict rules, and labeling foods as good/allowed and bad/not allowed. For example telling your kids that cookies are not allowed in the house because they’re bad for you. Kids are born intuitive eaters that recognize overfullness. Anyone that’s fed a baby knows that it’s pretty hard to overfeed them — they let you know when they’re done because they just stop when they’re full.
As your kids get older the structure that you provide in your household has a major impact on the taste preferences and skills that they develop, and that they’ll eventually pass onto their kids.
I’m a big fan of Ellyn Satter, her books, and training for confident eating. Check out her eating competence model.
Consider the Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter). ecSatter encourages you to feel positive about your eating, to be reliable about feeding yourself, to eat food you enjoy, to eat enough to feel satisfied, and to let your body weigh what it will in accordance with your lifestyle and genetic endowment. Rather than expecting you to manage your eating by the rules, ecSatter encourages you to base your eating on your body’s natural processes: hunger and the drive to survive, appetite and the need for pleasure, the social reward of sharing food and the tendency to maintain preferred and stable body weight.
What Do You Think?
Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts on raising kids to be mindful eaters.