Thursday, January 12, 2017

8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s (and YOUR) Relationship with Food


Do you worry about your kids and food?  

Lots of people tell me that they're working on their relationship to food and don't want their children to go through what they've gone through.   They ask, "How can I make sure my kids grow up with a different attitude towards food and their bodies?"


I'm thrilled to introduce Maryann Jacobsen, who has the answer to that question and more.  In this guest blog post, she shares how to transform your child's relationship to food - and I think you'll find that her advice applies to everyone, not just kids.


8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food

It can be challenging to raise kids who feel good about eating and their body. The good news is we know so much more today about how a child’s relationship with food develops than we did just ten years ago. Research gives us clues on what parents can do to spare their little ones much of the agony many of us experienced growing up. Unfortunately, this is not common knowledge (yet).

So today, I’m sharing with you tidbits from my latest book about raising a mindful eater, someone who eats for nourishment and enjoyment, listens to their body and naturally eats in moderation. Here’s a summary of the 8 Principles that have the biggest impact:

1. Structure Meals and Snacks at the Table: Serving predictably-timed meals and snacks at a designated place is a lifesaver. Structured meals help children develop self control around food and learn how to manage their hunger. It also means they don’t get in the habit of eating out of boredom, to ease difficult feelings, or because food is there (external eating).

2. Allow Hunger and Fullness to Guide Eating: Once children sit down to those meals and snacks, allow them to decide when they are done eating, encouraging them to listen to hunger and fullness. In one study, young adults who let hunger and fullness guide eating had lower BMIs and less disordered eating than those who didn’t.

3. Neutralize the Power of Goodies: Kids are naturally drawn to what I call “goodies’ due to their growth and development. But all the attention parents give these foods (negative and positive) makes it even worse. For example, using dessert to reward good behavior or taking it away when a child doesn’t behave, only makes goodies more salient. Avoid giving so much attention to these foods, and kids won’t give as much attention to them.

4. Make Nutrition a Rewarding Part of Eating: Research suggests that as children get older they view nutritious food as less tasty than less-than nutritious foods. Instead of nagging them to eat healthy, find tasty ways to include nutritious food as part of your child’s diet and get them involved with meal prep. Let them see how balanced eating (not single foods) enhances what is most important to them (sports, dance, learning, etc.).

5. Put Pleasure at the Center of Your Table: Too often our culture pairs food pleasure with gluttony, while in countries like France work “enjoy your food” into dietary guidelines. Research shows enjoyment is linked to less picky eating and better eating overall. Plus, families with a positive food environment fare better health-wise than those with a negative or hostile food environment.  

6. Teach Body Appreciation: According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 50% of girls and 25% of boys feel bad about their body’s shape and size. Body dissatisfaction is linked to unhealthy weight control practices that can wreak havoc on a child’s relationship with food. Parents need to open up a dialogue about how children feel about their body, the media’s Thin Ideal, and the importance of self-care.

7. Deal with Stress Effectively: Kids are stressed-out today and surveys show parents often miss it. Teaching kids how to deal with stress is important because it can negatively impact their eating, health, and well-being. Of the utmost importance is what I call the trifecta of self care -- sleep, activity and balanced eating. Uncovering hidden stressors -- and learning to manage them -- is vital, too.

8. Connect with Your Kids: People are hardwired for connection, and children are no different. When kids don’t feel connected to their parents, friends and community, they are more likely to look to other things (food, alcohol, spending) to feel better or glom on to external goals (looks, popularity, grades) to get attention. Making sure we stay connected, even when it’s hard, can go a long way towards helping children understand their value.

Parents who practice these 8 Principles significantly increase the chance their children will develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. And what parent doesn’t want that?

Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, is an independent author, family nutrition expert, and author of the newly released book How to Raise a MindfulEater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food. You can find out more about her books, blog, and podcast at MaryannJacobsen.com.



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