As the mother of an almost 6 year old girl (going on 18…)
I am very careful about how we speak about nutrition and fitness in this household.
Mind you… if you have a son, you are not in the clear. Boys suffer from body dysmorphia, body image standards and diet culture just as much as girls. So if you have a son, listen closely.
What is emotional eating?
Using food to cope with feelings (positive or negative) rather than using food to satisfy hunger.
If you are anything like me, maybe you have experienced this…
Maybe you find yourself snacking on some goldfish out of boredom.
Maybe you smash some cookies during one of those sappy Lifetime movies.
Maybe you turn to wine when you are stressed.
Maybe you reward yourself with sweets or a favorite food after getting a promotion or passing your boards.
The problem is that when we routinely do this, we train our brain to seek out food based on our EMOTIONS rather than relying on our built in hunger and fullness cues.
This can lead to some serious trouble with our health in the long run and even difficulty managing our weight.
How does this all begin?
Believe it or not, we learn to do this. It’s not something we are born doing.
Emotional eating can be tied to childhood trauma like a divorce or death but it can also be linked to being rewarded as a child for achievements.
The most basic example that I can give you is at the doctor’s office… child gets a shot, a sucker is given to “soothe” them.
In many cases, I find that it stems from our parents and how they viewed/used food.
Did you watch your mom try multiple fad diets?
Was she ever obsessive and restrictive about it all… the cardio, the calories, avoiding “bad foods?”
Maybe you watched her struggle with her weight her entire life?
Did she lack energy and now that you are older you realize she was depressed and turned to food to cope.
And just maybe… you are experiencing the same struggles?
So you can imagine why you might have some struggles with eating if your mom struggled.
If we want our daughters (or sons) to have a different relationship with food, we get to be the model.
It starts and ends with US.
6 ways that I am teaching my daughter about her body and food
We use non-edibles as a reward
Instead of always rewarding her with treats, I allow Quinn to earn money for a new toy, a new learning game on the ipad or most recently, she earned gymnastics!
We talk about how food makes us feel/move vs look
Before meals, we talk about how our food will help us to move after eating it. Sometimes she tells me about the energy she will have for school or to play. Other times she tells me that the food is good for her stomach and pooping. She is beginning to understand the function of food rather than being focused on just “what tastes good.”
We never talk about foods making us look skinny or fat. Even if we are speaking of eating too many low nutrient foods like cookies, we don’t say “if you eat too many, you will be fat.” We also don’t talk about “burning off” foods as a punishment for eating them.
We don’t restrict foods or call them “bad”
Instead of telling her she can’t have something she asks for, we talk about how we might feel if we eat too much of it. I also ask her how many she thinks she should have. We have gotten to the point that she answers with appropriate serving sizes without me having to regulate that for her.
We also talk about balance and it’s okay to have candy or a cookie as long as we are also eating foods that make us feel really good and give us plenty of vitamins.
We talk about food groups + what they do for us
We have had many conversations about proteins and why we need them. We talk about fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, how vitamins help us, and how carbohydrates give us energy for our favorite activities.
Without guiding her, if I ask Quinn what she wants to eat, she naturally tells me a balanced plate with a protein, carb (starch and veggie) fruit and fat.
**We printed pictures of her favorite foods so that she could “pack her own lunch” by choosing a food from each category. You may want to start by using visuals with your child.
We have snacks in bowls vs from the bag
This isn’t something I really talk to her about, but I do have her get an appropriate serving and put it into a bowl for a snack. This just helps her visually see a serving size and prevents her from mindlessly munching from a bag while she is watching a show or playing.
We encourage listening to hunger/fullness cues
I never make Quinn finish her plate for the sake of not wasting food. If she tells me she is full, I remind her that when she is hungry again, I can get it back out.
I think the hardest thing for parents is to try NOT to bribe their kids with a special treat for eating all of their food. This teaches “food = reward” and I will admit sometimes I am guilty.
I know that kids sometimes try to get out of eating food that they don’t want so they say they are full. Instead of bribing her to finish, I ask again, “are you full?” and allow her to get down if she is. I remind her that when she feels hungry again, she can finish the rest.
Again, I’m not a parenting expert. I am figuring this out as I go just like you are.
By the way… it’s 2019… why don’t these kids come with manuals yet?
Which one of these spoke to you? What will you implement for your family?