Because I am not obese, anorexic or bulimic, it never occurred to me that I might suffer from disordered eating, until recently. A friend introduced me to a wellness program that focuses not on diet or workout trends but on retraining your thoughts and feelings around the food you fuel your body with. I have come to believe it is sorely needed for those of us (millions likely) who have uncategorized diet-industry trauma.
That industry naturally ballooned in the 1980s as the U.S. rates of obesity began to skyrocket, climbing from 17 percent in 1980 to 35 percent by 1989, and its influence remains strong today. It has sucked many of us into its dark hole of obsessing about our bodies in very unhealthy ways.
The new program I found is slowly helping me replace one unhealthy thought with a new healthy thought. Best of all, it has had a trickle effect on my children. How? It is changing the way we think, feel and talk about food.
Here are some questions that can help you bring healthy food attitudes to your own kids.
“Is this the right amount of food that feels best in your body?”
When your child is filling his plate, ask him to think about what his stomach is telling him. Does he feel hungry? Perhaps he needs more food on the plate. Is he not that hungry? He needs less food on the plate. Then, as he is eating, help him pay attention to fullness cues (i.e., he no longer feels a pang in his stomach; he is slowing down; the food is starting to taste more bland). When he finishes, ask if that felt like the right amount of food for his body. If not, he can have more. If so, he can be finished. Neither feeling overly full nor deprived is what’s best for the body. Show your child how to eat so their body feels best.
“Do you like this?”
Learning how to be polite and try every food is a great skill. But do you repeatedly eat things you dislike? I hope not. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and ask your kids to pick at least one produce item at each meal. I’m still inconsistent on this but find it does work. On taco night they can add sautéed bell pepper, corn or avocado. For salads, have them start with lettuce and then add anything they like. For lunch they can pack a fruit of their choice. The point is to teach them how to select and enjoy healthy foods they like.
“How will this food fuel your body?”
Instead of speaking of donuts as good or bad, present a donut informationally: “This donut will give you a sugar rush now that will give you quick energy, but because it contains so much sugar, your energy will spike and then crash. Let’s look at the ingredients list. Can you find it on the package? It’s very long plus there are many ingredients I don’t recognize. I wonder how well your body will be fueled by this donut?”
Instead of “eat the eggs because they are good for you,” explain that the egg-and-toast combination has a balanced ratio of protein to fat to carbohydrate that helps keep blood sugar stable. (Little kid version: Eggs and toast have a good balance of nutrients that make you feel full longer and give you good energy). When you present foods objectively they will speak for themselves. Kids will gradually learn to make choices about them that will at least become more informed, even if the choices are still not the easiest ones.
Eating should be an enjoyable source of fueling our bodies to do and feel our best! A healthy body helps nurture a healthy physical, emotional and spiritual equilibrium, which is the all-important foundation to making a gift of ourselves to God and others.