Many well-meaning parents attempt to control the types and amounts of food their children eat. Even parents who understand that healthy bodies come in all sizes may do this due to concern about their children’s health.
But research tells us that when children’s intake is restricted or controlled, bingeing or other disordered eating is usually the result. Other research found that children are excellent at self-regulating their intake. If you feel your child may have gotten off track with self-regulation, here are two approaches you can use to help your child.
Child feeding expert Ellyn Satter recommends her Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Although responsibilities change during a child’s development, basically parents are responsible for What, When and Where. Children are responsible for Whether and How Much. In other words, parents decide when meals and snacks will be served and what foods will be offered. Children decide which of these foods and how much of these foods they will eat. Parents are encouraged to serve both familiar/liked and unfamiliar foods at meals. This assures that their children will eat at least some of the foods, even if it is just milk and bread. Children will also have the opportunity to try new foods.
Another program, outlined by Jane Hirschmann (co-author of Overcoming Overeating) and Lela Zaphiropoulos suggests a less structured approach. The basics are 1. Are you hungry? 2. What to you want to eat? 3. Are you full? Parents are guided to help their children recognize and respond to internal cues of hunger and fullness, as well as tuning in to which foods would be most satisfying when they are hungry, sometimes called “specific hunger.” Parents are also responsible for having a wide variety of foods in the home.
Although these approaches are different in how much structure is provided, they are similar in these important ways:
- Children are very able to regulate their food intake and should be encouraged to eat according to internal cues of hunger and fullness.
- Parents can help children recognize and respond to these cues.
- All foods have nutritional value and must be available, including snack foods and desserts. If not, these foods will be overvalued and usually overeaten.
For more information about using these programs with your children, I recommend both Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming by Ellyn Satter and Preventing Childhood Eating Problems: A Practical, Positive Approach to Raising Kids Free of Food and Weight Conflicts by Jane Hirschmann and Lela Zaphiropoulos. And if you feel you and your child may need professional assistance, look for a registered dietitian who is familiar with both approaches.
Since 1990 registered dietitian Deborah Kauffmann, RD, LDN has been providing nutrition counseling for disordered eating utilizing an intuitive, Health At Every Size® approach. Deborah works with adults, teens and children/parents. She is one of the pioneers of the HAES (SM) approach in the Baltimore area. Deborah also offers Largely Positive, a free support group for adults of size promoting size acceptance and self care. Her private practice is Nutrition Counseling for Intuitive Eating.