Eating is a natural process in life, yet many lose their ability to do it intuitively over time. Let’s better understand how external pressures around food impacts our children, and what we can do to change it.
Kids, the original intuitive eaters. From the very beginning, you cry and you are fed. When a baby is done eating, he or she will turn away and there is no forcing a baby to have more.
They can truly respect their fullness.
Toddlers too, they are fascinating to watch eat. They eat what sounds good and when they are done, they are done. One day, your daughter loves mac and cheese, then the next day it doesn’t really sound good and she’ll leave half of it to eat the other options on the plate.
It’s interesting when you think about it, because many people now struggle with following their own natural signals to hunger and fullness. Some are trying to find it again through intuitive eating, an ability that they once had as kids but has since been hijacked at some point in life. It may have been through listening to someone talk about their food or bodies in a way that made them think, “There is something wrong with me and I need to change.”
From there, the doubt was casted in our own ability to feed ourselves, and distrust in our own bodies was born.
There are many ways that food rules can start. They don’t always start in the home, but they can. You may remember some rules from when you were growing up: being told you couldn’t leave the table until you finish your vegetables, or “just take one more bite” when you knew you were full, or getting to have ice cream because you ate all of your meal. Those are some examples in which we interfere with kids and their eating behaviors. The way we talk about food and our own bodies as parents can also shape our kids’ views.
All of this isn’t meant to stress you out. Rather, see it as an opportunity to help our children have a positive relationship with food and their bodies, and it starts with looking within ourselves. Here are a few tips for raising intuitive eaters:
1. Heal your own relationship with food.
If you talk down about your food choices or your body, your kids will pick up on that. Your child look up to you as the epitome of what they want to become. If you are saying negative things about yourself, then your child will be more likely to think similarly of themselves.
This can also apply towards food. If you are always talking about food in a “good” vs. “bad” way, they will pick up on this. If you talk about you being “good” or “bad” based on what you ate that day, they will think that about themselves in that way. Start by removing the guilt and shame from your food talk.
2. Provide options and aim for balance.
Aim to include different colors and textures, and offer a variety of nutrients at meals and snacks. Balance over a week is good enough, even if you offer fruits and vegetables at every meal, it is okay if none of it gets eaten. Usually over the course of a week, kids and adults alike will get all of what they need. You can also introduce the concept of nutrition, explaining that food provides us with energy and helps us grow. Calling these foods “growing” foods, is likely more helpful than calling foods “healthy” or telling them it is “good for them.” Growing foods and fun foods are both important to include in the conversation and at the table.
3. Just keep offering.
It takes a lot of exposures to different types of foods for kids to really gain a preference. It is okay if they don’t want to try it, but keep offering different options and variety at meals. You can also try describing the foods: use words like crunchy, sweet, or sour and see if that makes them more interested. Some parents have luck with cutting foods into different shapes, or using fun utensils to keep things interesting. Allow them to explore their food, and let ‘playing with their food’ be part of the process.
4. Leave it up to them.
As parents, we provide the options of what food is available and some basic guide around when meals and snacks are. Have you ever noticed if you eat a lot at one meal, you are typically not as hungry when the next meal rolls around? That is totally normal and intuitive. Your kids have that same ability, let them use it.
Being a parent is hard, and you will always continue learning as your children get older. Know that what works for some doesn’t always work for others, so extend some compassion for yourself or any other parent out there.
Just remember, we are all doing our best to help our children thrive.
Adapted from the original article.
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Ashley Munro, RD, CDE is an Arizona-based registered dietitian, chef, and certified Intuitive Eating counselor who helps others heal their relationship with food by letting go of diet rules and learning to accept their bodies. Through delicious cooked meals and recipes, Ashley shares her passion for food freedom, cooking, and family at her blog, A Pinch of Grace.