A study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality showed that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119% between 1999 and 2006.As with any war, there are always casualties. In the War on Obesity, we are beginning to see that children are among the casualties from our focus on losing weight. As the article points out, children in the 3rd and 4th grade are already developing anxiety over their bodies. The unintentional result of our focus on obesity versus good health is the increase of low self-esteem and a trend of prejudice against overweight people.
Where does this anxiety, obsession or focus come from? Sure, part of it is media driven but it also comes from the home and from other children. How do we as parents affect our child's body image and cocern about weight? At what age do they become aware of our own actions: weighing ourselves; saying negative things about our bodies; restricting foods; avoiding bathing suits; avoiding pictures? They hear us talk about eating healthy but we might unintentionally reinforce poor eating habits by using food as a reward or celebration on one hand but then restrict foods because of a diet or punishment.
It's not only what happens at home but also what happens at school. Are our children being bullied at school about their weight? Are they targeted because they are fat or made insecure about their body? These factors all play a role in our children's body image and how they relate to food.
How do we change? What can we do to start to spare our children a lifetime of body shaming, weight issues and dieting? One of the new chapters in the 3rd edition of Intuitive Eating is about how you can raise an Intuitive Eater. This new chapter provides many great suggestions and tips that will help you and your family make peace with food. If you are a parent, the Intuitive Eating 3rd Edition and Ellyn Satter's The Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family are must haves books!
As a parent, intuitive eater and dietitian, here are some things that my wife and I have always tried to do in our house and with our kids:
1) We are responsible for providing healthy and balanced meals for our children.
2) Our children are responsible for eating the foods we provide and eating until they are full.
3) We don't "bargain" or make deals with our kids. We never say, "Just eat two more bites of ____ and you can be done."
4) We sit down as a family, without distratctions like the the TV, and enjoy mealtimes together as often as possible.
5) We provide a "treat" or dessert at almost every meal.
6) We do not hide foods. Cookies are placed at our children's level in a cupboard that they can open and access at any time.
7) We don't allow any adults to talk negatively about their body while they are in our house.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.