How is your relationship with food

This will help your child develop a healthy relationship with food

"If you eat the healthy vegetables, you get the dessert", "You don't play with the food" or "You haven't touched anything yet" are statements that many parents will likely find themselves in. The following is about a new perspective that can simplify everyday life and support children in a healthy approach to their diet.

Before we dive into the nutritional psychological dose, it is extremely important that we talk about weight stigmatization and its don’ts. Doctors are concerned about the health risks if a child's body weight is above the defined normal value. The negative spiral of dietary rules and loss of control begins very early.

With good intentions, children are put on a diet to combat the kilos that have been declared unhealthy, forced to exercise more and sometimes even sent to "fat camps". The desired success occurs in very few cases. On the contrary: What a child learns is above all that it is not good enough, cannot trust itself and has to hate its body.

"Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses."

Linda Bacon, an American scientist, author and body respect activist, has summarized the result of these measures in numbers: a child is 242 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than to develop type 2 diabetes. * Eating disorders have mental illnesses of all the highest death rate.

Health is ruined in the name of health

It is therefore just as important as with adults to strive for health-promoting behavior and to give the body the opportunity to find its natural target weight itself. We should finally accept that diversity is part of human existence and that health can only be increased through health-promoting behavior - regardless of body weight.

"If you eat the vegetables, you get the dessert"

As a dietician, I know and appreciate the power of plant foods, of course. Describing food as healthy or unhealthy is still superfluous. Quite simply: there is not a single food that provides all of the nutrients we need for comprehensive health. When a child has to earn dessert, vegetables become a necessary evil to be overcome.

The fact that "unhealthy" items are also used as a reward sends a contradicting message: On the one hand, the food is "bad", but also somehow "good" because of its rewarding character. However, they should never be used as an incentive (e.g., "If you are brave at vaccinating, you will get an ice cream") and for eating (e.g. vegetables), there should also be no reward.

Then how do you get children to enjoy nutritious foods?

Nutritional science. Children are usually very interested in how the world and their own bodies work. We can contrast the advantages and disadvantages of nutrient and energy-rich foods without giving them any moral value.

Patience. "You don't play with food" is a completely wrong motto, because the acceptance of new foods is definitely increased with a playful character and sensory experimentation. When we introduce a new food to children, it can sometimes take up to 20 tries for them to accept it. Mind you that, of course, children also have innate likes and dislikes.

Creativity. New foods can become more attractive if children are involved in the process. For example, by being able to choose vegetables in the supermarket that they have never had on their plate before. Acceptance is increased again when they are integrated into cooking and preparation. It goes without saying that this is not possible every day.

Role model function. "Do what I do" tends to work better than "do what I say".

Restriction as a strong opponent of autonomy

Most children have a natural need for autonomy. With every attempt to control the food, this is violated and is therefore in the rarest of cases effective. When we explain to children that they are experts in their bodies and at the same time mention what a body needs to be healthy, this can create a strong intrinsic motivation to make self-caring decisions. Once dietary decisions are made that have a negative impact on wellbeing, for example snacking until nausea or being very hungry when going to bed because playing was more important before, these are also valuable experiences from which they can learn.

Snacking allowed

Regulating the amount and availability of sweets can artificially increase the need for snacking - it becomes exciting and special. Children who do not have access at home tend to overeat massively on an external occasion (birthdays, celebrations, ...). Emotional equivalence can only be achieved if we treat food that way. That would mean that we give sweet things the same meaning as carrots or bread. We would not limit any quantities or availability here. Nevertheless, it is important to determine the framework conditions. For example, not snacking on a distraction like watching TV. The children should take the time to be able to grasp what they are eating with all their senses. It's also important to talk about enjoyment. At the same time, parents should provide many different foods and educate them about their ingredients and effects in the body.

"Healthy snacks should be available as well as a quick grab into the snack drawer."

When moving from regulated to available candy, patience and trust are very important. The child will of course first test and catch up on what he has missed. Over time, however, this behavior occurs. With regard to age, it makes sense to "introduce" certain sweets a little later.

"You have hardly eaten anything yet"

Children are born as intuitive eaters - this means that they feed themselves in a self-regulating manner according to a feeling of hunger and satiety. This can sometimes be quite a challenge for parents, because the amount eaten varies greatly. Some days they eat as much as an adult, other days barely a bite. Above all, this has to do with the fact that children are in Relapses grow and increased physical activity also affects appetite.

In respect of their self-regulation, children provide themselves with everything they need within a week at the latest. It can therefore be helpful to refrain from looking at the quantities of a meal or day in isolation and look at seven days as a whole.

If we get children to ignore their internal cues because we may find they haven't eaten enough, they will be weakened in the long run. This can disrupt the relationship with one's own body and with food.

Even if it is sometimes difficult: Have confidence in your child - they know best how much they need.

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In this way you will get to know your hunger and satiety feeling better again

Follow Isabel on Instagram: @ ernaehrungs.revolution.

* Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2014). Body respect: What conventional health books get wrong, leave out, and just plain fail to understand about weight. BenBella Books.

Isabel Bersenkowitsch is an anti-diet dieter from Pasching (Upper Austria) and lives in Vienna. She studied dietology at the FH Campus Wien, then worked in a rehabilitation center and is currently setting up a multi-professional food freedom group coaching program. The dietologist has set herself the goal of leading people back to a more intuitive diet. She writes weekly guest comments for WOMAN on eating disorders, diet trends and the relationship between psyche and diet.