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Friday, 15 July 2011

Give up control over what your children eat

One of the reasons why our children might become obese but also have eating disorders is if we are over controlling of what they eat. And to be frank parents have done this for so long that I am surprised we haven't had an obesity crisis earlier than we have. Perhaps the reason it took so long is that in our parents generation there wasn't so much food, let alone processed food so it was harder to overfeed children. And children weren't fed so much rubbish. In my days (listen to me talking, I am not that old, hey), pizzas and chips were a "treat" that you had perhaps six times a year. Now, I gather a guess that people eat them several times a week. Fried food is the norm for most people so our food is generally more fattening and we tend to eat a lot less vegetables and fruits because we don't want to have to shop every day. But our parents and their parents had to shop almost every day or every other day because there were no supermarkets in those days so the food was a lot fresher and as a result healthier. They also ate a lot less meat (and not meat that had been pumped with hormones and pesticides) so that was healthier too, because meat was a luxury.

But the control issue was always there. How many times have we heard "eat your peas" "finish your plate" "if you don't come eat now you won't have any dinner at all" "with all the children who are dying of hunger in the world" etc. These are so common threats that we don't think much of them all. However I am here to tell you that they will drive your children to become overweight. Perhaps not whilst they live with you but gradually the fat will build up in their bodies and by the time they are middle age, they will become clients of mine. Why?

One of the golden rules of the Journey of the Slim Soul is to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. It is so simple sometimes my clients laugh at me when I explain how important it is. And yet, the vast majority of them fail to do so. They don't seem to be able to resist eating when food is presented to them, either out of fear of not having enough food or because they have been so well trained at doing what they are told and ignoring the perfectly tuned signals of hunger that their bodies send them, including what they should be eating. As I sometimes explain to them: they are eating with their minds, not with their stomachs. Have you ever seen an animal do that? Well some pets are so well trained into being humans that some end up doing exactly that. But when they haven't been messed up by humans they don't. And I have certainly never seen a mama cat force her little ones to eat. The mind can mess up things big time when it's disconnected from the wisdom of the body.

Every person is different. Some people need several small meals a day. Others eat big meals and go hours without eating. Some need breakfast, others don't. We are all different. We all have different eating needs. And your children are no different.

Although well intended, but mostly we do this for our own good (not the good of our children), controlling how much, when and what our children eat is ultimately detrimental to our children because it cuts them off the signals of their bodies and their own body wisdom and paves the way for them to consider that they can't be trusted around food. Again this can lead to two opposite results: obesity or eating disorders. As I said in my previous blog, these problems are like two sides of a coin. I understand that you want your life to be simple as a parent and not have to cook different things for your children (especially if you have more than one) and perhaps you hate waste and want them to eat their dinner and that for convenience you want them to eat when you can fit it in. I am asking you to introduce a lot of flexibility into this. That is, of course, if you want your children to grow up as adults that are confident and healthy eaters. Because ultimately the way we eat is a huge part of our lifestyle and has an enormous impact on our health. Food is one of those things that is "neutral", it is not good or bad, it is how we humans use it that can be good and bad.

Let your child lead the way in terms of what they want to eat. That is, of course, if you offer them healthy foods. If you feed them with processed foods, chips, pizzas, colas and crisps, they are very likely to overeat anyway because these foods are packed with substances (natural and not so natural) that have been engineered by the food industry to induce you to eat more than nature had intended. Home made pizzas are not unhealthy but first of all they are better if the base is made with wholemeal flour as opposed to white flour. And if they are packed with vegetables instead of just coated with massive amounts of cheese, then they are definitely healthier. But I am digressing here. Getting to my earlier point, if you overfeed your kids with broccoli, the consequences are not dire. They are in fact almost laughable although the habit of being overfed might back fire on your kids later in life especially if at one point in their lives they have a lot of stress or their lives get too busy and they fall for the sirens of processed food.

Learn to cook less. Learn to not overfeed your kids. Learn to be OK with throwing food away. Forcing your kids to finish their plates because there are children dying of hunger thousands of miles away from you won't make those hungry children any less hungry, but it will make your children obese, if not now, in the long run. And this is also what happens with obesity: it doesn't happen overnight. It is a succession of overeating on a regular basis and once your stomach gets bigger than it was originally intended to be, then you are genuinely more hungry than your body needs. You need to restore your body back to factory settings by starting to eat less and in the beginning that is uncomfortable.

My advice is to let your children eat when they are hungry and let them eat what they fancy. Involve them in food choices. What's the point of forcing them to eat something they don't like.  It doesn't mean that you shouldn't offer new food regularly. As I mentioned in a previous post, children need to be presented a new food ten times before they will really know if they like it or not. And children's tastes vary over time so it an be maddening for a parent never to know if what you cook is going to be eaten. Perhaps the secret is to cook in smaller quantities and to have mezze types of meal: meals where several little portions of different foods are offered. It's a small price to pay for the good of your children. And perhaps too, if you didn't cook something different for your children than what you eat, you wouldn't feel like it's such a hassle to cook for them because whatever they don't eat, you can have or the other way round. My children have surprised me by what they have liked eating over the years. My daughter for example had a passion for mild curry at two years old. She absolutely licked her plate. She also loved sushi. My son, on the other hand, liked blue cheese and crackers. They are all different. Their bodies have different needs. Trying to force feed into them food that fits them all is not going to serve them in the short term nor in the long run.

Blessings of lightness

Anges de Lumiere

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