Helping Kids Build a Healthy Food-Life Part 1: Our Words

nomGOOD GRIEF…this parenting thing can be daunting! Our fore-parents worried about protecting their kids from starvation, small pox and hungry bears. Today we’re concerned with protecting them from eating disorders, media addiction, weight and body image struggles, to name a few.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring some ways to help our kids (and maybe even ourselves) grow into a healthy, balanced relationship with food and body.

When Bob and I began our parenting adventure back in 1984, our first pediatrician was the remarkable Dr. Denmark, who helped kids and parents grow up until she was 103 years old. She told us something invaluable…

“Don’t make eating, sleeping or toilet training into control issues

between you and your child.

Both of you will lose.”

With this good advice in mind let’s look at how we might best help our children grow into mindful, intuitive, reasonably balanced adults. By the way, if your kids are grown and you wish you had a do-over in the food area, please know that an honest conversation around what you wish you’d known then can open all kinds of wonderful conversation and healing now.

Our goal is to help the kids we love grow up without food and weight becoming a big hairy deal. This can be tough in a culture that is food and weight focused, not to mention perpetually busy and distracting.

FAMILY PATTERNS: We tend to say and do what our parents said and did, even though our food culture has changed dramatically since the Great Depression. We are over-served rather than under-served now. We often order-out rather than hunt and plant. What worked then is not working now.

Let’s look at a few things we can say, or stop saying, that will help:

Stop saying “Clean your plate” or “Just eat 5 more bites”

This causes children to stop listening to their innate hungry and satisfied cues – which are the most accurate indicators of when and how much your child needs to eat. Babies do this perfectly and we do well not to talk them out of it. Also, please don’t mention the starving children around the world – this attaches guilt to eating.

  • Start saying things like:
    “You’re done? Ok, you can save the rest for later. If you get hungry it’ll be in the frig.”
    “You’re done? Ok, time to play!”
    “Ok Love. Please take your plate to the kitchen.”

Stop saying things like “Eat your vegetables before you get dessert”

This glorifies dessert. Vegetables seem like something yucky to be endured before the glorious sweet prize.

  • Start saying something like:

“I love trying new food – it’s like going on an adventure!”
“What’s your favorite nut/fruit/vegetable right now?”
“When I was your age I didn’t like that either; did you know that our taste buds grow up as we grow up – that’s pretty cool.”
“Hey, did you know these carrots give me supermom powers?”

FOOD-FUN IDEA – Make a SUPER-FOOD POSTER: You and/or your kids can make a poster of Super Foods to hang in the kitchen. Let them add to it as they find out about new super-foods. Talk about the “super powers” these food have and make it a family adventure to try a new one each week. This makes nutrition fun, relaxed and not about being good or bad, right or wrong. Make sure, as you try new foods together, that everyone is safe and free to have their own likes and dislikes.

Stop saying things like “You’re a big eater” (or picky, sloppy, etc.)

It isn’t helpful to label your child’s eating behavior. Remember, we want to help food be a safe subject in our homes. Calling someone a picky eater can have an undertone of shame.

  • The less we say – and the more we lead – by being relaxed examples of intuitive, mindful eating ourselves, the better.

Stop calling food “good” or “bad”, fattening or non-fattening.

I know this can be tough if you’re concerned about your child’s weight – but please understand: making food “good” or “bad” leads to unhealthy extremes and disordered eating. We tend to eat all or none of the foods we view in this way, and feel deprived or guilty in the process. We eat none when we’re being “good” and we eat a ton when we’re “bad”. This view of food encourages binge eating, sneaking food,  and makes food emotionally charged.

A few statements to try on for size:

These are just starters; you will think of your own…

  • I love being with y’all at this table – this is one of my favorite places on the planet!
  • Wow, thank you for washing up all our fruit – it looks so pretty in the bowl!
  • Hey Gang, let’s make good use of our food budget. Remember to check in and find out how hungry you are before you serve your plate. [Be careful NOT to make them feel they must clean their plate. The goal here is mindfulness – not food monitoring.]

BIG PICTURE: As parents and grandparents we will help our children most by relaxing about food, trusting and honoring our own bodies, having nutritious and delicious foods easily available, ascribing no guilt or shame to eating occasional treats, and by helping our kiddos stay life-focused (children are born this way so we can learn from them on this score) and not become weight or food focused.

Let’s begin to retrain ourselves to think and speak in ways that help us and our families be well fueled for LIFE!

Please let us know your biggest child/food concerns in a comment below and I’ll be sure to touch on them in the weeks ahead…

How Can I Stop My Emotional Eating?!?

iiiGreat question! For those of us who’ve struggled with food, eating can sooth raw emotions, numb pain, distract, entertain, befriend and comfort – temporarily. And of course, therein lies the rub. As much as we want comfort in the moment we also want to feel good in our body for life. 

I received this concern in an email just yesterday: “Liberated Eating works great for me…until I get sad/lonely or overwhelmed and then I just don’t care. I keep sabotaging myself and regretting it. What can I do?”

Can’t we all relate! The good news is there are many effective strategies for dealing with this. Here are just a few, in no particular order:

  • Take 5  Emotional eating tends to be automatic. It’s a well-worn pattern and our default go-to. But what if you asked yourself to wait just 5 minutes? You aren’t saying NO, you’re just saying WAIT. A speed bump of sorts. While you’re waiting, check in. How are you feeling? What’s going on? Having a better understanding of your feelings takes you from the crazy free-fall to some solid ground. Even if you end up choosing to eat anyway you’ll have a better understanding of why. This breaks the mindless auto-cycle and sets you up for making different choices next time. Remember, we’re in this for the long haul.
  • Have 2 in your queue – Have 2 comforting choices in your tool belt at all times. Go ahead and pick two things that make you feel better. Have these tools ready when you need them. When you’re uncomfortable and i-don’t-care-right-now is screaming loudly in your head, you can say something like this to yourself: “I feel ________ and I just might eat, but first I’m going to do one other thing that I know comforts me. I’ve got real choices here.”

You might listen to three favorite songs, take a 10 minute stroll, call a friend, play with a pet, enjoy a bath, ride a bike, do some coloring or read something fun. The trick is to have effective options ready when you need them.

Choices are powerful. We’re building new coping skills and giving ourselves the option of being comforted in a way that we will not regret later.

  • Exchange EITHER/OR thinking for BOTH/AND thinking We tend to think we only have two choices. I either “eat right” or I binge. I’ve either been good or I’ve been bad. That’s the old diet mentality talking. Actually there are a lot of options between these two extreme points.

Rather than eating a ton or not eating anything you could decide to comfort yourself with food and enjoy it completely – no guilt, no regret – just straight up “I’m eating this for comfort right now and I’m going to enjoy it”. This is permission to both hold to your mindfulness and eat for comfort.

If you keep your liberated eating mindset intact you can enjoy your comfort eating experience. Perhaps one bowl of ice cream will do the trick instead of standing in the kitchen eating out of the carton. As we leave all-or-nothing behind the old default setting will dim.

  • Take the 20,000 foot view – Seeing the big picture is enlightening and encouraging! True lifestyle change is not a straight line. In fact, it’s supposed to be bumpy. As we keep practicing, stumbling, learning, and recalibrating things will get smoother.

Imagine going way up high and looking down on your life-long food journey – you will see that the “mess-ups” get less intense over time; they get farther and farther apart; they don’t knock you for a loop like they used to. In time, the stormy seas settle down to sunshine with occasional waves.

In the beginning we may fall back into old patterns regularly, but this is not failure; it is the rightful path of true change. It takes time to exchange old patterns for new ones.

If we don’t understand how change works we can think we’ve failed each time we haven’t been “perfect” – which of course leads to despair and probably another binge. Get comfortable with messy. I’m 15 years into recovery and occasionally I still eat like I used to, but now I think “Hmmm, wonder what that was about?” instead of “OH NOOOO, I’m a big fat failure!!!”

So please, give yourself room to be human, to be in process. In fact, let’s take it a step further; how about we relax and enjoy this journey for what it truly is:

an amazing, meaningful, adventure of discovery!

Let us know your favorite strategies…

Why Can't I Stop Overeating ?!?

One of the most frequently researched questions online is “Why can’t I stop overeating?”

ooooThe frustration in this question is heartbreaking, and it’s exactly the question I asked myself for over thirty years. Of course there isn’t one tidy little answer for each of us; the answers will be as varied as we are – but – there are some common factors that cause us to feel out of control with food.

  1. 1. DIETING MAKES US EAT LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE (even though we’re not)   Eating too little always leads to eating too much, eventually. Self imposed starvation causes your body and mind to feel alarmed and to overreact, setting up the diet-binge cycle. Not only is dieting completely ineffective longterm, it actually damages your relationship with food and your body in the process. There are psychological and biological reasons we are compelled to overeat after a peroid of under-eating.
  2. BINGE EATING, CRAVINGS & COMPULSIVE EATING PATTERN   The perceived strength of the powerful urge to overeat feels overwhelming, convincing us that we’re powerless against it. After giving into it for years, weakened by our exhausting attempts at dieting, we falsely believe that now we have no choice.
  3. LACK OF CONFIDENCE    Each of us has our own personal story, temperament and negative self-talk which can undermine our self-confidence. We also falsely feel weak and incapable after years of unsuccessful dieting, even though it’s dieting that’s at fault.
  4. EMOTIONAL EATING    Eating to manage emotions feels good in the moment – lighting up the brain’s pleasure centers like firecrackers! After years of eating emotionally it can feel impossible to imagine coping with uncomfortable feelings in any other way, even though there are many more effective ways of handling our big emotions.
  5. PROCESSED SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES    Highly processed foods containing a lot of white flour and sugar can highjack our blood sugar and insulin levels – sending them on a roller-coaster ride. Natural fiber and nutrients are removed (and hyper-tasty artificial ingredients added) in the refining process. These manufactured foods break down very quickly in the body, causing us to crave more and more*.
  6. TOP REASON: WE DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW CHANGE WORKS.     Most people believe that they’re supposed to move forward perfectly, once they’ve decided to change things. In reality, true change is messy and multi-directional – and it is supposed to be. In order to make life changes you have to be willing to mess up and continue on. A lot.

Truth reminder:

You can reach a comfortable weight in spite of your obstacles. You are strong and resilient. You have choices. You are not alone.

And you don’t have to do this perfectly. No one does.

Armed with solid tools and truths like TLE 12 lesson downloadable workshop, with support like our TLE Membership  and with a bit of a sense of humor – you can make the changes you want to make!

Which of these reasons do you relate to most?


*For more info read Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig.