Are Your Words the Cause of Your Child’s Eating Disorder?

What Do Your Children Hear When You Say…?
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD and Mom

Photo Credit: Mateus Lunardi Dutra via Compfight cc

As I surf the net, I read so many blogs that also say all foods fit. Yet they go on to say certain foods are treats, certain foods are bad, and certain foods should only be allowed if the child doesn’t have a weight problem. So how do parents handle this delicate issue?

 

First we must address our own food issues. If we have them—and we probably do (as I don’t know too many people without food confusion)—we need not verbalize them as black and white statements to our children.

For example:

You can eat ice cream because you are young and thin, but Mommy needs to be good because Mommy’s belly is too big.

That is clearly a mother’s issue being verbalized to the child. Mom is implying ice cream is bad, but the child can have bad food because they are thin—and Mom cannot.

 

Next, we must be careful not to place a moral or value judgment on foods. This means avoiding good and bad food labeling. This backfires because a child typically feels bad when he/she eats something bad. This can even be true of using words such as “healthy” versus “unhealthy,” but perhaps that takes it to extremes. Some children’s programs use the colors of a stoplight to signify how much of something to eat. I’ve always found myself telling clients to listen to their bodies. However, I also know I would tell them to focus on the nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time and that the remainder of the time it doesn’t matter. We began calling these foods “everyday foods” versus “some of the time” foods. This is a perfect solution, no? It really categorizes foods with higher nutrition versus lower nutrition.  This is the way I typically explain foods to my children. The sure thing we know is that the good and bad connotations lead to negative relationships with food. So steer clear of using words implying judgment and move towards words that are science-based, such as “high in vitamin C” and “low in vitamins.”

 

Another catch-22 is saying that our children need to lose weight and thus should only eat healthy food. This is quite far from the truth. If you, a child, or me needs to lose weight, we must explore the why. Moms and Dads, especially dietitian moms/dads or parents working in health and wellness, need to be so careful of this. Instead, explore behaviors and emotions surrounding the foods.

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Questions to ask are:

  1. Is the individual eating beyond his/her physical cues?
  2. Are you or your child stressed and eating to numb yourself?
  3. Is your child not in tune with his/her internal regulation because you have restricted him/her and forbade all processed foods?
  4. Is your child skipping meals at school or is unable to feel full off of the school lunch?
  5. Is this weight healthy for me even though the doctor says differently?

 

Again, this is not about eating nutrient-dense foods. That is merely just one piece in the food puzzle.

 

The “beware of’s” can go on and on, but the most important concept to truly be cautioned against is that of “perfect eating.” There is no perfect eating. If you eat too healthy, it can be significant of anorexia or orthorexia. If you eat chaotically with no boundaries whatsoever, this too can be very unhealthy. Instead promote balance, listening to your internal physical needs, eating for fuel and for pleasure and health too! Eat real food when you can, but don’t go crazy over avoiding processed foods. Enjoy apples just as much as your cookies.

 

Below is a handout from the book Healthy Habits, which you can download.

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