Our relationship with food is broken: here’s how to fix it

Our relationship with food is broken: here's how to fix it

The most common dietary concerns among parents of young children relate to quantity and quality: they worry that their children aren’t eating enough or eating the wrong things, says Sarah Almond Bushell. “Sometimes it’s volume, other times it’s variety. Some children have a limited range of accepted foods and parents worry that they are not getting enough nutrients.”

On the other hand, some parents worry that their child will eat too much food. “Kids have a preference for sweet foods and often ask for them, which makes parents worry that they’re overweight,” she says.

The answer is surprisingly simple: trust them to know how much they want to eat. “It’s crucial to let them stop when they say they’re full,” he says. “Young children have great self-regulation when we don’t override it.”

Don’t ban “fun” foods.

However, Almond Bushell warns against the police. She often sees parents restricting their children’s diets and banning “fun” items such as sweets, chocolate, cookies and cakes, but this can often backfire.

“The side effect of restriction is fixation on restricted food, which can lead to overindulgence and children putting on extra weight,” she says.

“In the long run, we know that kids who had restrictions become teenagers and adults who feel guilty and ashamed when they eat foods they learned were off-limits. And restricting foods like chocolate or ice cream only serves to make them more desirable: young children will not be able to help themselves; they will exaggerate whenever the occasion presents itself”.

Follow a schedule

Routine is important for little ones and Almond Bushell advises giving “a rhythm to meals and snacks throughout the day so they are predictable.”

Choose foods for toddlers, but let them control them elsewhere

Parents should decide what’s on the menu, says the dietician, but an element of independence is also important: “Trust children to choose the order in which they eat their food.”

Encourage interest in all areas of food

Almond Bushell says this stage of life is also a good time to foster an interest in food, both making and eating it. “Get them involved with food shopping, cooking and self-service,” she says. “It’s about familiarizing children with the sensory experience of food.”

Avoid critical language about food and image

Rebecca Sparkes warns that the language we use when talking about food around our children is crucial. “Talk about ‘healthier options’ rather than ‘bad’ or ‘good’ foods,” says the psychotherapist. “Avoid describing people as ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ or talking about weight loss and dieting.

“Also, focus on talking to your children about their feelings and their emotional world. Being able to express emotions instead of drowning them with food or models of ‘treats’ something really important for they”.


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