by Kirsten Graves
Is there such a thing as too many veggies?
How can one eat too much fiber?
How can I make sure my child isn’t eating too much sugar to prevent diabetes?
What if my child gains too much weight?
These are all normal parental concerns that often creep into our minds. After all we want the best for our kids, whether it’s related to nutrition, health, sports, or academics! How do we disseminate information related to “healthy eating” and nutrition adequacy in a manner that does not promote a problematic relationship with nutrition or an eating disorder, especially in a society where “dieting” and vast “nutrition messages” are ever-so- prominent? It’s important to remember that nutrition education for children can be confusing and complicated. As adults we have the ability to understand and interpret complicated messages related to nutrition and health. A child’s learning and developmental stage often does not allow them to fully grasp abstract or complicated messages related to nutrition and health. This can lead to black and white thinking around food, exercise, and weight. In extreme cases, a child trying to “be healthy” can end up stunting their growth, developing a nutrient deficiency or malnutrition, and/or an eating disorder.
As parents we can promote a positive relationship with food and health at home by adapting or changing our own thinking related to health. Consider these tips:
Nutrition is important, but it’s not the end all be all. Health and disease are complicated topics that are multi-factorial. Accept a positive nutrition approach at home- one that allows for all foods, even daily sweets or “fun foods.” Do not label foods as “good or bad.” It’s true, there is no such thing as a “good or bad” food, but when we label food as such usually the “bad” foods become more powerful and our kids may tend to seek them out. When we adopt the mindset that “all foods fit” we are able to fuel our body from a variety of different foods that taste good, give us a mixture of nutrients, provide satiety, and even enjoyment!
Allow kids to be kids. It’s important to remember that kids have different nutrition needs than adults. Kids grow and develop at an accelerated rate, their bones and brain are working hard to get to their peak mass which will sustain them for the rest of their lives- this takes a lot of energy and micronutrients! We may often find ourselves amazed at a child’s appetite or how much food they are eating, but keep in mind how much work their body is doing in order to grow (and that’s not counting if they are active or participating in sports)! Avoid commenting or guiding your child
on how much to eat. They will stop when their body has had enough. Additionally, it’s normal for kids to have fun foods and desserts on a regular basis. They will desire less of them if these foods are not banned and are a normal part of every day eating.
Ditch the diet (and weight) talk at home. Have you ever considered how many negative food or body messages you hear on a day-to- day basis? These messages can linger with children and harm their relationship with their eating and body. If you or a family member are dieting or trying to change your body, avoid this discussion in front of your kids. Instead focus on the idea of health and health behaviors- getting good sleep, moving your body, limiting stress, eating a variety of foods, spending time with family, and doing activities that you enjoy. After all, these are the keys to success in our health and overall wellbeing! If you have noticed significant changes in your child’s eating such as: avoiding certain foods, talking excessively about food or health or their body, or have seen changes in their weight (gaining or losing) you may want to consider checking in with your healthcare professional about if these changes could lead to a problematic relationship with food or their body. For more information on supporting your child’s eating experience read more at: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org
Kirsten Graves, MS RD is a graduate level Registered Dietitian that works in the athletic department at UC Berkeley and has a private practice in Lafayette that specializes in the treatment of disordered eating, eating disorders, and sports nutrition for athletes.
For more information visit: www.KirstenGravesRD.com