In the time I’ve been practicing nutrition I’ve become a mother twice (three times if we count Bronco). I’ve seen clients have children and younger children grow up. I’ve had clients refer their parents to me and of course parents “urge” children, of all different ages, to start Foodtraining. The weight dynamic within families is something Carolyn and I spend a lot of time sorting out.
Last week, I read a letter a father submitted to Social Q’s in the Times. His letter opened with “my 9-year-old daughter is fat” ouch, no mincing words with that sentence. The father felt his daughter was old enough for a dialog about making good choices and indicated that his wife disagreed. “She worries about the effect on our daughter’s self-esteem.” Philip Galanes blasted the father in his response. He pointed out the father’s bluntness, lack of apparent love and interest in how his daughter’s weight reflected on him. He warned this father that he would increase the chances of developing an eating disorder. While I cannot think of many things worse than telling a child they’re “fat” I feel many parents are so scared of “creating an eating disorder” that they often say nothing. While cruel, critical parents can fuck children up – ignoring food and weight has its own consequences.
You are likely “that kind of parent”
Every parent who calls my office opens with “I’m not one of those crazy parents”. Of course they are, we all are. Most parents worry and don’t always say things in the best way, our thoughts aren’t always pure. Do some work (perhaps with your own expert) to sort out how your “stuff” around food affects your parenting. Did you have a parent that was weight obsessed? Or critical? Have you struggled with body image and want to shield your children from the same? Are you embarrassed to have a chubby child? You must be clear on this in order to really help your children.
Cook and teach your children to cook (or assemble)
There are few things better for kids and teens than home cooking. Not only is home-cooked food overall healthier, it’s less salty and sweet and doesn’t invite overeating as takeout or restaurant food does. And whether it’s putting peanut butter on a banana or making an omelet, simple cooking skills will encourage children reaching for healthier items versus packaged snacks. And do what you can, if this can only happen on the weekends, that’s a start. If the person cooking with your child is a babysitter or grandparent- that’s totally fine.
The exact same advice will be interpreted differently depending on who it comes from. Whether it’s a nutritionist, psychologist or doctor (though I have to say many pediatricians are a bit too cut and dry when discussing weight for my taste), it’s best that someone else suggests steps to take. Parents can support the advice provided by an expert.
And finally, choose honesty over political correctness
With everything our children are exposed to do you really think you can avoid the weight/size topic? If you’ve struggled with your weight, discuss this with your children. Ask your children how they feel about their size (height, weight etc.) and depending on their response ask if they want help making changes.
And, for the record, I have a weight issue in my midst. Bronco is overweight. And my babysitter gets upset with me with I call the Boston Terrier “fat”.