How to model healthy eating to children

Salt Lake Tribune

How do we protect our children from eating disorders?

Although I was fairly young, I still remember that delicious plate of fresh-baked cookies presented by my precious grandmother as she asked, “Elizabeth, would you like one?”

Before I could answer and dive in for a taste of heaven, someone named “Mother” promptly blurted out on my behalf, “No, she doesn’t!” (In a way, Mom was right. . . . I didn’t want one. I wanted two or three.)

No doubt my mother had the best intentions. Perhaps you respond similarly for your children. You want them to be happy and embrace the best life has to offer. You want them to fulfill their dreams. And, you equate slim with success and fat with failure. So you “protect” them by monitoring what and when they eat for their own good.

For Adam and Eve, it was the forbidden fruit. For children, it’s cookies and candies and pop, oh my!

However, amidst the latest literature on eating disorders, we now know that the worst thing we do to our children’s relationship with food is restrict what they eat. Diets deprive.

The reality is that when kids are kept from indulging in their favorite foods, they are less able to control their eating when they do partake. The battle? Parents police and children cheat, eating when parents aren’t looking.

When we insist that children follow a strict food plan, ignore their own hunger and fullness cues, or deprive themselves of their desired foods, we send a powerful message that their brains and bodies cannot be trusted. The very act of disconnecting their ability to recognize and respond to hunger and satiety sets the stage for a lifetime of eating and weight problems.

Be a super model! Give your child the greatest gift by modeling “normal” eating habits to your family. Enjoy and appreciate what your body does for you every day regardless of size or shape.

Embrace physical activity because it feels great to do so!

Strive to fuel your own body with foods that make it run efficiently, not to achieve a certain physical appearance. Encourage eating all foods in moderation, rather than labeling particular foods “good” or “bad.” Don’t demonize desserts. Don’t diet. Dieting is not an innocent behavior – it alters brain chemistry.

Compliment children on their personal characteristics, not looks. Even positive comments about appearances give the impression that visual represents value.

Focus on healthy bodies, not thin bodies. The two don’t automatically go together. “Healthy” is defined by body shape, bone structure, number of fat cells and metabolism, all largely determined by genetics.

Talk with your child about the unrealistic images they see in magazines, on billboards and on TV, exposing the fact that the goal of advertisers is to make consumers insecure about their bodies so they will buy their products.

While my grandmother and dear mother are no longer with me, I’m thinking of them, smiling, and savoring every bite of a chocolate chip cookie made from a favorite family recipe. (I think I’ll have another!)

What do you think? How do we protect our children from eating disorders?