Family Stuff

“I am worried that my 13 y/o son eats too much; What do I do?”

wrote in one woman, after reading that my daughter had asked me to help her decrease her eating. She says that she is also worried about ‘creating an eating disorder’ but is not sure whether with her 13 year old son being always hungry, it is normal, when is it overeating, habit eating, or truly due to the growth spurts that boys and girls go through?  

I have mainly two things to say regarding this issue, coming from my own experience and that of other parents:

1) Kids who are going through, or about to go through puberty, depending on where they are at, they often gain weight. Girls, before they get their periods, can often appear ‘chunkier’ as their bodies prepare to menstruate. (Nutritionists say that they get the most referrals of girls when they are age 8-12 from anxious parents.)

Boys, before they go through their growth spurt, and actually grow taller, can also get chunkier. My rule of thumb has always been to not look too hard at my kids’ bodies and the changes they go through, but rather pay attention to their eating habits.

2) Boys frequently during their teenage years, seem to have an endless appetite. If they are overweight however, they aren’t burning it off, and it is possible that they are getting into the ‘habit’ of eating for the sake of other reasons than hunger. You can tell if it seems that they are eating for recreational purposes, or just getting into a habit of overeating, and simply remind them, that it seems they have had enough. Make sure they are getting enough protein, to help the muscle mass that they are growing, (it also helps keep blood sugars level), and remind them to check with themselves to see if they are eating because it tastes good, or because they are truly hungry. Give them the skill of WAITING’ to see if in a half hour they are still hungry. If so, they should eat more food. (Food that fuels their body and muscles, not just junk or sugar, that is for happy eating!)

Hunger in boys is not usually driven by hormones, (it certainly can be in girls, right? PMS and all of that), but often is driven by biology’s push toward growth. Even if they aren’t growing taller right away, they are probably about to. But it is always good to arm kids with the tools to be conscious about their eating.

Don’t let your fear of creating an eating disorder render you powerless: You are still their parents and can remind them how to take good care of themselves. Teaching them good eating habits is not just about the nutrition and providing them with healthy options, you can teach them to pay attention to their bodies and their behaviors with food.

I was nervous the other day when my daughter asked me for more direct help so that she could break some of her habit of recreational eating, as I call it, out of boredom, nerves, whatever; that repetitive habit of reaching for food that can create a pattern. She ended up feeling empowered as she said that it did the trick to help break a cycle she felt had started up. I was worried because I keep saying: “You don’t have to lose weight!” but she just wanted some help so that she could begin to build a skill on her own, and it seemed to do the trick. She is still eating, not depriving herself, and doesn’t seem overburdened or restrictive.

It is all about tools; one more in the toolbox can’t hurt.

“I Have an Easier Time Talking with my Kids about Sex than Food”

said one mom to me during our first consultation, after she had heard from her 7 year old’s pediatrician, that he was ‘obese’.  Her oldest son who was 10, had her husband’s body type; long and lean, and her second son had her body type.  ”I swore I would never do to my kids what my mother did to me; she put me on a diet when I was so young, and she was always telling what, when and how to eat.  But I am so worried about Devon and I know that he is starting to get teased at school.  I have no idea what to do!” 

This mom typifies so many parents whose food legacy includes a parent who was overly involved and critical of their own food.  As a result, they have been what I call:  ’under-involved’.  Paralyzed by fear that they will create an eating disorder, they don’t have any tools to help their kids who might have a body type or food style that lends itself to eating more than their body can metabolize.   Although this is a sensitive subject, and while you don’t want to get too overly involved or critical here, sometimes kids whose body doesn’t register fullness as quickly as their lanky, non-’foodie’ sibs, can end up eating more portions than they need.  

I try to stay away from depriving kids of their favorite foods, but rather try to educate them on how to take better care of their bodies. Here are some tips: 

1)  Tell your kids that they are the EXPERT on their body, they are the only ones who truly know how they feel from the inside, but they also have a job to do.  

 2) Their job is to be the best BODY DETECTIVE possible, to take good care of their bodies. Let them know that some bodies’ signals from the belly that tells the brain it is ‘DONE’, FULL, can be a whisper, it is softer than others, and takes longer to talk to hear.  

3) Teach them to WAIT, the half hour while you keep the food on the table so they see it is there.  If they are still hungry after that time, they can eat.  They need to eat FOOD, FOOD, not dessert to fill up if they are truly hungry, so have them eat another portion of the chicken, or veggies, fruit, and then have the dessert.  The dessert keeps their tongue and head happy, but not their body to kick the soccer ball, play nintendo, whatever your kids is most passionate about. 

4)  Again, remind them that ‘eating healthy’ is not just about what you eat, it is eating HOW MUCH your body can use.  If they see that they can still have their favorite foods, reminding them of their job to take good care and feed their body the other food groups it needs, they are less likely to struggle.  More likely to take this on as their responsibility and to experience it as critical. Have a matter of fact attitude. Don’t overlay your own anxiety or legacy of criticism.

Some kids need more involvement and connection and structuring than others.  Hang out during that half hour with your kid, let them feel like they are in control.  Don’t expect change right away, but within a few weeks, it is more likely that after the half hour, they will not insist that they are hungry.

 Lastly, teach your kids that some foods, like dessert, chips, salty things, don’t flip the ‘OFF SWITCH’.  It is only WAITING that flips it.  Then they can truly check in with their body and see what it wants.   Don’t be scared of the F-Word. This is not about changing their body type, If you adopt a ‘matter of fact attitude about their needing some ways to shift their ‘eating style’, you will teach them some tools and tricks for their lifetime that they can be in charge of.

“Back to packing Lunches”

Okay, it is official. The blah, winter doldrums have set in for me I think, and it is barely past New Year’s Day. All I can think about is how cold it is and how much longer it is going to be cold. The routines are back in place, and that of course, involves, mealtimes. Preparing food. Figuring out what to feed my family. Anyone out there here with me? I have to confess, that one of my least favorite parts of parenting is feeding my children. Ironic, given what I do, right? But there it is. I do wish they could feed themselves.

But I also notice that when I have the time to really spend preparing a well balanced, nutritious meal, that I feel fabulous. Sort of like SuperMom. I get it why moms obsess over what, when and how much their kids eat, it can make you feel so ‘complete’. (Visions of the 50′s housewife with the beautiful apron, and calm demeanor accompany the idyllic picture.)

Of course the reality is more challenging for working moms, or even stay at home moms when you want to have a hassle free mealtime. One kid is a vegetarian, one is a ‘meat-a-tarian. One is an athlete and growing an inch a minute, the other is trying to lose weight gained over the holidays. What is a Mom to do?! Makes me want to throw in the towel before I even start. But, given that this seems to be a simple fact of parenting life, I will offer up some tips to how I deal with the dilemma of the constant feeding and caring of children who demand different options:

1) Get them involved as much as possible. One week out of the month, they make the grocery list, they come with me or my husband to shop for the food and they help put it away. It inspires all of us. I notice that just buying food that they choose gets us all excited about at least one or two meals. Each of them gets to choose a meal a week.

2) Pick one benign meal that the family can eat, and for the picky eaters, let them choose one meal that they can prepare for themselves. (For the older kids, it can be something they prepare without too much hassle, for the younger ones, have it be something they can get for themselves in the fridge.) The simple act of them getting and doing it for themselves, if you can stay out of it, helps them to take some responsibility and appreciate feeding themselves. Also frees you from getting pissed off when they hate what you have prepared. Obviously, the choice cannot just be a dessert but it is not unreasonable to have something like fruit salad. The rule is that it has to have some redeemable nutritional value.

3) Make room for ‘silly suppers’. Popcorn, cereal, waffles for dinner. Reverse the usual order. If it is a cold winter night and you all crave some comfort food, go for it.

And as always, in parenting, pick your battles. Find the rules around safety and health that are vital, important, stick to them, and be reasonable. Challenge your kids to do some of the work. And then of course, there is always ‘take-out’. Happy Eating.

“So, how DO you get your kid to eat veggies?!”

Everyone keeps asking me: “So how do you get them to take responsibility for feeding themselves well through life?

Okay, let’s get real here. Number one, most parents of toddlers are just trying to get through the day without thinking of the ‘rest of their life’. Yes, yes, I know. I remember those days. In any case, I am a big believer in getting kids to take some responsibility in whatever small ways they can. Kids love to be the expert on things, and I always teach them that they are the experts on their own body. I believe this to be true, because in fact, they are the only ones who can tell, I say to them, how they are feeling ON THE INSIDE. HOW HUNGRY OR HOW FULL THEY MAY BE, AND WHAT THEIR BODY MIGHT BE ASKING FOR. That said however, they do need to take good care of this body. It is THEIR NUMBER ONE JOB. You can put the food in front of them, but they have to eat it, and eat well when they are off on playdates, at school, and on and on.

This to me, is the non-negotiable. In the same way that you keep them safe and they have to wear seat belts, they need to learn to take good care of their body. With responsibility, and growing up, comes the good stuff too. That they love. They love to feel proud of themselves that they are doing a good job. So put it on them. Teach them how. Teach them about eating things they need and why. Don’t make it vague like: “It keeps you healthy”. They could care less and can’t connect to that. But will it help them get to the top rung of the ladder of the big slide? Will it help them run that last bit on the soccer field when every muscle is screaming to stop?! Or even concentrate to play one last game of nintendo? (Protein keeps blood sugar levels stable and concentration levels high.) Set limits as you would with any safety issue. Don’t worry that it is around food, and that you will create a problem. Have a matter of fact attitude and set limits if they are behaving irresponsibly.

SO, please help up your kids’ motivation to take good care of their bodies. Get them to take the responsibility they can. BUT, your job as the parent, is to really make sure that when you think they are not getting what they need to nutritionally, that this is really the case. Write things down for two weeks, and really look. In fact, they may be getting more than you think. Even in just the three or four things they will eat. Try to make sure that if you are concerned, you really know what you are concerned about. As I always say: “What is the problem, and whose problem is it?” Then you can figure out what to do.

“Does Practice need to make Perfect?”

Practice, practice, practice. The old line to perfect a skill. Parenting however, certainly takes practice, but too often, we think that we have to be perfect. I think about this when I meet with moms who struggle with their Picky Eaters. I find that one of the things they struggle with the most, (asides from worrying that their child will never grow up to enjoy food and that they will be unhealthy), is that they themselves, as Moms, must be failing somehow, if their child won’t eat what they prepare, or if they eat a very narrow range of things. That somehow as mothers, we are failing if our kids eat in a particular way that worries us. One of the most important things i think we need to learn as parents, is that we cannot control everything. That we will sometimes disappoint our kids; disappoint ourselves, not be perfect. That no matter how hard you try to get your kid to eat in a certain way, they may put up a battle, or thwart you. There are lots of things to try, and hundreds of books out there that will tell you how to ‘get it right’. Along all of this trying however, (which is useful to do, and everyone finds what works for them or doesn’t work, ) is facing the fact that Parenting IS practice. Sort of like yoga practice. It is never perfect, we can always make mistakes, and most importantly, there is alot more margin for error than we think. In fact, all we can do is keep trying. In the very trying, our kids learn how to be honest with themselves, real, and successful, because they see us trying, failing, sometimes getting it right. And they learn. So the next time you find yourself angsting over your picky eater despite the doctor telling you they are completely healthy and thriving, Try to let this thought nourish you: You are being the best mom ever, by learning to handle that they sometimes don’t do exactly what you think they need to do, and it is not a reflection of you as a Mom. Good job, Mom

What do we say as mothers, when our daughters say: “I look fat!”

The F-word, I am calling it now. The dreaded F-word. Even if you have trained yourself to never ever utter those words in front of your longsuffering boyfriend or husband, or are still stuck in that place of discharging your anxiety and expecting to be reassured when they say back, (as they are trained, with an inward roll of their eyes: “Of course, you don’t look fat!”, when your daughter first utters those words, you will be at a loss. “What do I say?!” “How can I reassure her how beautiful she is and make sure she doesn’t develop an eating disorder?!” Anything you think to say feels like a trap. Reassurance feels like a temporary balm, just like when your husband in the rote way he may have developed by now says back: “Of course you don’t look fat, baby!” (Or, in the film, The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the daughter says back to her Mom: “If anything, you look a bit too thin!” We can laugh about it amongst ourselves, but when our daughters start saying this, we really can be at a complete loss.
My tip: It is pure anxiety, and self-consciousness and some kids, like adults, are more self-conscious earlier on, and more anxious than others. Find a way to limit the comment, don’t fall into the trap of responding in any way, and see if you can target what they seem to be nervous about. Sometimes you just have to limit it, keep them moving forward. Don’t let them get stuck. That is how you will help them learn to deal with anxiety and not get into the trap. Of course, sometimes you also get sucked in, after all, we are certainly not perfect! Like I always say: Perfect is “for the most part”. Try for a bit more, and you will be surprised at what can happen.

“Do I Look Fat?”

The moment I found out that my first child was a girl, (after I fantasized about the cute clothing I would get to dress her in,) was: “What would raising a girl be like? What would I do differently, or the same as my Mom had done?” Thirteen years later (and two girls in addition later,) the issues that come up are endless, of course. I hear from moms with boys that they are different, not as complicated, not as emotional. So of course, the first day my oldest daughter said: “I look fat in these pants”! I was horrified. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? And here I am, the professional! I certainly don’t have all the answers, (some!) but I do want to start to hear from you guys out there: “What do you worry about?” Let’s start a forum on this important issue that many women, girls, fathers, boys, struggle with. How do you maintain a sense of humor about it all? Let’s face the new F-word, and I promise I will give you great tips and strategies in the coming months