When it comes to healthy eating habits, it’s essential to focus on balance and trust rather than strict rules or restrictions – which for many of us, is the exact opposite of the way we were raised.
Amelia Sherry, registered dietitian/nutritionist and the author of Diet-Proof Your Daughter, is joining me today to talk about ways parents can make this mindset shift in order to support and nurture their child’s healthy relationship to food.
Throughout today’s episode, we’ll explore the role parents play in shaping a child’s body image and feelings toward food, and offer you some practical tips for fostering healthy eating habits and reducing mealtime power struggles with your own children.
Maybe our child’s eating has changed for some outside reason, like maybe that’s how they’re dealing with a new stressor in their life. And maybe instead of focusing on the food, we can focus on what is actually going on with them emotionally. Cause it’s very common to turn to food for emotional reasons.
Dr. Sarah (00:21):
When it comes to healthy eating habits, it is essential to focus on balance and trust rather than strict rules or restrictions. However, for many of us, this is the exact opposite of the way we were raised. And this mindset shift along with a lifetime of growing up in a world that equated weight with self-worth can really be a major hurdle for parents, especially mothers. And to have to confront all of this while also trying to nurture our child’s relationships to food can be a tall order. Joining me today is Amelia Sherry. She’s a New York-based registered dietician and nutritionist and she’s the author of the book Diet Proof Your Daughter. Throughout today’s episode, we’re going to explore the role the parents play in shaping a child’s body image and their feelings towards food. And we’re going to offer you some practical tips for fostering healthy eating habits with your own children.
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Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hello everybody. Welcome. Today we have an amazing guest, Amelia Sherry is here to talk to us all about diet, proofing our relationships with our kids. She has an amazing book called Diet Proof Your Daughter: A Mother’s Guide to Raising Girls Who Have Happy, Healthy Relationships with Food and Body. And we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to be talking about our own stuff around food and there’s just so much going on right now, whether it’s social media or looking at the changing styles of clothing and all the buzz that’s getting, I just think there’s a lot of attention on bodies. I think there always has been, but as mean as a mom of both a boy and a girl, I’m very aware of how that comes into play with my relationships with my kids. And you’ve got three and so I’m sure a lot about this too in real life. So first of all, welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.
Thank you. I’m so excited to talk to you.
Dr. Sarah (04:34):
And do you want to maybe just start out by introducing kind of like your story, how you got into this work and what led you to write this book?
Sure, I’ll try to do, excuse me, abbreviated version of it. I am a registered dietician, I specialize in pediatrics, but that is a sort of second or maybe even a third career for me. I’m in my late forties. I initially started working at in women’s magazines as a health and nutrition writer, and I came to that because I had been dieting since the time I was in middle school, very focused on trying to eat perfectly and have the perfect body and it did kind of fuel this interest in writing about it and being in women’s magazines of course. And eventually I healed my relationship with food and then I went on to go back to school to become a nutritionist. I wanted to work with people more one-on-one, though not in eating disorders. I was becoming a mother at the time and I was very interested in pediatrics and I ended up in pediatric endocrinology, which if you’re not familiar, I was basically as a dietician there helping kids at either end of the weight and growth spectrum.
So either kids who were in larger than maybe average bodies or kids who were being referred to endocrinology because of their BMI. And then kids who were in smaller than average bodies or had what weight centric medicine calls too low BMI. So it just was complicated to figure out how to talk to them and their parents about food. And I started to sort of see what moms in particular were struggling with and dads, but moms just tended to come to the visits a lot more often and it took my own sort of healing with my relationship with food. And so now that’s what I specialize in.
Dr. Sarah (06:28):
Ugh, I think there’s such a need for this because like you said, what did you call it? Weight centric medicine?
Dr. Sarah (06:35):
I think that we’ve all been touched by weight centric medicine. I mean if you look at parents right now, I guess, let’s see, I’m 38 and I’m technically a millennial, I’m right on that cusp. But I feel like when I was growing up, it was unrelenting, the kind of, and I didn’t even have social media right there. This was just in the tablet, the magazines, you go to the grocery store and there’s 15 magazines just sitting there being like F fit or fat or circling celebrities, cellulite and look how skinny she got and oh, she’s skinnier than her. And all of these messaging constantly in commercials in every which way TV shows, it was everywhere. And so I don’t know anybody who grew up around the time I did that doesn’t have it, some story about feeling like there was a ton of attention on bodies and either directly or indirectly their body.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think that I’m a decade or so older than you and I felt it as well from magazines. My mother felt it, she was in Weight Watchers for decades and very focused on appearance, just felt like you were most obligated to be, I think in order to be part, that’s part of being a woman. And I think now magazines obviously aren’t as popular, but social media is even more nebulous and sort of powerful because of the way that it responds to our interests. So for example, I actually talk about in my book, so I was very into magazines as I mentioned, I would see all those images that you were describing be like instead of rejecting them, I think yes, I want to learn how to perfect the way I look just like these magazines. I didn’t have obviously a discernment to say this is ridiculous.
But as a magazine, you know, look through a few pages, you close it, it’s over as say a teenager, but with social media you see an image and it’s response to you. So imagine if I were in a magazine and I lingered on a page that was telling me how to get thinner thighs and then the magazine responded by showing me more and more images of women with thinner thighs or then a workout for how to get my thighs thinner. It just would be so much more worse, difficult to escape. So I think about that and that being what our kids, girls and boys are up against in terms of using social. And it’s powerful and we need to understand it, right?
Dr. Sarah (09:27):
Yeah, the algorithms really add a whole layer of complexity to this that because I’ve actually, it’s funny cause I’ll talk a lot of my patients or my, I’m working with people who I work with a lot of parents. I also work with a good amount of kids but, and some younger adults. But I will often say, you know, really want to try to audit your algorithm as much as you can because what we don’t really realize, this is a total tangent, but it’s I think important because, and relevant is like you said, the algorithm. When we linger on something, the algorithm presumes we will want more of that content and we’ll continue to show us more and more of that content. But the problem is we linger on things that we also also linger on things because it elicits unpleasant feelings in us or shame or fear or sadness or all kinds of not so good feelings.
This is also really true in trauma, we sometimes freeze on images that are connected to our trauma. And so the problem with that is the algorithm does not understand if we’re lingering because we want more of it or we’re lingering because we’re kind of really overwhelmed by it. And so we can inadvertently create an algorithm that is highly triggering for us. And so I tell people, you can go in and if you’re seeing do an audit every once in a while of the stuff that you’re getting shown and check in, do I want to be seeing this? And if you don’t, you can go in and say, don’t show me things like this or show me less of this. So you can manually override the algorithms like whatever it is that they’re doing to assess because can really, the impact both consciously and unconsciously is really profound of seeing this stuff all the time.
So in doing a social media audit with our teens or pre-teens is so important. We do this, I do this in session quite a bit, really teaching them one of the skills to be really critical and a conscientious consumer of social media is looking through accounts. The way I do an audit is also having the other person reflect on how each account is making them feel. So one is what is the purpose? Why am I following this person? Is it education, entertainment or connection? Say for a friend for example, social reasons, making sure there’s a reason it isn’t just something that was recommended to you and now you’re blindly following it caught your interest without thinking. So we want to be really specific and intent with what we’re following and then also really reflect on how these images or accounts are making us feel. So hey, how do you feel after we go through so-and-so’s feed for example, and teaching our, I work with mothers and help them sort of teach their daughter.
Sometimes I do with their daughter directly, but teaching them to be aware of how the account’s making them feel. So if it is a negative experience, then there’s no reason to follow this account. Social media is here to serve us. It’s supposed to be a tool, it’s supposed to make life better and enhance things, not make us not hurt us. So we have to be very aware of what we’re looking at, even as an adult. I always empathize too with the girls I work with, even as an adult, that’s hard to do and we’re all just really new to this and adults do it, we do it to ourselves as well. Compare ourselves maybe less so with body, maybe that’s the issue. But other things, career, vacations, trips, things like that. So we too have to be aware of how it’s impacting us and really cut out the things that aren’t positive influences for us or educational, for example.
Dr. Sarah (13:33):
Yeah, yeah. I’m curious too, sort of pivoting, because I know a lot of the people listening are parents, they may not have teens, they might, but a lot of our listeners have much younger kids and I know I’m always saying everything we do is laying the groundwork for later. So having these intentional strategies now when your kids are really little can really, this is the time. If you haven’t done this and you have a teenager, you can deal with that as well. But if you have really little kids, now is the time. If you’re listening to this and be like, well I don’t have a teenager so I don’t have to worry about this. It’s like, no, actually now is exactly the time to be thinking about this. Can you talk a little bit about positive food parenting and this idea of laying the groundwork for these healthy relationships from food early on?
Sure, absolutely. Going back to the social media, one way you can prepare is by doing it on yourself because getting those skills on yourself and realizing how you’re using it so that when it is time, when your daughters on, your child gets older, you do know, oh, this is how I use it in a positive way. But back to food, I love that we keep using the word intentional because what the framework I use with the parents I work with, it’s called the intentional feeding mindset. And so I work with mothers and daughters primarily and the intention, we need to be really intentional and recognize the threat of, or the danger risk of disordered eating and eating disorders and sort of approach how we’re thinking about food, talking about food, parenting around food with really one major intention is to prevent the disordered eating. And so being a aware of diet culture influences is one way of doing that. I have a whole framework that I use with five points and we work together on those different areas. So some in session I’ll like recognize there’s one area that is really sticky and challenging and what do we all do in that case, things that are hard we tend to shy away from and go for easy things.
So those parts that are tricky, those are the ones that we tend to lean into. Would you like to know some of the things we work on in terms of Yeah, that would be super interesting. Yeah, so one of the main things is trust, building trust with our children in food, we really want to learn how to trust our child to listen to their body and eat as much or as little as they need to at any given time. So this can be really challenging if we are having trouble trusting ourselves with food. If we feel that we can’t be trusted around food or certain foods or we need to limit food foods or if we have a lot of fear about different foods, be it because of potential for weight gain or even health concerns, which sometimes override now too, even if we’re able to put the weight stuff to the side.
So a way to lay the groundwork of just first to be acknowledged, are you interfering with your child’s ability to figure out how much or how little, for example, saying you haven’t had enough or you’ve had too much and if that’s resonating with any parent and you’re cringing right now, we all do it even though I know not to do it. It still comes out of my mouth now and again, but when you understand that teaching your child to listen to you instead of their own body is not something we want to do that’s just reading a diet book or getting information from a magazine or following an eating trend, we really want them to be self-aware and internally regulated. So building a lot of trust in our child and if it’s challenging for us, we might want to reflect, my book includes a lot of reflection, so why is it challenging?
Do we trust ourselves around food? What’s been our history? Were we parented in a way where our parent was limiting us a lot or commenting that we had a big appetite sort of in a negative way? And it goes the other way too, not maybe our parent didn’t trust us eat enough and we were constantly being criticized, we’re too thin. Many parents I work with have kids two totally different eaters with different issues as well and we might notice we’re treating one way and the other another way. So that’s just one, one of the five. Yeah. What do you think about that?
Dr. Sarah (18:00):
Well it’s interesting because I see this happen a lot with parents who perhaps are like, I’m not worried about my child’s weight at all, but I still feel like I’m directing their eating. And so I think the parents who are very aware of their child’s weight because either they feel like their child’s weight is too high or their child’s weight is too low and they’re getting messages from the pediatrician that they need to modify their diet in some way. That is obviously a challenge for parents because that level of anxiety around mealtime now is very present, right? Oh my god, as a parent, I mean perhaps there’s even this background noise in your head, I’m failing at my child and now I need to really get better at being the parent that feeds and nourishes my child in the right way. And so that obviously I can see how that brings a ton of anxiety to mealtime, which I would love to hear your thoughts on how do we manage that anxiety?
But I see so many parents who they’re not coming to me for anything related to mealtime stuff other than power struggles. It’s not that their kids need more or less, which I know we could probably articulate differently because they probably don’t need more or less, they need to, like you said, they need to be able to know their internal cues better and respond to them with more accuracy and how do we build that? But I’m curious too cause I know there’s people here who are listening who are like, I just don’t, my kid, I made all this food and they’re not eating it, they’re not, it’s mealtime and they need to sit down and know what we do at mealtime and they only want to eat the mashed potatoes, but they won’t touch their broccoli and they only want chicken nuggets. And I keep, sometimes it’s feel like a short order cook, I’m making 15 different things and they won’t eat anything and then I’m just getting frustrated. How do we break out of this cycle? Because I don’t think it’s about the food in these situations. I think it’s about the relationship and the power dynamic and the attention.
Yeah. So one thing I always say is never ever get in a power struggle with your child over food. This is something that you really want to avoid as much as possible. And I say that first of all, it is really stressful. So as a parent I’m telling you we don’t want to do that. It will be less stressful for you as well. You do not need to be micromanaging your child’s food and we don’t need to get in a power struggle over it. We all need to relax a little bit. And one way that we can help our child with their eating is to really understand the parts that we can want to lean into and sort of parent with and the parts that we should really lean out with and let our child kind of figure out on their own. One of those things is like you mentioned, not liking, doesn’t want to eat the greens but wants to eat the, I don’t know, starches, I can’t remember that.
That’s typical but I can’t remember exactly example you gave. Remember your child is what I like to call developing eating skills just like any other skills. So they will develop and come to these things in time and we just need to be there to offer a variety of foods but not necessarily demand that they like and eat certain things. One reason being that first of all, if your child’s growing and developing, normally they’re eating well, we again don’t need to micromanage everything that they’re putting in their mouth. If you’re doing your job as a parent and offering meals at regular intervals that are appropriate for their age more frequently for younger and maybe less frequently for older then and offering variety to best, the best that you can given how busy you are, what resources you have, that is enough, you are doing great food parenting.
From there we want to lean out and let our child figure out how much or how little and also what they like and don’t, just an analogy I use with this eating skills is like you need to trust that your child’s going to come along with it over time and approach it with a positive attitude, sort of an attitude of expecting success. The analogy I use a lot in the workshops I do is when your child is learning to walk every time they sort of made an attempt or move forward with it, we celebrate and got excited and we didn’t dwell on any mistakes or trips or falls or even if they weren’t doing it fast enough, we just sort of expected that they would get it over time. And that’s a really good attitude to have with food as well in time when they will start learn to eat a variety as long as we keep it, the atmosphere at meals consistent and positive.
So that’s another reason we don’t want to show up and have a lot of anxiety and feel like, oh gosh, now we’re going to have a battle here and fight over what they need to eat or don’t eat because then it becomes the child loses their own confidence in themselves. We have a term called eating confidence. They feel less confident, they show up to the table feeling worried, anxious or just feeling like bad. And that is not conducive to learning how to eat variety, eating in tune with your actual body sensations and appetite. So being a little more with foods is really important. Avoiding those struggles and having more faith and that your child is going to grow with their eating. Maybe they’re not going to love kale or whatever it is right now or even when they’re 15 or 16, but if we have a positive attitude about it and keep exposing these, the variety over time they will. There’s a good chance they may like it, they might not love it, maybe they’ll start to eat it later because they’re familiar with it or it’s available, but there’s no reason that they need to just start right out of the gate eating all this variety and all these different, what’s often kind of unfamiliar to them and can be very challenging.
Dr. Sarah (24:30):
Yeah, that’s helpful I think because I think one, I know that power struggles over mealtime is super common and so if you are having them, I think it can feel very permission giving to say, I don’t have to do this. It’s okay if I serve a plate full of chicken and broccoli and mashed potatoes and the only thing that they eat is mashed potatoes, that that’s okay. How do we help ourselves as parents not go into that spiral of how is that okay, but why is it okay to teach them that I did all this work and you’re not going to respect it. Is it okay to teach them that you don’t have to eat your vegetables, that there are certain foods that are, they come first and other foods come later. I think these are a lot of myths that are very common and very understandable. I think we all really it, they’re counterintuitive to sort of say, I don’t have to think that way. How do you help parents navigate that?
Well, the first thing is really sussing out what is their job and what’s the child’s job. So it’s their job to offer a variety of food, offer the food consistently and be at regular intervals and make it a positive environment. And so if you’re doing your job, you can then let your child do the job that they need to do, which is eat as much or as little in terms of them not eating variety. We have so many, our culture just approaches foods as from what I call fear base or it’s a fear base avoidance and we have so much pressure on us that we need to eat certain foods, but what we want to do is think about developing that variety over time. If your child isn’t eating a lot of vegetables, for example, for a few months or maybe even a few years, that is not defining their entire health or how they’re going to eat for the rest of their lives, we always want to think about to help parents relax and to not engage in those power struggles and remind them what their jobs are is to keep offering different foods and to model eating them.
Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on our kids that then we realize we don’t even really want to eat this, right? It’s not our favorite. So recognizing that and being empathetic, maybe thinking of different ways to prepare things and that are more acceptable to yourself or your child. But thinking one thing is to always think too over the long term we really want to solve for your child having a positive relationship with food over the long term. Not just focusing on getting them to eat something at this meal or during this six months where they maybe dropped a food. We want to think again, just making this positive, showing them that they can trust us to provide the food at regular times and come to that table and have a positive experience. That’s something we want them to have over time so that they can continue to do what I call also just good self-care by feeding themselves regularly, reliably and being kind of relly more relaxed and less fearful, if that makes sense.
Dr. Sarah (27:56):
And that fear I imagine is amplified when your kid is higher on the weight spectrum or lower on the weight spectrum. Do these strategies still apply for those circumstances or do you modify them at all?
Yeah, so when parents come to me and their child is sort of following their curve, this is easier. It can put a lot of these fears to rest by just saying, let’s look at the curve. Your child’s growing developing normally, even though they haven’t been eating carrots and I don’t know enough fiber for the past four years, but that’s okay because they’re growing normally they’re d, they have positive relationships, they’re doing well in school, all the things they’re getting and they’re doing well, right? We don’t want to drop it and just not who cares what they eat and give up our job as a parent by being a responsible provider. But we can also relax that they’re doing really well with eating, but it can be more challenging when our child’s, their BMI or their body weight is just changing in ways that are unexpected.
Either dropping off the curve or so what we call pulling up sort of gaining more weight than they were in relation to their height. So in those cases it is a lot more complicated, but it’s still, these things actually still do apply in terms of figuring out what’s our job and what’s their job. Sometimes there are different parts of food parenting that maybe we could be doing better. For example, if we’re overly worried about weight gain, we might start to restrict or limit either certain foods or amounts and that can actually exacerbate the problem by driving the child to be more focused on food because they’re going to get anxious. So that could be one thing. Another thing could just be maybe we are stressed out, we haven’t been off showing up for meals or paying attention, maybe giving our child too much responsibility with food.
Maybe our child’s eating for their eating has changed for some outside reason. Maybe that’s how they’re dealing with a new stressor in their life and maybe instead of focusing on the food, we can focus on what is actually going on with them emotionally. Cause it’s very common to turn to food for emotional reasons, which is okay. I talk a lot about in my book, emotional eating makes sense. Food is emotional and help us feel good and deal with stress or happiness. But when we’re doing that chronically over the long term and not dealing with the underlying problem that’s problematic and all these things being underweight or overweight or having our weight start to drop or increase is something to note, but it doesn’t necessarily, it absolutely I should say does mean we come in as parents and provide more rules. We need to figure out what change with eating and address that and not address their actual eating habits. It sounds very strange coming from a dietician, but that is my approach. And so we do a lot of digging, of course.
Dr. Sarah (31:07):
Yeah, that makes, actually makes, I mean coming from my background in psychology and behavior, that makes so much sense actually because I think like you said, when you hyperfocus on the problem quote, you can’t see me quoting, but the problem, that’s what everything starts to get. That part of our whatever we attend to gets amplified and like you said, we want to reflect to our children, our confidence that they can handle this, that they can have a healthy relationship to food, that feeding and eating can be positive, that mealtimes can be relaxed and fun and playful and pleasant. And when our kids get that messaging from us, not just explicitly, but we have to walk the walk and show up calmly and show up in a way that is not countering the words that we’re saying, then we have more space to deal with the bigger issues outside of the moment.
Because I like say with everything, whether it’s behavior issue or power struggle or anxiety, whatever it is, the nine times out of 10 what we have to do is going to happen outside of the heat of the moment. It’s not. So if times, if the problem is related to eating meal mealtimes actually aren’t the time to address it. It’s counterintuitive, but it really makes sense. Just like if your kid is having an absolute meltdown because they just hit their and lost everything, that’s not the time to actually do the disciplining. The discipline needs to happen in a different space from that heat of the moment. And so not that this is about discipline necessarily as much, but it’s the strategy building for us how we’re going to strategize around supporting our kids in a different way has to happen when we’re calm. Implementing new plans and behavioral approaches has to happen outside of the heat of the moment. So it does sound counterintuitive at first, but when you really look at it in the context of the bigger picture, I actually think it makes so much sense.
I mean it could put me out of business because, but as I work a lot more with mindset and what I call eating behaviors than actual nutrition, in fact I encourage parents to simplify nutrition. So when there is a problem, like you said with food, it isn’t about the food, it’s other things. We want to focus less on actually what the child is eating and more on what is driving the behaviors and what’s going on in the background and why they’re reluctant to try things or why they might be eating more than they really feel comfortable that with. And that definitely is not going to happen often directly with the child at all. And it is definitely going to happen away from the table and a lot of what goes wrong, unfortunately our culture is related to concerns about overly concerned about body weight. And even when we say we are not concerned about weight, a lot of us typical then start to say, well we’re worried about health. And that interferes as well too.
Dr. Sarah (34:25):
Yeah. Can you talk more about that? I know, I mean I do this too. You said I know all the quote rules about okay, don’t make your kid eat three more bites and don’t say you have to do this before you can have dessert or all that stuff. But I still hear myself saying it all the time because I’m like, it’s just really hard to not micromanage. But I also think there is this kind of confusing balance of, on the one hand I know, and I know a lot of parents know we’re not supposed to refer to foods as good or bad or healthy or unhealthy, or maybe we do want to teach them about health. How do we find that balance? We want to help our kids have healthy boundaries around an understanding about nutrition, but we don’t want to scare them into becoming hyper-focused on it either so or so what do we do?
Yeah, for sure. So some of the things go back to also just checking our own bias, fear and that avoidance of certain foods. All foods have nutrition, all foods can fit. We don’t actually need to be as fearful of our kids eating things that we might have been told over and over and over is unhealthy. For example, sugar or fats. Our kids can eat these things and we can eat these things too in smaller amounts, but we don’t need to tell our child as even especially young children that we need to avoid this and start instilling fear in them. That is a higher a responsibility of an older child and a parent doesn’t need to get into that with young children. I recommend just keeping nutrition very simple. We don’t even need to discuss it unless they actually ask us about it. But what we can do is be mindful of what we’re bringing in our home and what we’re offering at meals.
So instead of saying having some ice cream in the fridge and then your child’s asking for an answer for it and we’re saying, oh no, but you can’t eat it, you can only eat a little bit. You can only have so much. That’s really not helpful. And it’s so hard because we get into a food struggle. Maybe we want to have ice cream in the home and offer it alongside a meal or as a dessert occasionally and letter child, that’s where we want to stand out. And if they need five scoops of it, then they need five scoops in that particular night to feel good about it. If we allow that over time with most kids, I mean most kids will be able to, some it’s going to take longer and some it’s going to happen more quickly. They’ll get satiated and bored of it and then they know next time they can have the freedom to eat as much or as little as they want.
That’s actually a great skill. That’s part of being a competent eater. We call that, again, we’ve been talking about a lot, but internal regulation, that is a much better skill to teach your child than teaching them that sugar’s bad. And ice cream isn’t something is only sometimes food and we can’t eat it often, which is very abstract. It’s very fear-based and it’s not actually even true. Your child ice cream even has calcium in it and vitamin D and we don’t need to only eat one half cup of it in order to be like a healthy eater, for example.
Dr. Sarah (38:03):
Yeah, no, and I think it’s a real mind, but kind of going back to what we were talking about at the very beginning of this episode is most parents come from this highly, highly amplified diet culture growing up where there was a ton of really explicit messaging around foods being good and bad and are worth being connected to our size. And I think that’s still happening today. I think it’s a lot more diluted and it’s not as explicit as it may have been when we were growing up, but it was everywhere. And so I think if you grew up in that and it’s really ingrained and no, no, no, there are some foods that are bad and if you eat it, you will get fat and being fat is bad. It’s really hard to break that. And I think it’s interesting cause I am so curious and maybe people can write in and let me know, but if you’re listening to this and you’re like cringing at this idea of I could give my kid five scoops of ice cream and that’s not unhealthy and that’s okay. And what does that have to break inside of my schema? How much does that mess with my blueprint on what’s okay and what’s not okay? And perhaps that says less about our child and more about us and what we have to just reflect on and perhaps unlearn. What are your thoughts on that?
This is the core of what is my book is about. Hate to just keep referencing my book cause it’s not helpful, but yeah, absolutely. What is going to happen if your child eats five scoops of ice cream? I mean I know I’ve done that or a whole pint of ice cream. I mean, what is going to really hurt them is to have them to start being just worried and eat ice cream and then feel terrible about it. Remorseful, guilty. Actually ice cream has a lot of nutrition in it. It’s high calorie, it has calcium, vitamin D, et cetera. If you’re really uncomfortable with the idea of your child eating a lot of ice cream, what we would ask is why, what is the fear? Why do you feel like you can’t trust them to eat it? And honestly, many first people will usually start with, well, it’s just not healthy.
And then we have to go into a big conversation. What is health to you? What does that mean? Because that’s very vague and honestly underline because of the culture we live in. Honestly, what is under that very often is weight, fear of weight gain. And that is a huge conversation that we need to have. What if your child did gain weight? What? First of all, kids have a natural ability to maintain their weight. When we allow them to eat what in amounts that are good for them, they’re very predictable. Most children develop, grow in very predictable ways. So is that fear what, but if they did gain weight or if they are in a larger body, what is the problem with that? These are huge questions they call into value. Are you following a whole chapter on influence in my book? Is this something that you’re being a fear that is coming from outside you, a fear from health culture from diet culture is or what are we really afraid of by allowing them to eat these certain foods, especially in the absence of any particular disease, if they don’t have a reason to be watching carbs like type one diabetes or high cholesterol, so maybe they shouldn’t be eating a food with high fat.
Then there’s what is the real fear? What of letting them sort of go for it and figure it out? Yeah, ice cream’s delicious, but if you eat a pint of it every night and I don’t tell you how I know or five pints over time, it becomes really a lot less desirable. And that’s sometimes a lesson you need to let your child learn. This is all in the context too though of what I teach in terms of positive food parenting is we do need to provide structure for our kids. So we and rules. So we’re not going to say, okay, just go for it. Go in the kitchen, figure out what you want when you want. That is not helpful for them because they don’t have the experience, especially younger kids to know, hey, they don’t know that they need to eat variety because they don’t understand just sort of basic nutrition.
So you need to at least offer them variety. We want to space things out for them so they can build up appetite between meals. Also, it’s not practical. So maybe your kid’s really busy because they’re very into a soccer game or something they’re doing, playing with their friends, but they don’t know we’re leaving the house in an hour, so we need to eat lunch now because we’re not having an opportunity to eat again for four hours because we’re going out or two hours. So that’s where an adult and parenting comes in around food. We need to sit down and have a meal because we haven’t eaten in three hours and we’re going, it’s not practical to just stop everything and eat all the time. So that’s where parenting comes in in terms of providing that structure. Here’s the meal times also, I’m going to make sure there’s a variety to whatever extent I can.
And so we don’t want to leave everything up to kids. That’s what we call permissive parenting around food, or even sometimes it’s a horrible word, but sort of neglect falls in the sense of we’re not stepping in and doing our role as the parent. What happens is often the opposite where we don’t provide a lot of that structure because we’re stressed out or busy or just feels so hard to show up for meals, especially if you’re like me and if you’ve had a history of your own dieting or disordered eating, showing up for meals can be so triggering and so stressful. Knowing when to have a rule and when not to have a rule that we might have even avoid, avoid meals. So that makes sense and that’s why a lot of us need support if we’ve been struggling with this on our own, but what most of us do, so we don’t show up for these meals as often as we should or as consistently as we should because they become very stressful.
But we do show up in that way where we shouldn’t. Whereas we do show up in the micromanaging of don’t eat that much, don’t eat that food, don’t eat, you know, don’t, didn’t need enough of that one. And that’s the exact part we want to lean out of. So a lot of us are doing the opposite of what would really help our kids over the long term, having a good relationship with food and all of this requires I am very empathetic because of my own background, just requires being very cognizant and aware of what our own history with food has been and this whole having, like you said, and started at the beginning of being a dieter my whole life and so fearful now in our culture, everyone is afraid of weight because they think it’s going to destroy our health, which is not true by the way, and a whole nother can of worms or another episode, but those are the things that are driving how we’re parenting around food and it’s not helpful. It’s really not helpful at all.
Dr. Sarah (45:23):
And it makes so much sense because we were talking about trust earlier and how the goal is to trust our kids so that they learn to trust their internal cues. I know that that has got to be so difficult if you have over the course of your lifetime made to disconnect or trained yourself to disconnect from your internal cues, which I think as we’re saying, I think culturally most of us have, historically, no, when we were growing up, there was no such thing as someone saying, you eat in, you choose what you’re going to eat from this plate of food, food and you decide what on this plate you’re going to eat and how much of it and you decide when you’re done. It was like clean plate club and you have to do this and if you’re otherwise, you’re not going to get dessert or watching a parent say, I’m not eating anything, I’m not eating any of this for the rest of the month, or I’m just going to have a Diet Coke for dinner tonight.
You eat or whatever it is. And so all of those little things add up to us not necessarily having trust in our internal cues. So it’s very difficult to imagine that our child could, so the idea that we could imagine that our child might sit down with a bowl of ice cream that has five scoops, the five scoops that they asked for and the sprinkles, and take two bites and be like, I’m done. Good. That’s all I want. We don’t know how to do that, so we don’t fathom that our kid might know how to do that. So I think it is a lot of the stuff that we have to look at, which is it’s harder, it’s a lot easier to try to just control the things outside of us then look at the things internally sometimes.
Yeah, I mean growing up, I mean all of us have been just the culture we’re living in told over and over that we cannot trust our instincts with so many things and food in particular. And then everyone is willing to rush in with here’s advice or how to eat and rules and listen to us from diet books and weight loss products and all sorts of edicts and just ideas that have been grown up thinking, yes, it’s better to listen to that outside information than it is to listen to ourselves. So it is really hard, even me talking about it right now, I’m sure many people are thinking, what is she talking about?
For example, serving sizes just we’ve been, people come to me as a dietician and say, can you please tell me how much that this cereal or how much of meat or fish should my child eat? And I have to say they’re actually, those serving sizes and recommendations are not helpful at all and not even valid, which again is another conversation. There is no exact right amount, but we do want for think about variety, just to be a little more helpful. Just think about offering your kids a lot of variety and eating at your yourself and helping them to be more internally regulated. And then again, like you said, if it’s challenging, think about why it is so hard for us. Yeah, I mean it makes sense if it’s listening to this and it’s hard for you, it makes sense because again, we’ve all been told not to listen to ourselves over and over and over and over, right?
Dr. Sarah (49:02):
So if parents are listening and they’re like, oh man, I need help with this. How are your recommendations for where do they start?
You can start with my book. Absolutely. I think that things are laid out more probably clearly than with me talking right now about it. If you can look at the book, you can come to my website, it’s nourishher.com with two Hs, so nourish her. I do focus a lot of mothers and daughters, but all of the advice I give is, and it is applicable to any gender, any gender identity. Absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (49:44):
That’s great. Yeah, so I think that these are great resources and we’ll definitely link everything in the show notes too, so people can take a look. And if you are struggling with this, if your head is exploding by the things we’re talking about, check in, reach out to somebody, find out if you either reach out to Amelia and see if you can work with her or find a dietician near you where you can get some support. And are there things that people should look for in a dietician? I’m mindful of the fact of not everyone does the work the same way. What do you want to look for if you’re looking for someone who’s going to help you to relearn this intuitive connection with food and your relationship to food versus be like, let me give you a meal plan. Here you go.
Yeah, you can. First of all, many dieticians are way ahead of the curve and are more in tune with being intuitive eaters. And they then was probably the case or what people might be surprised when they talk to a registered dietician to find out that they do have these beliefs or ways of approaching eating at their core. So one thing to do is to make sure they’re a registered dietician. Another is to see if they use intuitive eating as one of their methods or approaches. If you are concerned about your child in particular, you can ask if they’ve have training with at the El and Satter Institute, which is very aligned with the things that I’ve been talking about right now.
Dr. Sarah (51:30):
Actually I have another book of hers that I love. Can I recommend that one?
Dr. Sarah (51:47):
It is called Secrets of Feeding A Healthy Family. The first four chapters of it really have influenced my work so much. They outline what is called eating competence, and that’s at the core of what we’ve been talking about today. I haven’t used that term very much, but that’s these eating skills that are really focused on being internally regulated, being accepting of different foods instead of very having strong judgments and worries about them. Contextual skills is one of those things. Are you actually showing up for meals? Are you able to prepare things? So this is a great book. And then the second half is just all recipes, which I have to be honest, I don’t use that much, but those first four chapters are awesome. They will give you so much to think about. And the Positive Food Parenting course that I teach is based on eating the eating competence model in that book.
Dr. Sarah (52:43):
That’s amazing. Well, these are great resources. Thank you for sharing them. Thank you for coming on the show and telling us all of this wonderful information because I think my hope is people are coming away from this episode feeling very seen because this is, it’s so everywhere.
Yeah, it is going to show up at your next meal probably. It confronts us over and over. Yeah. So thanks so much for having me and come check out Nourish her for sure. There are definitely resources there to help you.
Dr. Sarah (53:14):
That’s amazing. All right, we’ll talk soon.
Dr. Sarah (53:24):
This can be a hard conversation for many of us. It may take you some time to let it sink in and a lot of awareness to be able to reflect on why if it did make you a little uneasy. If you’re interested in exploring this further, I recommend checking out Amelia’s free audio guide for key positive food parenting strategies to protect her kids from diet, culture, and make meals and eating less stress and more fun. Go to nourishher.com/positive to download this guide. So thank you for listening and if you’re enjoying this show, it would be so amazing if you could leave a rating and review wherever you’re streaming and don’t be a stranger.
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