As parents, we want our kids to eat a well-balanced diet and grow to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods. In our well intentioned efforts, we often verbally "encourage" or "discourage" them to eat certain foods, only to increase picky eating tendencies or send the wrong messages about foods. Here are five things that parents often say to their kids about food, why it may not be the best thing to say, and what to do or say instead.
I remember hearing this statement—or a variation of—when I was little and thinking "oh man, I have to eat this gross green stuff before I can have the delicious dessert?!" And that's just it—when kids feel that they have to eat one food in order to be rewarded with another food, they automatically associate the first food with "yucky, gross, or less desirable" and the dessert food as delicious and even more desirable than before, because your child needs to work for it now. This is the opposite of what you're trying to achieve as a parent. Instead, offer a variety of foods, including vegetables, at dinner time and model healthy eating yourself. Encourage your child to taste his or her veggies, and if he or she doesn't like it, she can politely spit it out in her napkin. If your family is having dessert after dinner, everyone (including your child) should be offered some (even if he didn't eat his veggies).
It's natural for parents to want to praise their kids for eating a healthy meal. We want to encourage them to continue to eat a balance of healthy foods, right?! Yes, but what your child hears after you make this statement is "I am a good girl if I finish all of the food on my plate, so I better do that again tomorrow." The truth is, your child is a very intuitive eater, meaning she is quite in-tune with her natural hunger and fullness cues. What you actually want as a parent is for your child to stop eating when she's comfortably full (even if that means that there is still food left on her plate). Sometimes that means a clean plate, sometimes it doesn't. In our generation, we were often taught to "clean our plates" before we could have dessert or leave the table. Unfortunately, this translates into often eating beyond fullness, and over time, gaining unhealthy weight. Instead, you might choose to say to your child "I'm so proud of you for listening to your tummy and stopping when you were full. You can always have a snack before bed if you are hungry again."
Labelling foods as "good" or "bad" automatically makes your child feel like they are "good" for eating "good foods" and "bad" for eating "bad foods." And the bad food now becomes the "forbidden fruit" and your child will likely overeat it on it when they get the chance. The truth is, all foods can fit into a healthy diet, even if some of those foods aren't as healthy as others. You may say something like this: "We like to have lots of different foods in our house, including cookies sometimes. Maybe we can bake some together tomorrow and have one after dinner tomorrow night."
I know that playing "short-order cook" might seem like the easier option sometimes, but the truth is, giving your child complete control over what he or she eats for dinner or any other meal, will discourage them from trying new and different foods, might actually encourage picky eating habits and will eventually drive you CRAZY as the parent. No thanks. Your responsibility as a parent is to provide the what' and when' of eating. So, you get to decide what will be served and at what time. Your child is responsible for the ifs and how muchs of eating. He gets to decide whether he eats and how much he eats. Everyone in the family should be offered the same meal at family meal times. There should be 3-4 different foods to choose from, for example, lasagna, whole grain bread, cut up veggies and dip, salad and milk. Your child should be offered all of these foods, and he can pick and choose what he'd like. I know- he might choose 4 pieces of bread. And that's ok—you've done your job by offering a variety of different foods and the ball is in his court now.
Even though this scenario might be frustrating for you as a parent, and you are trying to encourage your child to eat a better balance at dinner, they may start to feel inferior to their sibling, which is not the message that you want to send. They will start to feel like their sibling is better than they are because they ate more food at dinner, which will either a) discourage them further or b) make them feel as though they need to eat more even if they are already full. Siblings or friends shouldn't be taught to compete with each other at the table, they should be gently encouraged to try new foods and be praised for listening to their own bodies when it comes to how much they eat.
Every child will go through a picky eating stage. It's normal. It can be frustrating and worrisome for parents, but it also offers an opportunity for parents to help their children develop a healthy relationship with food by how they react or respond. Know that your small child will not let him or herself go hungry and they are likely getting what they need in terms of nutrition over the period of a week—even if it doesn't seem like it. Keep re-introducing foods, even if they are refused. Praise your kids for listening to their tummies and trying new foods (even if they politely spit it out).
I just finished a session with a client who was feeling frustrated and defeated when she came in. This client has been struggling with her weight for years. And years and years. She's tried all of the "quick-fix diets" and has experienced some temporary success, only to fall back into old habits and eventually, gain more weight than she had before. Over the years, her metabolism has suffered from all of the yo-yo dieting, making it even harder for her to lose weight long-term. This client explained to me today, that every week when she weighs herself, she becomes discouraged, throws in the towel and "binges" on unhealthy foods. This can go on for minutes or days, but she says that she feels out of control and just doesn't care anymore. If she's not losing weight, what's the point?!
After asking a few questions and digging a little, we both realized that this client is an "all or nothing thinker." She either has a REALLY good day where she eats healthy balanced meals and snacks AND exercises, OR she falls off the wagon, eats a bag of potato chips instead of her snack, and throws in the towel for the rest of the day (or week), indulging mindlessly in high fat, high calorie foods. This results in intense feelings of guilt and over time, weight gain.
The truth is, if you want to experience healthy weight loss and sustain it, you have to ditch the "all or nothing mentality."
1. Give yourself permission to indulge. Everyday. It's important that you leave room in your day for something that you love, be it chocolate or a glass of wine, or other "unhealthy" food or beverage. Otherwise, you'll end up craving it so much that you'll eventually over eat, feel guilty about it and then try to "get back on track" the next day (or week). It turns into a vicious cycle of deprivation--> overeating -->guilt. When you allow yourself this indulgence—and I'm not talking an entire pint of ice cream, I'm talking 2-3 squares of dark chocolate or 1/2 - 3/4 cup of made-with-cream ice cream—it adds a bit of joy to your day and satisfies your craving so that you can move on. It CAN fit into your day without your weight spiraling out of control. I promise. It's when you deprive yourself of the food that you love and then binge on it that will eventually make a difference in your weight over time.
2. Get rid of your scale. Honestly, do it. It's not helping the cause—in fact, it might be hindering it. Any weight fluctuation that you see from day to day is going to be in water. You ate a salty dinner? You're up two pounds the next day. What you might translate this into is "failure" and then it may send you in to a potato chip free-for-all. If you weigh yourself once a month at the same time of day with the same scale, this will give you a truer reflection on whether you have gained, lost or sustained your weight (give or take a pound or two). If having the scale around tempts you into weighing yourself everyday or every 2nd day, get rid of it.
3. Don't throw in the towel. If you fall off track and eat 2 bags of potato chips, don't consider the entire week a write-off and promise to "start again" on Monday. This doesn't work. What will happen, is you'll have your "last supper" which may consist of one meal, one day or one week of over-indulging in "forbidden foods" before you start your "diet" (sorry-lots of quotes), only to fall off the wagon in a couple of days again. Instead, acknowledge that it wasn't the healthiest of choices, realize that it did nothing to effect your weight, and move on with your day, making better choices. It's one meal. Not a big deal. When it turns into a whole week of indulging, it becomes a bigger deal.
With all of the quick-fix low calorie, low-carb, low-everything diets out there, people tend to think that this "all or nothing mentality" is the only way to lose weight, but the truth is, it's not sustainable. Instead, stick with a plan that is realistic. Make sure to include some fun foods that aren't necessarily healthy. If you "slip-up" who cares. At your next meal or snack, get back on track. Not the next week.
Theresa Spence, A First Nations Chief, is on Day 34 of her politically-motivated hunger strike, in attempt to set up a meeting with First Nations Leaders, the Prime Minister and the Governor General. No doubt, Chief Spence's health is deteriorating daily, considering the fact that she is depriving her body of calories, essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat, and vitamins and minerals. This story is generating a lot of press, and I felt that it was necessary to write about the physical and mental effects of such an extreme form of fasting. Unfortunately, we live in a society of extremes—especially when it comes to weight loss and dieting—and although the motive behind this hunger strike may not be weight loss, this presents a good opportunity to address the potential harmful effects of depriving the body of food and nutrition.
Most adults need a minimum of about 1200 calories to keep organs, including the brain, functioning properly. This is not including the extra calories that are needed to support daily activities such walking, eating, or exercising. It is hard to say how many calories Theresa Spence is getting per day, but considering she is not eating solid food and only consuming fish broth, tea and water, I'm guessing it is between 200 and 300—on a good day. Fish broth contains appropriately 40 calories per cup, plain tea contains two calories per cup and water contains zero calories per cup. Depending on the type of fish broth, it may contain some fish oil which would provide Omega-3 fatty acids, but only about 1 gram of fat per cup. It may also contain some protein which would help to maintain bodily tissues and immunity, but at a very minimum.
Normally someone on a hunger strike would lose between 4-6 pounds per week (or more), which is much higher than the recommended rate of weight loss which is 1-2 pounds per week maximum. The body is not only losing fat, but also lean body tissue and muscle. Even though there is no source of sugar (or glucose) coming from food during a hunger strike, the body still needs to maintain a certain blood-sugar level to survive. To preserve protein stores (lean body tissue), the body converts fat into what are called "ketone bodies," which become the primary source of fuel during starvation. Being in a state of "Ketosis" for a long period of time is debatable health-wise and can cause certain side effects such as bad breath (think acetone). When the body finally turns to protein for fuel (muscle, lean body tissue, organs, skin etc.), it essentially eats itself, resulting in organ failure and ultimately death.
Some of the physical and mental side effects of a hunger strike would be general weakness, loss of concentration and focus, dehydration, hair loss, and skin breakdown, not to mention vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as anemia (iron deficiency).
As a Dietitian who is not a huge fan of any form of dieting, I cringe at the idea of someone subsisting only on broth, tea and water for any period of time, let alone weeks at a time. Ultimately, Theresa Spence is putting herself at risk of organ failure and death if she continues. My only hope is that this type of self-harm—which in this case comes in the name of political protest—does not become a trend or fad- for weight loss or anything else. Food keeps us alive. It is meant to nourish our bodies, our brains and our souls. I sincerely hope that Chief Theresa Spence discontinues her drastic hunger strike before it's too late, so that she can recover from her malnutrition. I also hope that it serves as a warning to anyone who is contemplating a hunger strike- it could potentially end in tragedy.