“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
Our children hear how we talk about bodies and watch how we treat our bodies, including feeding them. They listen and learn how to categorize “good’ and “bad” food. Whether you have children, work with children or just spend time around children in your family, they are downloading the world through the actions and words of adults. We all have power to break the cycle of disordered eating, to stop generational feeding trauma with every interaction with the young people in our lives.
I know this can seem like a VERY daunting task, especially if you are in recovery yourself and relearning supportive eating practices. It’s ok. That’s why I wrote this blog!
Let’s talk about how to help children develop intuitive eating:
1.) Eat together. Think out loud.
Children learn by observing adults. They are masters at intuiting meaning and subtlety. So, eating with your child is a powerful way to impact their eating habits. Ask them questions about their food, demonstrate mindful eating techniques like taking time to smell your food and discuss the taste. Food is love in our culture, so take time to love them while they eat and encourage them to love sharing and eating with others.
2.) You provide the structure. They provide the choice.
Children are still learning how to eat to feel good in their bodies. They are still learning the difference between “sometimes food” and “everyday food,” so provide mealtime and snacktime structure, but allow them to choose what and how much they eat out of that structure. “Picky eating” is normal child development. Be patient. Be consistent. Create a joyful spirit of trying new things and a safe place to dislike certain foods.
3.) Trust your child. Provide Language.
It can be hard to trust your child when they report they are hungry because it could be every 5 minutes. Ask them about their hunger. Provide them language to describe different types of hunger. Help them identify where in their body they feel it. Ask if it is a small, medium or big hunger. This will build their intuitive sense. If mealtime or snack time is close, ask if they can wait. If they’re going to have an activity over their normal snacktime, teach them how to plan for hunger and eat beforehand. Eventually, your child will be uncomfortably full or feel uncomfortable sensations after eating certain foods. Sit with them, comfort them, discuss what could have happened to make them feel this way and how to prepare for next time. Teaching them to trust their body, means you have to trust their body too.
4.) Focus on strengths. Celebrate change.
Diet culture is deficit focused. It is all about the things your body isn’t. Flood your child with the pros of having a body, even the mundane! “Your body is so cool, it digests all your food without thinking about it!” or “You’re so strong you can climb all the way up there!” There are endless ways to think about all the amazing things a body does in a day, be explicit. Praise other people for their power, strength, kindness, persistence in front of your children, show them how to lift people up in ways other than body praise. Celebrate change in all things, but especially bodies. Changing bodies are inevitable. Set their expectations, their body will continually change. It is normal, natural, and not something to worry about because your body is not your worth!
None of this is easy, especially while on your own recovery journey. You don’t need to be perfect. You will make mistakes, you will not have the right words, and you may not have time everyday to slow down and be mindful with your kid. That’s ok. That’s life. That’s a great thing to show them too, but when you can, these small moments can be so impactful to cultivating a strong and positive relationship with their body and food. We all can recall powerful moments with our caregivers or teachers that changed our perspectives. You have power to be that for the young people in your life. Your healing will help heal others!