Myths About Feeding a Healthy Family

secrets-of-feeding1Eating should be enjoyable.  But for many families, eating translates to trouble.  It’s frequently a source of guilt, frustration and stress.  Parents today say they often worry and feel overwhelmed in their attempts to prevent childhood obesity, according to a new survey by Mintel.  For starters, they don’t know where to focus — diet or exercise?  Nearly three quarters of parents (72%) believe kids have too much access to “junk food,” while 69% feel that a lack of exercise is more to blame for obesity.

Parents also feel unsuccessful.  While 93% consider it very or somewhat important to limit their children’s access to “junk food,” only 77% feel they have been very or somewhat successful at accomplishing this.

But limiting access to certain foods may not be the answer.  That’s the major myth that Ellyn Satter tries to bust in her newly revised book Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook.


She says we should be focusing on raising “competent eaters.”  The secrets of feeding a healthy family, she says,  is to love good food, trust yourself and share that love and trust with your child.  In her 30+ years of clinical practice, Satter found that many families became demoralized about eating — even demoralized overall.  She created the Satter Eating Competence Model  that represents a “fundamental shift from the conventional approach to eating management.”  The eating competence model has four parts:

  • Feeling positive about eating:  Cultivate positive attitudes about eating and about food.  Emphasize providing rather than depriving.
  • Having regular meals:  Take time to eat and provide yourself with rewarding meals and snacks at regular and reliable times.
  • Eating enjoyable food:  Enjoy your eating, eat foods you like, and let yourself be comfortable with and relaxed about what you eat.
  • Eating enough to be satisfied:  Pay attention to your sensations of hunger and fullness to determine how much to eat.

“Foods that aren’t forbidden become ordinary foods that you eat in ordinary ways,” she said.  “Big portions lose their appeal when you know that you don’t have to try to make yourself go hungry in the name of weight control.” To become competent in your eating, Satter recommends we focus on permission and discipline:

  • The permission to choose enjoyable food and eat it in satisfying amounts
  • The discipline to have regular and reliable meals and snacks and to pay attention when eating them

Satter often talks of the importance of  dividing the responsibility.  She says for children to eat and grow well, parents must manage the what, when and where of feeding and let the child manage the how much and whether of eating.  As a parent wrote to Satter after “Satterizing” her approach to feeding her family:  “The basic idea is so Zen — stop controlling, stop struggling, stop worrying and you change the very nature of the problem.”

And talking about part of the problem, some of the messages that young girls receive in the media often work against these principles.  I really shared the rage of Jezebel (“It’s Never Too Early To Hate Your Body”) over an article in the April/May issue of Girl’s Life magazine.  It’s worth checking out the angry analysis of the misguided magazine article that tries to give nutrition advice to 10-15 year old girls.  With promises of “get a bikini body fast!” the article  is full of red flags.  It’s exactly the opposite of competent eating (and competent writing).

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  • cyrell

    There are many things my daughter can not eat because she is allergic to different things.

    Shopping is thankfully not a haggle when we walk the lines with all the sweet stuff and snacks. From the dozens of snacks there are only one or two she can eat and i always tried to stay firm and not give her something which could result in a rash or stomach pains.

    When she started to walk she also started walking alone in the grocery, she no longer wanted to stay in her seat. So she started to grab colourfull packages and i told her no..sometimes she cried but most time she realised i was serious and she put the things back.

    So now she gets her package of chips she is allowed to eat, we buy nuts and she always runs and gets a smoothie for herself. When she turned three i started to explain in more detail to her why she could not eat the things she wanted.

    Sometimes she tries to *trick* me, she knows there is something in it she can not eat, but then she says she does not see milk/egg on the package so there is nothing in it..this is her attempt of tricking me, but she soon gives up on it when i just walk on and say no..

    That is why i see no sense to forbid her fast food or snacks completly , because other kids get them too and she is so very understanding and does not make a fuss.

    If i would forbid it she just would try to get snacks at her friends house and then i could not control what she eats and she would suffer. So she can take a couple of things with her she can eat and is happy and if someone offers her a snack she is bringing it home instead of eating it at once.

    Now she is four and realising which foods are bad for her even when they are hiding in something she does not know and she asks or tells what she can not eat.

    I think i had a much harder time if i would try to forbid her everything..even when we somtimes stumble over something she is reacting negatively when the label does not show so..it is try and error, but mostly we are fine.

    With toys it is different ^^She can give me a hard time when she sees a stuffed animal or a book, or a bulldozer..and with toys she is rather bullheaded and standing her ground.

    People may think she is oppressed when i forbid her food and i often got bad words for that even when people knew about her allergies, but when she wants something and stands her ground people have a hard time to hold her in reins

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