Never Ever Diet Again, Learn To Eat With Your Child Instead !


Did you know 6th of May is international no-diet day?

As a mother of two girls I pay attention to how I talk about eating and weight. My girls are in their late teens now, but it occurred to me early on, that I could easily do some damage if I equalled eating with potential weight gain, if I became critical of people and weight, if I viewed food only from the spectrum of healthy versus unhealthy. The society we live in is so nutrient obsessed and weight biased, it can make our relationship with food rather complicated. I work with fussy eaters as well as their families because it is critical to understand the parents’ relationship with food, eating and body shape.

I have never been a dieter, so when I first came to Australia 20 years ago, I was surprised by the amount of advertising that women, in particular, are subjected to when it comes to reaching that ‘ideal weight’. With weight loss as a never ending goal we can get food delivered to our door, use powdered shakes and pop pills. The weigh loss industry is Australia is now worth around $650 million and grows 1.2% per year!

A while ago, I met with Vivian*, who has 2 girls, aged 2 and 6, and a boy aged 8. Vivian told me about her numerous attempts at dieting and how she often complains about her weight in front of her kids. Recently her older daughter agreed: “yes mummy, you are fat”. This absolutely shook her to the core.

Vivian realised she had been shaping her children’s views on weight, dieting and eating the same way her own mother had. As she put it “I have taken my children into a minefield, how do I get them out of it?”

Like Vivian do you blame yourself for having failed at dieting? Well not so fast: research shows your body and brain are going to fight against prolonged weight loss. Before you know it, you may plateau, develop significant cravings, feel hungrier, regain your weight and more[1]!

A change of lifestyle and additional physical activity are more likely to produce long lasting results, whilst keeping you and your family sane. To assist Vivian, I helped tweak her family eating culture and encouraged her to learn from her children.

Make changes, Ask yourself the right questions and Adjust accordingly
If you are facing a similar situation, be inspired by your children to make 6 useful changes to the way you eat, view eating and move. Ask yourself the right questions and adjust what you do so everyone in the family can benefit.

1- Observe Your Child’s Appetite and Relearn Self-Regulation…
Babies are masters of self-regulation; for instance a breastfeeding baby will let you know when it is hungry and will only take what it needs. When children are coerced, encouraged or rewarded for eating they loose their ability to self-regulate their food intake.
Questions to ask yourself are: “Do I know when I am hungry and full?” “Do I ever confuse hunger with desire?” “Does stress impact how I eat?” “Do I eat sufficient and varied meals to feel satisfied?”

2-Apply an Eating Structure for Everyone in the Family, Including You!
As your child is growing, you organise meal and snack times because “grazing” makes it very difficult to sense hunger, satiety and satisfaction. Creating structure is about having sit-down meals and snacks separated by sufficient intervals to feel hunger.
Ask yourself “Am I sitting at the table to eat?” “Am I hungry?” “Am I full?” “Why am I snacking shortly after lunch?” “Was my meal too light or incomplete?”

3- Make Eating Guilt-Free.
Children don’t feel guilty about what they eat unless we teach them to. Do not see meals as junk versus healthy, think wholefoods, conviviality and pleasure instead! Satisfy your sweet tooth during your sit-down meals to reduce temptation and overloading throughout the day.
You can ask yourself “do I feel guilty when I eat this?” “Does forbidding this food make it a lot more attractive?”

4- Copy your Child’s Slow Eating
You may have noticed your child taking what feels like forever to eat when they are learning to chew. Chewing not only enhances the pleasure of eating, but also is also associated with a lower prevalence of overweight and abdominal obesity.
Think: “Am I enjoying this bite?” “Did I just gulp this food?” “Could I just take the time I need to eat, without rushing?”

5- Be Fully Present as You Eat
Children are very much using their senses as they eat, unless we distract them. However distraction is notorious for disabling our self-regulating capacity. You can ask yourself “Am I fully present as I share this mealtime with my family?” “Am I coming to the table without my mobile phone or other screens?”

6- Be Active With Your Kids
Kids have high levels of energy and they need to spend it. As you take those trips to activities or head to the park, no need to sit around, walk, run, stay up as much as they do.
Evaluate: “what was my physical activity today?” “can I do more tomorrow?”

*Name was changed to protect privacy.

Marie-France is a dietitian-nutritionist, from France, who has lived for almost 20 years in Australia. She has 2 children and a step-child, all in their late teens- early twenties. She has spent over 15 years researching children’s relationship with eating and used her dual-culture to inform her programs. She is also a “wholefoodie” and home economist who shares numerous wholesome family recipes via instagram. She co-hosts mums supported, a free fb group, that’s focused on raising confident eaters and great sleepers. She blogs on fussy eating, self-regulation and more. To find out more about her programs and blog check out her website.

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Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer.
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Low dose leptin administration reverses effects of sustained weight-reduction on energy expenditure and circulating concentrations of thyroid hormones.
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N Engl J Med. 2002 May 23;346(21):1623-30.
Plasma ghrelin levels after diet-induced weight loss or gastric bypass surgery.
Cummings DE1, Weigle DS, Frayo RS, Breen PA, Ma MK, Dellinger EP, Purnell JQ.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 May;38(5):636-42. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.138. Epub 2013 Jul 30.
Altered gastric vagal mechanosensitivity in diet-induced obesity persists on return to normal chow and is accompanied by increased food intake.
Kentish SJ1, O’Donnell TA2, Frisby CL2, Li H1, Wittert GA1, Page AJ3.