Eating 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).