Teaching children to have healthy relationships with food

Lately, my 14 year old has been talking about her best friend’s new “diet.”
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My 12 year old came home the other day telling me the specific weight numbers of kids at school. They were actually comparing them.I am sensitive to comments like this. I know from personal experience that girls, eating, and weight issues can rapidly evolve into complicated illnesses. In an effort to help my children have healthy relationships with food, my most oft repeated kitchen phrase is,  “Eat when you’re hungry and stop before you’re too full.”  It’s a mantra I learned while studying my favorite book on eating, The Seven Secrets of Slim People.  Since I don’t know these secrets, this book was a revelation to me. I have found the principles to be helpful in teaching healthy relationship with food to my children.THE HUNGER SCALERecently, I decided it was time to give them more details about this mantra. Using  The Seven Secrets of Slim People as a guide, I taught my children about the hunger scale:Listen to your Body

0 Starving

1 Too hungry to care what you eat.

2 You have to eat NOW!

3 Sort of hungry, but you could wait 20 minutes.

4 Slightly hungry. You could eat or could wait.

5 COMFORTABLE. You are not hungry or full.

6 You can feel the food in your stomach. Food begins to taste like cardboard.

7 Uncomfortable. Sleepy, sluggish, full, tired.

8 Very uncomfortable. Your stomach hurts and you want to lie down.

9 Stuffed. You feel like a sausage.

10 So full you can’t move.

I love the hunger scale because it doesn’t create any “good food” and “bad food” mentalities. It also doesn’t restrict eating and lead to overeating later to make up for missed treats. It just says listen to your body.

We talked about how the best place to keep your body on the hunger scale is between a “2” and a “5.” I pointed out how their baby sister, as still a very young child, does this naturally. She hands me back her favorite ice cream cone when her tummy is full. As older children and adults, we can still listen to our bodies in the same way.

This does mean, of course, that you have to give your body time to talk to you. We talked about eating slowly and focusing on our food so we can really enjoy it. If we eat too fast, we’ll miss how good it tastes and our body won’t have the chance to let us know that it is full.

THE CHALLENGE

As my girls grow, I have less control over what they eat. School lunch, late play practices, babysitting and play-dates all contribute to times where they are eating away from home. Using the “Hunger Scale” is a great way to help children to learn to manage their own eating. Not only can it prevent non-hunger eating, but it also invites good food choices. When you’re paying attention, your body feels lighter and more energetic after eating an apple versus eating a chocolate bar. If they can listen to their bodies, there will never be a reason to go on a “diet,” but just enjoy food and work in harmony with what their bodies need.

And my children seem to like it, reporting to me their “hunger numbers” before and during meals.

I tell them about how my body is feeling too–which is probably the loudest lesson of all. Along with listening to my body, I’m trying to listen to my heart.  A heart that always longs for what is best for these girls.

Incidentally, another fantastic book to help with teaching children to have healthy relationships with food isHow to Get Your Kid to Eat, but Not Too Muchby Ellyn Satter.

Other posts with helpful book links:

Reading with a teenager.

Travel Journals for Kids.

While we were waiting: a great resource for moms.

Praising what is working–the part we sometimes forget.

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