Ban­ning soda, sug­ary ce­real or ice cream for your kids just might be a coun­ter­pro­duc­tive health strat­egy

The Citizens' Voice - - Health Science - BY CASEY SEIDENBERG THE WASH­ING­TON POST

As a new year be­gins, I hear many of the typ­i­cal re­stric­tive res­o­lu­tions: I will give up gluten, cut sugar, never drink again. Many par­ents an­nounce they are go­ing to do a bet­ter job re­strict­ing their kids’ in­take of sugar, be­cause this past year they were too per­mis­sive. No more soda, sug­ary ce­real or ice cream in the house. In­stead it will be all veg­eta­bles all the time.

Does re­stric­tion ac­tu­ally work? The an­swer is no. Re­strict­ing food does not cre­ate healthy eat­ing habits: In fact it usu­ally back­fires, steer­ing chil­dren to sneak food and overeat.

Food re­stric­tion has many faces. Par­ents re­strict when they con­trol por­tion size or limit sec­onds. Par­ents re­strict when they ban cer­tain foods from the house. I am guilty of this; my boys beg me to buy Pop-Tarts, but I haven’t be­cause they scream pro­cessed food un­health­i­ness. What has hap­pened as a re­sult of my re­fusal? My boys want Pop-Tarts more than any other food. Big back­fire. Par­ents also re­strict when they buy only “healthy” ver­sions of foods, such as only fat-free cheese or brown rice. Some­times kids just want that real cheese or white rice.

My re­stric­tion stems from fear. I know the sci­ence be­hind how pow­er­ful healthy food can be and how dam­ag­ing too much un­healthy food can be, and so I clamp down on things like Pop-Tarts. Other par­ents re­strict be­cause they are afraid their child will be, or al­ready is, over­weight. Per­haps di­a­betes is a worry, or the par­ents have their own painful mem­o­ries of be­ing over­weight as a child.

No mat­ter which ex­pres­sion of re­stric­tion in­hab­its your house, the out­come is usu­ally the same dam­aged re­la­tion­ship to food.

Avoid­ing the ‘nu­tri­tion mind­set’

In her book “It’s Not About the Broc­coli,” Dina Rose talks about the dan­ger of hav­ing a “nu­tri­tion mind­set” when par­ents fo­cus too in­tently on the nu­tri­ents or amount of sugar their kids con­sume daily, rather than look­ing at the long view of teach­ing their chil­dren to eat a va­ri­ety of foods in mod­er­a­tion. She ex­plains, “The more that par­ents fo­cus on nu­tri­tion, the worse their kids are likely to eat.” Stud­ies show that if you pres­sure your child to eat less or you re­strict their food in­take, they eat more, es­pe­cially sweets, when­ever they have the chance.

Ask your­self, is your end goal to re­strict sugar to­day? Or is it to teach your chil­dren skills such as how to nav­i­gate a world with tempt­ing foods, how to eat enough but not too much, how to try new foods without fear, and how to en­joy a va­ri­ety of foods?

If you force your child to eat more healthy foods, they stop trust­ing their bod­ies to alert them when they are full. If you with­hold par­tic­u­lar foods, your kids won’t learn to sel­f­reg­u­late or eat those foods in mod­er­a­tion. Teach­ing your chil­dren to trust your in­stincts is dan­ger­ous, and as Rose ex­plains, it be­comes “a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy: You don’t think your kids can self-reg­u­late, so you in­ter­fere. Be­cause you in­ter­fere, your kids never learn to self-reg­u­late.”

It’s bet­ter to teach kids to lis­ten to their own hunger cues and let them de­cide how much to eat based on those cues. They will make some mis­takes and overeat, but mis­takes help chil­dren learn. If a child doesn’t study for a test and re­ceives a bad grade, hope­fully next time she stud­ies harder. If she for­gets her shin guards and isn’t al­lowed to play in the soc­cer game, hope­fully she’ll pack all of her gear for the next game. Eat­ing is no dif­fer­ent. If she overeats and feels sick, hope­fully the next time she re­mem­bers that feel­ing and does a bet­ter job lis­ten­ing to her stom­ach. If a par­ent brings her the for­got­ten shin guards or forces her to stop eat­ing when he thinks she is full, will she ever learn? Prob­a­bly not.

Deal­ing with the in­di­vid­ual child

Ev­ery child is dif­fer­ent, and th­ese dif­fer­ences can af­fect the way in which each child re­lates to food and re­stric­tion. For in­stance, one of my boys has al­ways been able to self-reg­u­late, to eat a few bites of ice cream and stop when he is full. The minute you tell my other son he can’t have some­thing, he wants it even more.

Don’t go to war with your kids

Re­gard­less of your child’s tem­per­a­ment, re­strict­ing has a neg­a­tive ef­fect. For in­stance, when you re­strict the more self-reg­u­la­tory child, he may fol­low your rules and ap­pear to have a fine re­la­tion­ship with food, while in truth he feels ashamed that he se­cretly wants those re­stricted foods even though you are prais­ing him for not eat­ing them. Or, he is learn­ing that some foods are un­ac­cept­able to eat, so if he ever does eat them even in mod­er­a­tion, he may feel he has done some­thing wrong.

On the flip side, another type of child may re­sist your re­stric­tion and then learn the dif­fer­ent les­son that food is a bat­tle, some­thing to con­trol, and that he should eat as much of some­thing as he can be­cause he may not get it again.

When food is re­stricted, many


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