Walk­ing the talk

Di­eti­tian Aoife Hearne says if you adopt a mind­ful eat­ing ap­proach from the start, the odds are your child will adopt a long-term healthy at­ti­tude to food

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

WITH all this talk of mind­ful eat­ing and one fam­ily one meal, I re­ally had to walk the walk this week — and it was tough. I had a movie night planned with a friend last Fri­day night. In hind­sight, 8pm was prob­a­bly un­re­al­is­tic to be any­where but I went with it, such was the de­sire to get some time away.

Of course, it was the one night that Miss Zoë de­cided she was hav­ing none of this bed­time lark. I was down­stairs pep­per­ing at the door with the other two as Alan shushed and rocked and did ev­ery­thing to help her off into a slum­ber. And then Dy­lan started… “I’m hun­gry”.

I replied in my calm voice at first, ended in my hys­ter­i­cal voice “You’re not get­ting any­thing Dy­lan, you didn’t eat your lunch or your din­ner; you’re go­ing to have to wait un­til the morn­ing”.

Need­less to say, tantrums and tears en­sued and I ran out the door that night 30 min­utes late and ended up cry­ing my eyes out at A Star is Born. Why did no­body tell me it had a sad end­ing?

As a very young di­eti­tian, I thought I had all the an­swers when it came to weight loss. I re­ally be­lieved that if I gave peo­ple a list of what to eat / when / how much that it would be sim­ple.

It turns out weight loss is far more com­pli­cated than that and made even more com­pli­cated by the con­stant me­dia re­ports about obe­sity and in par­tic­u­lar for par­ents, child­hood obe­sity.

It’s fair to say our cul­ture is ob­sessed with weight. There are so many mixed mes­sages out there when it comes to healthy eat­ing that it would seem we are im­pos­ing our ‘diet’ men­tal­ity on our chil­dren and likely caus­ing more harm than good. To counter that, I would like to give you some prac­ti­cal tips on what you, as a par­ent/carer can put in place for your fam­ily.

Ac­cord­ing to 2005 re­search in the jour­nal Pae­di­atrics, heav­ier ba­bies and tod­dlers have a 75% chance of be­ing nor­mal weight as they grow. In ad­di­tion, there is re­search to sug­gest that two ma­jor causes of over­weight chil­dren are: mis­in­ter­pret­ing a child’s nor­mal size and la­belling it over­weight, im­pos­ing food re­stric­tion.

Keep­ing these fac­tors in mind, it’s im­por­tant not to jump to as­sump­tions too quickly re­gard­ing weight in our young chil­dren and to seek pro­fes­sional help early on.

Your baby/young child’s weight and height is mea­sured and plot­ted on a growth chart in the first year of life.

The goal of this is for these mea­sure­ments to plot con­sis­tency along a par­tic­u­lar per­centile. When these mea­sure­ments ei­ther cross up­wards/ down­wards across other per­centiles, it would sug­gest there may be an is­sue.

This is why I be­lieve reg­u­lar health checks as chil­dren get older to in­clude height/weight is im­por­tant to help par­ents iden­tify sooner if weight is an is­sue. But rest as­sured if you adopt a mind­ful eat­ing ap­proach from the start rather than a re­stric­tive eat­ing ap­proach, the odds are on your side for your child to grow in a way that is right for them.

No­body wants their child to be over­weight, and for good rea­son. But many par­ents are feed­ing chil­dren with the in­ten­tion of pre­vent­ing obe­sity. In­stead, I pro­pose we feed them to nour­ish their body and al­low their body to grow as na­ture in­tended. We need to un­der­stand that all chil­dren/adults come in dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes and as par­ents we need to ac­cept that.

So when it comes to nur­tur­ing healthy chil­dren and al­low­ing them to fol­low their nat­u­ral growth curves, the best ap­proach is fol­low­ing pae­di­atric di­eti­tian El­lyn Sat­ter’s Di­vi­sion of Re­spon­si­bil­ity dis­cussed in pre­vi­ous columns. Sat­ter be­lieves the what/ when/where of eat­ing is up to the par­ent/care­giver and how much to eat if at all is up to the chil­dren.

But what if your child is over­weight? The nat­u­ral in­stinct is to im­pose a re­stric­tive type of eat­ing reg­i­men to help them lose weight. Re­mem­ber, you can’t pre­dict a child’s size and shape un­til they are fully grown. And keep in mind that ac­cord­ing to Sat­ter, if you try to force a cer­tain out­come by re­strict­ing food in­take or forc­ing ac­tiv­ity, you will likely cre­ate the very prob­lem you are try­ing to avoid.

For your older child, I would re­ally en­cour­age you to talk to your child. Of­ten they will give you an ‘in’ by men­tion­ing they are not happy with how they look.

Many par­ents will avoid talk­ing about it out of fear of hurt­ing their child’s feel­ings, but in my ex­pe­ri­ence, it turns into the ele­phant in the room and the child be­lieves it’s some­thing to be ashamed of.

You can start the con­ver­sa­tion by ask­ing them how they feel about their body/weight. Your next step is re­ally im­por­tant. Re­sist the urge to im­pose ‘diet’ men­tal­ity or re­strict­ing food as the so­lu­tion. In­stead, your GP should be your first port of call to rule out any med­i­cal is­sues. Af­ter that, it would be wise to make an ap­point­ment with a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian .

Now comes the dif­fi­cult bit. Em­brace and com­mit to help­ing to cre­ate a mind­ful eater. A child who can recog­nise their full sig­nal and who en­joys the food (treats in­cluded) they eat. And of course, this ap­proach needs to be adopted by the whole fam­ily, not just one mem­ber.

This takes a lot of hard work, it won’t hap­pen overnight. But just like ev­ery­thing when it comes to par­ent­ing per­sis­tence is the key to suc­cess.

Pic­ture: iS­tock

SWEET TREAT: Im­pos­ing our diet men­tal­ity on chil­dren is likely to cause more harm than good.

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