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As parents, we want the best for our kids. We read books and articles about parenting and discipline, potty training and sleeping, etc. When it comes to feeding kids, I think it’s pretty common for the breast vs bottle decision to take up the majority of our focus. But what about what happens after that? Feeding kids is a BIG topic, covering not just nutrition, but feeding behaviors, table manners, picky eating, food throwing (our current challenge in our house!), and more. As my own son grows, I have a feeling I’ll be discussing a lot about childhood nutrition and feeding. For today though, I want to talk about something that has stood out to me as a super interesting sidebar in my work with clients: the desire many of them have to help their children NOT follow in their food footsteps when it comes to eating.
It’s something I didn’t really anticipate hearing very often. But it makes a lot of sense if you think about it, right? The clients that seek us out are mainly looking for two things: 1- Fat loss, and 2- A better relationship with food after years of yo-yo dieting. It makes us SO genuinely happy to watch people go about their journey with us and have epiphanies in terms of a more positive self-image, a more resilient mindset about obstacles, and of course, watch them reach their goals at the same time. But something pretty striking tends to happen somewhere along the way. The ones with kids tend to say something to the effect of “I hope I can prevent my kids from getting to the point I was at when I started here.”
They’re talking about the habits, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that caused them to gain extra weight in the first place, not their actual weight. To get someone to their ultimate goal of fat loss, we do a lot of work reframing old beliefs, tweaking old habits, and teaching new skills. All of that is a big undertaking! It takes work on the client’s part to confront some of their old ways that weren’t serving them. Sometimes that work is hard, even though it’s so very worth it. And most people try several times, several different ways, before things finally stick. After so much time and effort, it makes sense that they feel like things would have been easier if they avoided developing those old habits/beliefs/patterns to begin with, or learned the healthy skills when they were younger. Prevention is the best medicine. It is far easier to prevent an undesired outcome, than it is to change it once it happens.
While it is too late for us to change how we were brought up (unless someone built a time machine I’m unaware of), we CAN work on changing those old beliefs and behaviors that have built up over the years. Even more importantly, we can have a profound influence on our children’s futures! We can avoid instilling sabotaging thoughts and beliefs into our kids’ minds. We can proactively teach them the skills they’ll use to be, and stay, healthy for life. We can avoid raising kids who will someday feel like they need to repair their relationship with food, by helping them build a positive relationship with it from the beginning!
When I think about it, THAT is really my true mission in terms of nutrition coaching. I adore helping people change their lives for the better, I really do. It is an honor to help people turn their lives around and become the leaner, healthier, version of themselves that they always knew was there. But I think preventing future generations from needing that change is an even more amazing approach. Can we do both? Absolutely! Modeling healthy behaviors is one of the key factors in raising healthy eaters. The “do as I say, not as I do” approach doesn’t tend to work very well!
If you’re reading this and nodding, thinking “Oh yes, I definitely don’t want my child to end up with the same baggage I have,” you are most absolutely NOT alone! Thankfully, it is possible to break through your own food hang-ups AND help your children to avoid developing their own. As you work to address those things that have been holding you back, you’ll gain the skills and habits needed to set a wonderfully healthy example for your kids.
First, we need to get a really good idea of just what that “baggage” entails. What types of thoughts, beliefs, and habits/behaviors do you think are preventing you from having a positive relationship with food? What things are you hoping your kids WON’T follow in your footsteps about in terms of eating? Are you a member of the Clean Plate Club, always eating everything on your plate even when you’re already full? Do you use food to cope with negative feelings and emotions? Do you have a tendency to overeat, or to eat when you’re not hungry? Take stock of those types of things. Seriously, write them down as you think of them. It helps!
Once you’ve discovered some of these mental barriers, pick one to start focusing on. Can you think of a small step you can take to start overcoming it? For example, if you’re a Clean Plate Club person, could you work on teaching yourself to leave one bite of food behind? That would be the first step in working towards letting go of that “need” to clear the plate. Pick something that feels doable, and work on reframing that old belief system or habit!
When it comes to preventing these types of hang-ups in your kids, see if you can actively avoid encouraging them. I realize that sounds pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many people tell their kids to clean their plates, simply because that’s what they were told when THEY were kids, even though it’s not something that’s helpful for them!
In my next post (here it is), I’ll talk a bit more about ways we can prevent instilling some of these hang-ups into our kids. In a nutshell, it becomes about following their lead! It turns out, kids have some innate wisdom that we can learn from. The difficult part for us parents, is to actually listen to that innate wisdom, and avoid getting in the way!