“Mum keeps telling me to watch my weight event though I am 35 years old. I have 2 children at primary school”, Cath (not her real name) told me. “Mum loves to tell me what that I do wrong with feeding my kids”.
Cath grew up as a fussy eater and became overweight around age 12. Cath thinks her food choices as a teenager were all about pushing back against mum. There were so many arguments about healthy versus junk foods. Instead Cath went out to buy burgers and chips as often as she could. She would hide to eat her favourite muffins!
As an adult Cath still struggles with weight and food variety. She wants to stop her mother always meddling in her eating life. On the other hand she has become lax, her children are allowed to graze all day. Her husband thinks the kids mostly eat junk food.
Do our parents influence the way we will one day feed our kids? I think so. Our parents’ attitude and beliefs around food help shape ours. When it is our turn to feed our children, it pays to revisit what eating felt like as a child.
Who prepared food? Did anyone cook? Did the family eat meals together? Were there discussions at the table? Was the TV on? Did the children have to finish all the food on their plate? Were parents coercive or lax? How was mealtime, pleasant or dreadful? Did parents comment on body shape and food? Feelings of sadness, pain or shame are a clear indication that some therapy might help.
As we take charge we have a chance to do different, to do better, or to do as well. However, in order to do so we need to reflect. There are 4 types of feeding styles which I discuss in more detail here. Research shows that a responsive feeding style delivers good outcomes for kids. They eat more vegetables and fruit and are less likely to be overweight. In other words, children will develop a confident relationship with food and eating.
Cath’s mum used a controlling feeding style. It has created havoc in her daughter’s relationship with food. When it was her turn Cath went in the opposite direction! She developed an indulgent feeding style which so far had resulted in poor outcomes. Her kids eat a limited range of foods.
We focused on saving Cath’s feeding relationship with her children.
Cath knew she had to make some hard choices at home. Her husband was very keen to support her better. He now understood where she came from. The three of us talked online, when the kids were in bed.
This is what we did to turn her feeding relationship around from lax to responsive:
- Over the next few weeks Jess reduced grazing foods for the children and herself. We reviewed meal and snack times to provide sufficient gaps between meals.
- Everyone in the family learned to identify hunger as opposed to impulsive eating.
- Jess and her husband found more time to sit down for mealtimes with the family.
- Both started to apply rules and structure so expectations are clear at dinner.
- Cath decided to introduce more food variety to the family. She challenges herself too. She is a much better role model now.
- Once a month, the family visits Melbourne’s best vegetarian restaurants. They order a variety of known and less known dishes and have a tasting party. The kids love the experience so far.
Having a family is all about managing relationships really. Cath is still improving her feeding relationship but her children have already surprised her. They now love to sit down with their parents for meals. They come to the table with an appetite and have enjoyed some new foods. They behave fantastically in restaurants, which was unthinkable a few months ago. They are improving their relationship with food for life.
If you would like to repair your feeding relationship with your fussy eater click here. Click here
 Front. Psychol. 14 December 2015
- Shloim, L. Edelson, N. Martin, M. Hetherington
Parenting Styles, Feeding Styles, Feeding Practices, and Weight Status in 4–12 Year-Old Children: A Systematic Review of the Literature
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