Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child's Eating Problems

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9780743477796: Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child's Eating Problems
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All foods are good. That is the message of this commonsense book that helps parents speak to their kids about food and nutrition. It is a message that is long overdue, especially when you consider that 81 percent of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat -- half are already dieting -- and twelve million American children are obese. There is a disease gripping our nation's children and it strikes early. Take the Fight Out of Food offers a cure.
This practical guide is filled with hands-on tools and in-depth advice for putting a stop to unhealthy eating habits before they begin. In Take the Fight Out of Food parents will learn how to:
· Understand their own "food legacy" and how it affects their children
· Keep their children connected to food in a positive way
· Talk to their kids about food and nutrition
· Recognize and deal with the six types of eaters --
including the Picky Eater, the Grazer, and the Beige Food Eater
With guidance, inspiration, and encouragement, this invaluable book helps parents to teach their children to eat for life in a positive and healthy family environment.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Donna Fish, M.S., L.C.S.W., is a licensed social worker specializing in eating disorders. An adjunct faculty member at the Columbia University School of Social Work and an affiliate therapist at the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia, she is also a consultant to many schools and hospitals in New York City. Donna Fish lives with her husband and three daughters in New York City, where she runs a private practice.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Separating Our Own Food Attitudes from Our Children's Eating Behaviors

As soon as my daughter could walk, my mother started to comment on her chunky legs. "You better watch her, Carly, you don't want her to get fat." For goodness sake, my daughter is only two!

Carly, mother of two

My mother raised me to eat when I was hungry and stop eating when I was full. I am convinced that what she taught me has saved my life. As a professional actress I have watched both men and women in my field literally starve to death to maintain the body they think the entertainment world is looking for.

Samantha, actress and mother of one

Hundreds of parents, who are struggling with or worried about how their children are eating, have told me poignant stories about how critical they are of their own eating habits. And often, once I prompt them to examine the attitudes with which they were raised, they report that they have always felt they were either failing themselves by eating too much or making bad choices, or failing their parents because they didn't eat enough of the "food of love" they were offered.

If there's one thing I've learned from listening to these stories, it's that there is a direct connection between parents' food attitudes and how they deal with their kids' eating behaviors. As one mother told me, "I have an easier time talking about sex with my kids than food. My mother was so controlling and involved with my food that I always felt I was failing and ended up with a real weight problem. I still struggle with weight and my relationship to food, and because of that, I am terrified to interfere with how my kids eat. I feel paralyzed when it comes to saying anything at all about nutrition." Acknowledging and understanding this connection between our own food attitudes and our children's eating behaviors is the first step toward teaching our kids how to eat for life. And yet it's also one of the most challenging steps because it requires that we look at our own food history and eating experiences.

In this chapter, you will revisit your family food legacy and the tape loops (or food attitudes) this early experience created. As you become more familiar with your own food attitudes, you will automatically become better able to separate your own experience from what is going on with your children. Indeed, you may discover that what you perceive as your children's eating problems are really not problems at all, but rather styles of eating that are simply different from your own.

Taking the Fight Out of Food: Whose Problem Is It?

One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that mealtime is one long power struggle. "My two-and-a-half-year-old won't sit in his high chair!" "My four-year-old incessantly demands dessert!" "My three-year-old throws a fit if I don't give her a cookie!" Parents come into my office completely at their wits' end.

In one such case, a mother came to see me because she could not understand her three-year-old son's picky eating behavior. Jennifer is thirty-six, with an engaging wit and the ability to turn even the most mundane incident into a stand-up comedy routine. She always has a twinkle in her eye and has a lot of great ideas about feeding children. Indeed, she knows that when she "lets go and relaxes" around food, her kids relax and eat better. Her first son (she has two) was a "foodie" like her. He loved exploring new foods and ate almost anything she offered, which is why Jennifer was surprised by her younger son's food issues. From day one, he was a very picky eater and often simply refused to eat at all. When she consulted her pediatrician, however, he assured her that her son was perfectly healthy and right where he should be in terms of growth. His advice was simply to "back off" and "let him be."

But even though knowing her son was in good health helped to allay Jennifer's fear that he would end up with scurvy, she still could not ignore everything she'd heard about encouraging him to eat. It was very difficult for her to sit by and watch her son refuse food.

Jennifer's reaction is not very different from that of many parents whose feelings of competence come from nurturing and feeding their children. When our children eat, we have concrete evidence that we are doing a good job, helping them make their way in the world with strong, healthy bodies. And when they don't eat well, or we think they are not eating well, we assume we must be doing a bad job. But we still need to ask, What was really going on between Jennifer and her son? What was the problem? Was it hers or her son's?

The first thing Jennifer and I did was to look at her own food legacy, and when we did that, we soon discovered that Jennifer had been raised as a dieter from the time she was very young. (Her joke is that her formative experience with religion was Weight Watchers, since she was sent by her mother at the age of nine to meetings that were held at the temple!) After years of diet camps and therapy to help resolve her food issues, she had come to terms with a way of eating that felt comfortable, and she was thrilled to be a mother who could let her sons enjoy their food. She was not going to repeat her own mother's mistakes by restricting what they ate.

So when Todd began refusing to eat, Jennifer found herself trying to fight back, almost force-feeding him, and frequently becoming angry at his resistance to her carefully prepared meals. She wanted him to eat and enjoy his food, but she was unwittingly contributing to the fight: the more she encouraged Todd to eat, the more he resisted.

Despite thinking that she handled food differently from her restricting mother, Jennifer gradually began to realize that, in her own way, and despite having the opposite goal, she was being just as controlling as her mother had been. At first, all she could see was her son's resistance to her efforts to help him. When he would "simply not listen," Jennifer reacted -- sometimes in anger, sometimes out of anxiety and frustration. It took a while for her to see that her reaction was actually fueling the power struggle with her son.

Once she realized that, we were able to address her need to give up trying to control the situation, so that she would be better able to let go of the outcome. Meanwhile, at a deeper level, she also began to separate her own fear of being restricted (a holdover from her mother's attempts to restrict her own food intake) from her son's seemingly self-restricting behavior. Only then could she see that Todd was, in fact, reacting to the pressure she was putting on him to eat. When Jennifer backed off, Todd began to eat more regularly -- though never with the same adventurousness as his older brother.

Children -- at any age -- seem to be masters at detecting our agendas: they know exactly what we want them to do and then often do just the opposite. What is our agenda when it comes to food? We simply want our children to eat well -- that is, eat the food we have lovingly and painstakingly put before them. And know this: even if you think you're being discreet, cheerful, or absolutely blasé as you serve breakfast, lunch, or dinner, even a ten-month-old in his high chair can detect your concern, worry, and anxiety that he get that broccoli down the hatch.

I met Carolyn when she attended one of my workshops because she was concerned about her nine-year-old son, who had become quite overweight. She herself had struggled with a weight problem in the past and resolved it by sticking to a diet that was totally free of sugar and junk food. She herself ate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and every meal she prepared for her two sons was made up of a variety of nutritious, organic foods.

Although her younger son seemed to enjoy whatever she put in front of him, the older child wanted only starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, pasta, and bread. He wouldn't touch vegetables and also fought with her to eat chocolate bars and other sweets, none of which Carolyn allowed in the house. From the time he was two, she told me, their every interaction about food had been adversarial. Now she was even more worried because he was really gaining weight and clearly hoarding the foods she'd never allowed him to have.

As we explored the situation, two issues became clear: one was that Carolyn had a food legacy associated with very health-conscious eating that went back three generations. Her mother and grandmother had both eaten only "healthful" foods and had restricted foods deemed "bad." The other was that both Carolyn and her mother had weight problems and frequently felt guilty about how much they ate. Her mother was not happy with her figure and had constantly berated herself for failing to restrict her food intake. She also criticized Carolyn when she was growing up by focusing on her weight. In fact, Carolyn said that when she returned from a trip to India, during which she had become very ill with dysentery, her mother had joked that she looked great because she had lost so much weight.

Like her mother, Carolyn believed that in order to be a good parent she had to make sure her children ate nutritiously ALL THE TIME. And because of this food legacy, Carolyn felt completely stymied by her older son's eating behavior and had no tools for dealing with his determination to make his own decisions about food.

Did he, in fact, have an eating problem? Or was he simply reacting to Carolyn's rigidity about food and eating? Had her son internalized his mother's fears about gaining weight? These were the questions Carolyn and I began to unravel as we worked together. Indeed, once Carolyn saw how her food legacy had affected her own eating habits and attitudes toward food, she began to realize that her son's weight gain had triggered her fear -- not that he would become fat but that she herself could not control her own food intake. Once she was able to be more objective about her fears and associations with food and weight, she was better able to deal with her son's situation. In the end, Carolyn decided to try to be more flexible, allowing her son to have some sweets and candy. Predictably, once she made these foods available instead of forbidden, her son stopped hoarding them. And as Carolyn began teaching him how certain foods impacted his body, he began -- slowly but surely -- to try vegetables and protein to round out his diet. As you will see in the upcoming chapters, even the most willful children can learn how to increase their range of foods -- if they are taught in a palatable manner.

What Is Your Family Food Legacy?

Most negative attitudes toward food begin at home. Therefore as you prepare to help your children become good eaters, you need to be clear about the kind of environment in which you were raised. Use the questions below as a way to consider the rules, tone, and values that pertained to eating in your family.

1. Did your parents ever tell you to stop eating before you felt you were full?

2. Did either of your parents ever pressure you to go on a diet?

3. Did a friend ever show you how to diet?

4. Was anyone in your household ever on a diet when you were growing up?

5. Did anyone binge and/or restrict foods in a regular way?

6. Did anyone "eat like a bird," always picking at food and never sitting down and enjoying a meal?

7. Did your mother, father, or any of your siblings go from diet to diet, always trying to lose weight but never feeling comfortable with their body image?

8. Were their diets successful only temporarily?

9. Did you eat predominantly "healthy" food?

10. Did your family eat a lot of bread, pasta, and other starchy foods?

11. Did your family consume a lot of fried food?

12. Did your parents let you snack on junk food?

13. Did your family keep soda in the house?

14. Were there any foods that were forbidden or only served on very special occasions?

15. Was there an emphasis in your household on making sure you ate enough?

16. Do you come from a culture in which food was scarce and, as a result, eating was believed to assure health and happiness?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Rather they are intended to help you become more aware of how you were raised with relation to food. They are not intended to evoke either blame or self-praise. As a general rule, your food legacy will fall into one of four categories.

1. You were raised in an environment where food was equated with love. Such an environment can create a situation in which you might feel that you are letting someone down if you don't eat all the food she or he has prepared. It can also lead you to use food to process emotions rather than to deal with your feelings directly.

2. You were raised in a restrictive environment where the types and amounts of food you ate were closely monitored by your parents. Often this environment is characterized by dieting and maintaining weight and tends to evoke one of two reactions: either you were comfortable with these restrictions and want the same for your kids, or, once out of your parents' control you rebelled, eating whatever you wanted without regard to nutrition or balance, which could make you uncomfortable with setting limits and establishing parameters around food and eating for your children.

3. You were raised in an environment where one or more of your family members went on restrictive diets and lost weight only later to regain it. Such a legacy may cause you to believe that you are not in control of food, which can then lead to restrictive/binge behavior and yo-yo dieting.

4. You were raised in an environment where meals were enjoyed, a variety of foods was offered, and there was little or no emphasis on how much or how little one should eat of any particular food. Meals usually consisted of a balance among healthy nutritious foods, with an allowance for some sugar or junk food. There was an emphasis on eating for enjoyment instead of a focus on rigidity. This environment is the most likely to produce a healthy attitude toward food and eating.

Whichever environment you were raised in, it is likely that you have internalized your legacy, and that it has subtly but powerfully influenced your present attitudes toward food. It is these internalized, unconscious food attitudes, or what I call tape loops, that can unwittingly influence the way you are dealing with your own kids about food.

What Are Your Tape Loops?

Examining and disrupting your tape loops, those voices in your head fueled by your attitudes toward food and eating, is the next step toward separating your own food attitudes from your children's behaviors. Have you ever heard a voice in your head berating you when you ate that second piece of cake, and then said to yourself, "Now I have really blown it! I am totally off my usual diet, and I better not eat anything tomorrow." The internalized attitude that you don't have control over what or how much you eat helps create the feeling that you have "blown it," leaving you at risk for deciding that the only way to compensate is to not eat anything at all the next day. When you begin to restrict what you eat, you put yourself at risk for creating or continuing a restrict-binge-restrict cycle. What happens with such an attitude? You may eat two, then maybe three pieces of cake, and the chips, and then the cookies, and the ice cream, and whatever other food you deem "bad."

Indeed, experts are now beginning to understand that this negative cycle impacts metabolism and can result in weight gain rather than weight loss. During a binge, the body re...

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