Whether you’re just starting on your path towards intuitive eating, or a seasoned veteran of the practice, figuring out how to raise your kids to be intuitive eaters can be challenging. I am here to tell you that it is a very simple, but sometimes very difficult, two step process.
Step 1) Know Yourself.
The more you know about your own barriers towards intuitive eating, the easier it is to avoid passing them on to your kids. Do you still struggle with eating to soothe difficult emotions? Do you still hear your parents’ voice in your head telling you to clean your plate and not waste food? Do you still think that you’d be happier if only you were skinnier? If so, your kids will notice. They will notice and learn your behavior even if you are not telling them the same things you tell your self, because children learn by watching what we do not what we say.
Step 2) Let go.
To help your kids to be intuitive eaters, you need to let go, and stop trying to control what, when, and how they eat. Of course, as a parent, you’re responsible for providing most of their meals, and this is an important responsibility. By all means, make an effort to provide a variety of nutritious foods, but any other efforts you make may backfire. I like Ellyn Satter’s philosophy: You decide what food to offer, and your child decides how much of it to eat. Let go of telling your child to take “just one more bite.” Let go of trying to control what your child eats at a party. Just. Let. Go.
As an intuitive eating expert, I still struggle daily with these two steps. After I’ve had a long day, I hear my mom’s voice inside my head saying, “Let’s just forget about dinner and go out for ice cream.” But I think of Step 1, and think to myself, “Going out for ice cream is not going to fix this long day, and my daughter will notice this pattern and get locked in it herself.”
More frequently, I struggle with my inner nutritionist, a very loud voice in my head. At the restaurant she says, “But she can’t just eat french toast! That’s not enough protein!” At home she says, “She hardly ate any dinner. I won’t let her have anything else until she eats more of it.” At the party she says, “But those candies have artificial coloring and GMO corn syrup. I can’t let her eat this poison!”
But I do not live and act according to these voices. Step 1 means I recognize these voices for what they are: Well meaning, but not helpful. Step 2 gives me permission to let these voices go, and replace them with more rational voices.
What are the true consequences of french toast for breakfast or a few yucky candies? They won’t kill her, or make her immediately sick. In fact, they give her a very important chance to become more self aware. Does she like the way she feels after eating too much candy? What does it feel like to be hungry, to be full, or to eat certain foods? This is the work of intuitive eating. By letting my child make choices around her eating, I give her a chance to be a competent eater.
I want to stress, again, that this is not easy to do, especially if you have a difficult history with food. But I also believe that it is an essential part of parenting. No one wants their child to struggle with eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, or a negative relationship with food, but it takes a thoughtful effort on our part to avoid passing on our own struggles to our children. I hope that all the caregivers reading this have found this post helpful, and as always, I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions or comments.