A particularly poignant article in the New York Times Magazine this week was written by Peggy Orenstein entitled, "The Fat Trap." It brings up a question that many moms ponder. "Can a mother simultaneously encourage her daughter to watch what she eats and to accept her body?" Any mom can tell you what a complex challenge this is. You want to make sure that your child doesn't become overweight so they are not subjected to health problems or body image issues. Yet, at the same time, you don't want to create a daughter who watches what she eats so closely that she obsesses, diets, starves herself and hates her body.
The author notes that this issue was front and center when Michele Obama began unveiling her new initiative toward childhood obesity called Let's Move (also discussed in an earlier blog). Michelle shared with the world some of the positive steps she took in her own home to help her daughters become healthier eaters. Some professionals worried that this could push other parents into being too restrictive with what their kids eat, therefore causing a different problem-kids who grow up hooked on dieting. Clearly, no one has come up with an exact answer about how to walk this fine line between raising healthy eaters without pushing them to be overly concerned about their bodies.
The author put forth one possible solution to the paradox. With her own daughter, she decided to "actively model something different...I tried to forget all I once knew about calories, carbs, fat and protein," and, "had not stepped on a scale in seven years." "At dinner I pointedly enjoy what I eat, whether it's steamed broccoli or pecan pie." She noted how "entirely unnatural" this approach feels. So true. We are all subtly programmed by culture to obsess about calories and weight. Being a mindful eater is an entirely different way of thinking. Peggy noted that her daugher would learn enough from the world around her about dieting, calories and thinness without her help.
Although the author of "The Fat Trap" addresses this issue between mothers and daughters, we also have to also consider sons. Parents are put to the same exact challenge. The ratio of men to women with dieting and body image issues is still far greater in females. However, we can't ignore that boys are not immune to struggling with their weight and body image. Let's be clear. Parents don't cause eating disorders. Eating disorders are much more complex than that. Parents do have an impact on the way kids relate to their bodies and feel about eating and dieting.
With my own clients, I advocate a similar approach to Peggy Orenstein. What helps parents raise mindful eaters? Being a positive, strong role model. This is someone that doesn't fad diet, but works on mindful, healthy eating and body acceptance.
How to you model mindful eating? Let me count the ways. It's things like sitting down while you eat rather than multitasking (i.e no snacking in the car), watching shows like Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" with your kids, stop using food as a reward, making it okay to enjoy food without guilt (healthy snacks or treats), getting your family involved in making a healthy menu, explaining clearly and concretely why you limit fast food, making healthy eating a top priority for yourself, avoiding body disparaging comments (ex. stop saying, "does this make me look fat.").
Most important: make mindful eating a goal for the entire family based on wanting a healthy life versus one motivated by disliking your body. These are just a few thoughts. There are many more on how to raise healthy eaters without body image issues.
What is Mindful Eating?
By Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Mindful Eating 101 and Eat, Drink & Be Mindful.