The current British diet is killing us! We eat too much sugar, fat and salt and not enough fruit & vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates. Childhood obesity rates are rising and diseases like cancer and heart disease are directly related to what we eat. Food companies engineer foods that are super appealing to children, supermarkets place them at kids eye level, and clever marketing and advertising happens via kids TV and online platforms.
In response our society has blamed food, and 'food shaming' has become the norm. The media produce lists of 'bad foods versus superfoods', food companies publicise health claims like 'diet' 'fat free' or 'sugar free' to sell their products, slimming clubs advertise their tried and tested solutions to weight loss, even the government has jumped on board with the Obesity Strategy and Sugar Tax. But none of this has worked.
Despite these efforts people still don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, they still don't do enough exercise and obesity is still on the rise. Children are still exposed to misinformation about food and categorise them into good and bad. What we need to do is nurture and develop our relationship with food, enjoy its pleasures, love our bodies and learn to become an intuitive and mindful eater.
Intuitive or mindful eating is learning to enjoy food, its being aware of the hunger and fullness cues, so eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. This is the opposite to a mindless eater who eats out of boredom, habit or when stressed or because food restrictions are in place and certain things have become too tempting. For example the research tells us that a child who isn't allowed sweets will always crave them and seek them out at any opportunity.
When eating intuitively we are teaching ourselves and our children about appetite regulation and intuitive food choices. For a child to become an intuitive eater, the whole family needs to be on board, success rates are better when the whole family takes part together. So how do you do it?
1. Allow your child unconditional permission to eat all foods, don't label foods as 'good' or 'bad' or even 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'. Never restrict food items yes - even sweets and treats - although you may want to schedule a time for these e.g. at the weekend rather than have them every day. No food item should ever be forbidden. This will reduce them becoming fixated on any particular food.
2. Structure meals and snacks at routine intervals and eat together at the table. This allows for an appetite to develop in-between meals and teaches your child to notice the cues of hunger and fullness. It removes boredom or habit eating and eating in the absence of hunger.
3. Serve meals 'family style' with several serving dishes on the table allowing the child to help themselves - you'd be surprised how well a toddler can manage this! Family style serving teaches your child to take the portion that they think they will be able to eat and develop self regulation according to appetite. In addition, as long as you provide a well balanced meal, it teaches nutrition through healthy eating.
Eating intuitively isn't a new concept and a lot of research has been conducted over the last 10 years or so. What we know is that people who eat mindfully tend to make healthier food choices, have less of a tendency to gain weight, don't eat for emotional reasons and are better role models when feeding their families. If you can relate to this and need help growing your own mindful eater, I'm always happy to help.