Have you ever stopped to consider how a baby boy knows to cry when he is hungry? Have you questioned how a newborn girl knows to stop nursing when she is full? These tiny people are demonstrating what is known as "natural satiety," or the body's innate ability to regulate fullness and energy needs. Almost every person is born with the natural ability to maintain a healthy weight, but as time passes, we begin to ignore this important capability. |
Positive parental involvement is necessary when it comes to feeding children and promoting emotionally healthy approaches to eating. Raising kids to enjoy healthy foods and have a balanced relationship with food is no easy task, and the tactic of parenting to support natural satiety is even harder. The strategy is best presented by the eating and feeding authority, Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and child psychotherapist. Her "division of responsibility" may initially sound unconventional and perhaps even unhealthy; however, upon further review her techniques make perfect sense. Her recommendations are also supported by a substantial amount of research which demonstrates that children have a healthier relationship with food and a healthier body weight as teens and adults, when raised by caregivers who optimize their child's natural hunger cues.
Who's in charge of what?
The parents and the child have distinct roles when it comes to feeding and eating responsibilities.
The Responsibilities of the Parents and Caregivers
By teaching your child how to provide nourishment for the body and providing your child with nutritious foods and a healthy eating environment, your child will learn to take responsibility for his own healthy eating choices. Here are some tips to help.
When to eat, Where to eat, What to serve:
How much, and whether to eat:
It is up to the child to decide how much to eat from the foods offered at the table, and whether to eat at all. That is, kids get to select from the healthy foods offered, and then decide how much to eat. They get to decide what to eat first and whether to eat anything. Remember, there should be absolutely no coaxing or bribing from an adult.
Case Study #1:
Think about the message being conveyed to your child when you say, "Nathan, you can't have cake for dessert until you eat your green beans." This tactic gives power to the cake. It teaches the child that the cake is better, or more prized, than the green beans. The child is taught by the adult that green beans are less desired than the cake because the green beans are being used as a punishment and the cake is the ultimate reward.
Case Study #2:
Children are masters at manipulation, especially with food. And parents often express the fear that their child isn't eating enough or will only eat one food--applesauce, for example. This one food becomes the power food. No matter what is prepared at mealtime the child refuses to eat it, kicking and screaming until the parents give in and the power food, applesauce, is provided. Every meal is a battleground. Situations like this are not healthy for the child or parent. Realize that a child's body will not allow starvation.
Our bodies know how much we need if we eat in a way that fosters our natural satiety. When parents hold fast to their feeding responsibilities, there are no power struggles. Rather quickly, the child realizes that her applesauce isn't coming and she is no longer in control of the foods served in the home. She begins eating what is served at meal and snack times to satisfy her hunger and nourish her body appropriately.
To make a true commitment to optimize your child's natural hunger cues, you must let go of the jobs that are NOT your responsibility. Appropriate feeding is built on trust. As a parent, educate yourself on ways to plan, prepare and serve healthy meals and snacks. Then trust your child's ability to eat and grow in the way nature intended.
For excellent resources on the topic of feeding children, check out the books by Ellyn Satter:
Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense
How to Get Your Kid to Eat, But Not Too Much
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family
Your Child's Weight: Helping without Harming
Have you embraced these natural eating methods in your household? Will you try them?
How to Raise Natural Eaters--and End Dinner-Table Fights Forever
The No-Nonsense Way to Teach Kids to Eat Right
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