In my last post I discussed the obesity epidemic that is running so rampant in our society. There are numerous negative repercussions that come from such an epidemic, all of which will greatly affect the lives of our children.
I also discussed how we need to stop blaming other people, things, society and begin to take responsibility for it as parents. If we continue to blame others then we will continue to give these so-called “others” our power, and by so doing will have less power to enact change in this crucial struggle in our children’s lives.
It is time we stand up and take responsibility. Yes, we do live in a society that supports overeating and a sedentary lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. We were entrusted with these children from our Father in Heaven and it is absolutely crucial that we don’t fall into the blaming and excuse making game.
We need to step up and accept responsibility and instead of blaming today’s society, we should acknowledge its influence and then ask ourselves, “What can I do as a parent to help my child successfully navigate this unhealthy and toxic society?”
Heavenly Father will help us if we accept our responsibility and influence as parents and ask him for help. We will not have the needed power to affect change if we continue to give it up by blaming or making excuses.
So, what can we do?
Well, research, science, and the gospel all tell us exactly what we should do.
But before I get into that I want to define our end goal. (Quick note: This particular post will only address the nutritional side of this discussion). Our end goal is to raise healthy eaters. So, what is a healthy eater you ask?
A healthy eater is a child that has positive attitudes about eating. They are able to learn to like and enjoy the food that is available to them, and they are able to intuitively eat the proper amount that their body needs to grow appropriately.
An adult that is a healthy eater will exhibit the same qualities. They will not have an unhealthy relationship with food. They won’t have to count calories. They won’t constantly try numerous diets. Rather they intuitively know how much their body needs to maintain a healthy weight. They will also be free from the labels of “bad foods” and “good foods.” They won’t experience guilt if they eat a cookie or a brownie. They have a healthy relationship with food and know how to honor their health by enjoying eating nutritious foods and with the same token will not punish themselves for eating something that their body wanted just because the rest of the world labels that particular food as “bad.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could raise our children to have such a healthy relationship with food? What a blessing to help them break free from the damaging relationship that so much of society has with food today. How freeing. What a gift we could give them.
Raising a healthy eater can only happen if our children receive the appropriate support from us.
I mentioned towards the end of the previous post that one of the largest factors of the role we take in this is determined by our parenting style.
The main parenting styles are as follows: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. The distinction between these styles is the manner in which parents combine the important elements of leadership and autonomy.
Authoritative parents balance both leadership and autonomy with their kids. (Gold standard. The one we want.)
Authoritarian parents take leadership, but they don’t give autonomy to their kids.
Permissive and neglectful parents give autonomy to their kids, but they as parents don’t take leadership.
Here is how these parenting styles would relate with respect to feeding our children. Authoritative parents will say, “Here’s what we have prepared. You may decide what and how much to eat.” Authoritarian parents will say, “Here is your food. Eat it.” Permissive parents say, “What do you want? When do you want it?” Neglectful parents say, “Don’t bother me right now. I’m busy. Get it yourself.”
Research from Boston University shows that the authoritative parenting style led to the lowest rates of overweight first graders. Only 3.9% of children that were raised by authoritative parents were overweight. This is in comparison to 9.8% if they were raised by permissive parents, 9.9% if raised by neglectful parents, and a whopping 17.1% if they were raised by authoritarian parents.
It is essential that we as parents take leadership with nutrition, but at the same time it is equally crucial that we give our children autonomy.
Let me explain. Ellyn Satter is the leading expert on the topic of raising healthy eaters. She has written several books on the subject and is the one that the experts go to on this subject. She has developed something that she calls “The Division of Responsibility in Feeding.”
The division of responsibility in feeding is a guideline of how we as parents can successfully take leadership in feeding our children, but at the same time provide them the necessary autonomy that will allow them to develop into healthy eaters.
The division of responsibility in feeding states,
• Parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding.
• Children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating.
Following this will ensure that you provide the leadership of what, when, and where your children eat. It will also ensure that you give your children the necessary autonomy of deciding whether they will eat and how much they will eat.
By failing to follow this division of responsibility we will no longer exhibit the authoritative parenting role and will rather be following an authoritarian, permissive, or neglectful parenting role; none of which are successful in raising healthy eaters.
If we give up the responsibility of what, when, and where our children eat then we will not provide the necessary leadership and will exhibit the permissive or neglectful parenting styles, neither of which are successful in raising healthy eaters.
As stated above, a permissive parent will ask their children, “What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?” A parent should not leave this decision to their kids. We as parents should take the responsibility to plan and provide nutritious and balanced meals for our kids. They are the children. We are the parents.
It is okay to ask on occasion what restaurant they would like to go to, etc., but if we frequently leave the decision of what, where, and when to eat up to them, then we aren’t providing the crucial leadership that our kids need in order to properly learn how to be healthy eaters.
Once again, it is our responsibility to plan and prepare nutritious and balanced meals for our kids at set times that they can plan on. Doing so will teach them the important skills of what makes a healthy and balanced meal and will provide them with the stability of a set routine.
It is absolutely crucial in our role of raising healthy eaters that we take leadership in deciding the what, when, and where of feeding.
If doing so isn’t a problem at all for you and you already take that leadership, then I want you to pay attention to the next portion of this post.
By far the role that you see exhibited in most parents is the authoritarian style. As stated above, this is the style of parenting that leads to the highest rates of obesity and it has also been shown to lead to the highest rates of obsessive/compulsive eating disorders.
If you want to know whether or not you are an authoritarian styled parent when it comes to feeding, then try this experiment for the next meal.
Make the meal and place it on the table. Let your child decide what they want to eat. Don’t dish the portions of food on the plate for them. Let them decide what they want and how much they want of it. Last of all; let them eat as much or as little as they want of anything without you saying a thing about it.
If doing this drives you nuts and you can’t go 30 seconds into the meal without wanting to dish the proper portion of food, or without telling them to eat their vegetables, or telling them that they are eating too much or too little of something; then you will know that you are an authoritarian parent when it comes to feeding.
If we overstep into our children’s responsibilities of whether they eat and how much they eat, we take away their autonomy and greatly damage the likelihood of them growing up into healthy eaters.
One of the biggest problems with the authoritarian style of parenting when it comes to feeding is that it ruins our children’s natural ability to eat intuitively.
Children are natural intuitive eaters, meaning that they instinctively know how much food or drink their body needs in order to grow appropriately. They come into the world with this ability.
The fact that sometimes they will pound their food and at other times they will hardly even touch it is proof that they eat according to their body’s inherent hunger levels. They listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry and don’t when they aren’t hungry. This is how we should all ideally eat.
When we begin to overstep into our children’s responsibilities by telling them whether they should eat or how much they should eat, we damage their natural intuitive instincts.
Authoritarian parents frequently tell their kids to eat even when their kids’ bodies are telling them that they aren’t hungry. These parents consistently override their children’s intuitive body signals, thus damaging them. This will also happen in the other direction of telling kids to stop eating even though their body is telling them that they need to eat more.
When this is frequently done there is almost always a negative effect on our child’s relationship with food.
Check back later this week for Part III on this topic where I will give two large examples of what can go wrong when you take the authoritarian route and try to get your child to eat more or when you try to get them to eat less.
Ellyn Satter has experienced the negative effects on real children when their parents do this, numerous times in her practice. I will go over what she has found to commonly occur with children and their relationship to food in both situations.