Move over diet culture. The intuitive eating movement is taking over, and it’s kinder, healthier, more sustainable, and involves more compassion. It’s about time. In a world of endless diet fads and toxic beauty standards, intuitive eating shows us how to develop a healthier relationship with food that benefits us physically and mentally. And this article will teach you how to raise an intuitive eater to help your children achieve the body confidence and self-love they deserve.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Google “How to Raise an Intuitive Eater”, and Sumner Brooks’s and Amee Severson’s best-selling book will surely take over the search results. But what exactly is intuitive eating, and why are licensed registered dietitians preaching its value? Well, intuitive eating involves ten basic principles that focus on building a mindful relationship with your body to make food choices that inherently feel great without negative conditioning from diet culture or self-criticism. So, when you teach your children its importance, they learn to develop a positive relationship with food, themselves, and physical movement.
What Are the Benefits of Intuitive Eating?
While we were all born as intuitive eaters, we lose the connection to our body’s natural hunger cues somewhere along the way and learn to eat as a result of emotions, experiences, or the influence of diet culture. But intuitive eating brings us back in touch with our mind-body connection. And children who develop this skill receive several physical and mental benefits.
- They develop a healthy relationship with food
- Receive more nutritional value
- Weight maintenance
- Increased physical activity
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Gain positive coping mechanisms
- Lower probability of restrictive eating and eating disorders
- Decreased depression and anxiety associated with poor self-confidence
How to Raise an Intuitive Eater: 7 Tips for Parents
1. Patience is key
You can’t expect to learn how to raise intuitive eaters overnight. Kids are kids, and they will test you about their food choices. So if you find yourself in a power battle, take a step back, process your emotions, and return with a clearer mind. Additionally, try to shift the conversation about food to something they enjoy talking about. Both tactics will teach them how to develop emotional regulation and make mealtimes more pleasant and engaging.
2. Choose foods they enjoy
As an adult, you would probably despise someone forcing you to eat something you don’t like, right? Well, kids are the same. And while it’s okay to encourage eating fruits and vegetables, sometimes we need to be creative instead of piling on the pressure. This means developing ways to learn how to deal with picky eaters by sneaking in their nutritional value through their favorite foods. So, if you ensure that each meal or snack has some of their tried-and-tested foods, it will reduce the pressure, and battles at the table, while increasing the chance to model intuitive eating.
3. Avoid labeling
A part of intuitive eating involves reducing labeling food as either good or bad. While it’s more than okay to encourage our children to follow a colorful diet, if we name healthier food options as “good” and others not so much as “bad”, we teach restriction rather than what our food choices can provide. For example, while berries are high in antioxidants and vitamins, if your child wants a bag of chips that has fewer nutrients, it’s not “bad” on their part or yours. No diet is perfect. So, instead of saying a bag of chips is “bad”, you could say, “Those chips may not give you as much energy as a cup of berries would”. By removing labels, you’re also reducing the shame or guilt we often associate with “bad” foods.
4. Release control
Raising intuitive eaters means releasing the idea you need to force your child to eat. Your responsibility is to provide nutrient-enriched foods, times to eat, and places to eat, whereas your child can control if they eat and how much. By following this division of responsibility created by expert Ellyn Satter, you create a peaceful environment that maintains your child’s natural hunger cues and reduces trauma surrounding their relationship with food. Additionally, accept that they may not like everything you offer. Their interests, tastes, and preferences grow and change with time. So, try to remain open-minded instead of becoming angry or taking it personally.
5. Remove distractions
You might get a lot of kickbacks, but limit distractions at mealtimes. This includes reading while eating, playing on their phones, and watching tv. Mindfulness plays a significant role in intuitive eating, and eating while distracted makes it more challenging for children to listen to their bodies’ signals. It also leads to mindless snacking and eating while stressed. When they connect to their meals, they learn to trust themselves and eat with their senses to enjoy every element. However, this rule applies to the parents too. Model intuitive eating behaviors to keep up the momentum.
6. Ask for their input
Do you feel like your children fight you at every meal? While it’s certainly frustrating dealing with their growing preferences, change the mood by asking for their input. For example, ask them to select a few vegetables or fruits to make a meal. You can even search for a fun recipe together to include the vegetable they choose. Doing so builds their autonomy and creative thinking skills, sparks their interest, and reduces mealtime battles. Maybe heart healthy avocado recipes and desserts on their menu tonight?
7. Don’t use food as a reward or punishment
How many times have you felt frustrated and said statements like “If you finish your homework, I’ll give you a treat” or “If you eat your veggies, you can have ice cream”? While they seem harmless, they can actually cause consequences. For example, it encourages your children to follow manipulative tactics to get what they want while also ignoring their hunger cues to receive the treat. Additionally, using food as a bribe instead of encouraging them to complete the desired behavior can lead to behaviors like overindulgence when they eat it and desiring foods for other reasons than hunger.
These ideas about how to raise an intuitive eater will teach your child the importance of connecting to their bodies. But remember to be patient, flexible, and gentle through the process. While you may experience a few bumps along the way, the goal of teaching your children to create a positive relationship with food and including mindfulness throughout your routine will be well worth it.
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