Trust yourself around food, enjoy it, and teach your children to do the same
Choosing the right food for you and your family can make the difference between a life of wellness and one of struggle with disease.
But you already know that.
Online news sites, personal blogs, podcasts, TV docos and magazines broadcast it loud and clear: the secret to good health is to eat the right food, and to stay active.
But then there’s the touchy issue of what exactly is the ‘right’ food?
Should we be shunning carbs, eating Paleo, or even going so far as the ketogenic diet? And don’t go near any sugar, we’re told. No, just eat like a Mediterranean and you can’t go wrong.
Where do you begin?
You begin with competent eating
Competent eating is learning to trust your body around food. Tuning into your body’s hunger and fullness signals. Not being afraid of any food, or labelling it good, bad or off limits.
It’s having a chocolate or a slice of cake if you feel like it, knowing when you feel like it, and not allowing guilt to hijack your enjoyment. It’s recognising and learning to love the food that nourishes you, and making it hard to resist.
It’s about limiting the number of food rules you and your family live with. Overly restricting your food choices can be miserable, and I haven’t seen any convincing science to back it up. It can also lead you to crave those foods you’ve denied yourself.
There are many versions of a healthy diet, but there’s one diet humans don’t do well with at all – the typical ‘Western’ diet, full of refined carbs and sugar, heavy on fat and low in dietary fibre and essential nutrients.
So what should we be eating? The best, simplest advice I’ve heard comes from food writer Michael Pollan: “Eat food (what your grandmother would recognise as food). Not too much. Mostly plants.”
For children, competent eating involves allowing them to make more decisions around food, to feel more in control, to have more autonomy.
This doesn’t mean they decide what’s for dinner – far from it – but in order to learn to tune into their own hunger and fullness signals, children need to decide how much to eat, whether to eat, and when to stop eating.
The research speaks for itself. Children who have more autonomy around eating eat a wider variety of food, learn to like more foods, and have fewer eating disorders as teens and adults.
As a parent myself, I’ve witnessed other parents struggle with their children’s eating (as I have too).
They worry that their children eat too much, too little or not enough variety. They compare themselves to other parents, their children to other children. That’s why I feel compelled to work with you as a parent, to reassure you that many of your decisions around food are sound, but impart knowledge that will greatly improve your children’s feeding – knowledge that we weren’t taught when our children were young.
As a journalist as well as nutritionist I’ve seen fad diets come and go, each promising to be the one, finally, that delivers results.
While some dietary patterns can help with certain issues, such as insulin resistance, extreme dieting rarely leads to long term weight loss, nor is it enjoyable. I read and research constantly – books, articles, journals and papers on weight management and health. I can only conclude that your wellbeing is within your control, through what you eat, how much you exercise and sleep, and how you handle stress. Whether or not you reach your ‘goal weight’, it’s possible to become a healthier version of yourself, and that’s worth working towards.
And as a wellness coach I’ve learned that “Do as I say” isn’t the best approach. I support you as a client in working out what you want, why you want it, and what’s stopping you. Then together we create a plan for action, at your pace.
Master of Human Nutrition (HD)
Level 3 Wellness Coach
Member of the Nutrition Society of Australia
Training in SOS approach to feeding