This article from the Washington Post reminds me of what I talk about every day with my patients parents. Should there be “rules” around what, when and where eating should occur? Absolutely! You guys, Mom and Dad, are the nutritional or food gatekeepers of the house. Parents should be making and enforcing these food rules. But are they? Take a look at your house or maybe your sister’s or your best friend’s. Who is making the rules in those families? Do kids dictate where eating occurs? TV? Bedroom? Do the children say WHAT is for dinner or snack? And the WHEN of eating? Are the kids the bosses there too? Can they eat an hour or even a half hour before dinner then again a half hour after dinner? If they can, then it is likely that the kids are making the rules.
This article mentioned parent’s fears of creating eating disorders as one of the reasons for the lax food rules. First of all, I am not downplaying the horrors of eating disorders, there are 11 million people in the US living with eating disorders and there are over 211 million living with overweight or obesity. Creating rules or limits around the WHEN, WHERE and WHAT of eating is less likely to lead to eating disorders because these limits help children feel safe – they know exactly WHEN their next meal is coming and they know that they will be allowed to fill their bellies at that meal. With rules children know what to expect. When parents do a good job with feeding, kids are served a variety of foods – mostly healthy with a little bit of treats. They know when they will get fed – on a schedule designed to go along with the natural course of daily hunger. Furthermore, eating is a focused event because they are sitting at a table or kitchen counter and not mindlessly munching in front of the TV or computer. All these “rules” create a child who is in tune with feelings of hunger and fullness, knows that it’s important to eat healthy foods but that it’s OK to have treats once in a while and that after a meal ends they wait several hours until they get hungry before they eat again. This creates a well-rounded person with a healthy relationship with food.
So, go ahead Mom and Dad – take back the reins. You’re the boss.