mom cooking in the kitchen for her child to help kids have a healthy relationship with food

7 ways to have a healthy relationship with food, from an expert

When my now 10-month-old son started eating solid foods, I initially felt overwhelmed by all the information when it came to feeding him. There was weaning and mashing by the baby, and of course with all things parenting involved, there were many strong opinions. Often contradictory and confusing, I felt very frustrated. As I made my way through the Internet, pediatrician advice and my own intuition, what I kept coming back to were the guiding lights I use every day in my work as an eating disorder therapist.

I learned from working with my patients that I wanted to challenge the culture of diet and be a course-breaker regarding my previous rollercoaster relationship with food. I also learned that in order to do this, there were some evidence-based interventions that I could use to help my son have a balanced relationship with food.

While I don’t have all the answers, I feel this specialist knowledge has helped me lay a solid foundation. Here are some principles I try to keep in mind while serving food to my son.

7 tips to help your kids form a healthy relationship with food

1. Build balanced meals

A balanced diet includes foods from all the major food groups (such as starches, proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables). One thing I’ve consistently heard from the dietitians I work with on our team is that it’s important not to exclude major food groups because they all play an important role in the balance of our bodies. If you stop eating carbohydrates, your energy will drop completely. If you shed fat, you will find it difficult to feel full.

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2. Help children perceive and honor the cues of hunger and fullness

The good news is that babies communicate incredibly naturally with cues of hunger and fullness. This way, our jobs as parents can look like they’re tracking their progress with what they already know how to do naturally (“Looks like you’re done eating lunch now, is your tummy full?”) (“Mama’s stomach is bustling, I think I’m ready for dinner.”) My son has a rare disease where it can be too dangerous for him not to eat, so believe me, I understand the anxiety that comes when kids don’t eat when we want them to. But it is very important to teach children to be able to communicate with the natural signals of hunger and fullness in their bodies.

3. Teach Kids That “All Foods Are Good” and “No Foods Are Bad Foods”

These are common phrases in eating disorder treatment that I really like. When I started thinking about incorporating things like candy and sugar in the future, I want to incorporate them into eating it in a way that isn’t considered “forbidden” or “bad foods.”

Research has shown The more we learn to restrict food, the more likely we are to think about it and crave it. This is why I generally recommend not making things like candy or sugar off-limits to children, and not labeling them as “unhealthy” or “bad foods” when talking about them.

4. Deconstructing the loaded concept of classifying foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy”

Yes, as a mother, I would like my son to eat his vegetables and sweets in moderation, as most mothers do. But what’s healthy for one family or one child may look different from another. I work with many families with children ARFID (Abuseful Restrictive Eating Disorder).

Children with this disorder have what I believe to be overly selective eating, for a variety of reasons. For these families, a normal eating day may seem like mostly carbohydrates and processed foods, because that’s all they’re going to eat. And for them, this is to keep their weight stable and help them get as much nutrition as possible.

5. Help children understand what certain foods do to their body

Instead of taking a fear and guilt-based approach to teaching that foods are “bad” or “unhealthy,” focus instead on what certain foods do to your child’s body. Carbohydrates give us energy. Fats feed our brains. Protein strengthens our muscles.

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6. Give children permission to rejoice in food

Help children appreciate the happiness that can come with food, while at the same time teach them other ways to calm themselves and not use food to deal with harsh feelings and emotions.

Food is not just about nourishing our bodies, it is closely linked to traditions, culture and our daily lives. It’s okay to find joy in food while at the same time we have other skills to deal with our feelings so that we don’t use food to drug them.

7. Encouraging age-appropriate knowledge and education about misleading food and diet culture

With my son, my goal is not only to enable him to have a balanced relationship with food, but also to arm against the world of predatory diet culture and marketing. When he’s younger, this might seem like teaching him that all bodies are good bodies and not getting attached to other people’s bodies, as well as modeling those behaviors myself.

Research has shown that Parents of children who resisted engaging in ‘fat talk’ They had children less likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. As kids get older, this may seem to develop a more advanced understanding of who benefits from teaching us that our bodies aren’t good enough.


Lydecker JA, Riley K, Grillo CM. Parents’ association with themselves and their children and “fat talk” with the child’s eating behaviors and weight. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2018 june; 51 (6): 527-34.

Man T, Ward A.; Forbidden fruits: Does thinking about a forbidden food lead to its consumption? International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2001 Apr 1; 29 (3): 319-27. doi: 10.1016/S0306-4603 (98) 00049-5

#ways #healthy #relationship #food #expert

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