Preventing eating disorders by teaching little kids intuitive eating

This is yet another post inspired by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals. Here’s what she wrote on Facebook:

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Guess what? I can’t find a single link or post with information geared towards young kids and Eating Disorders. This concerns me when diagnosis of ED’s in kids under 12yo is on the rise, 25% of 7yo have tried dieting, and 42% of 1-3rd graders want to be thinner.
I firmly believe healthy body image has to be taught in early childhood, as fundamental as ABC’s and 123’s. What are your concerns about body image, Eating Disorders, and your children?

I’ve been really successful with my kids by teaching them how to listen to their own bodies about what to eat. I tell them I’m not the boss, whoever put the food on their plate is not the boss, her own tummy is the boss. She alone knows how much to eat. I never tell my kids when to stop eating or how much they should eat. I don’t give them “treats” or “dessert” as a separate category from other food. I never get mad at them for wasting food.

They all have foodshelves where they have all the food they like, easily accessible. They have shelves in a cupboard and in the refrigerator. They get to pick what they want on their foodshelves and there is an abundance of food there, more than they could eat, enough to share without getting worried.

We have a sit down dinner and breakfast every day withe lots of healthy options but they don’t have to eat their dad or I make. If they don’t like the hot meal, they can go to their foodshelves and get something they do like.

My kids are incredibly healthy eaters. We hardly ever fight over food. They like to try new foods. My kid who is the pickiest eater is the only one whose intake I restricted and was by far the most anxious around as far as her food. My middle daughter has an egg allergy and I was really freaked out about it early on and was constantly checking her food for eggs, telling her to be careful about eating, and controlling her eating. Now, she is the most shy about trying new foods. She grew out of the allergy for the most part (its very mild now, pure eggs, custard) by the time she was three, but her menu is the most limited by her own choice now. (She’s still a pretty adventurous eater– last night she had middle eastern food: chick peas and rice, hummus and pita, and mousakka.) I really think the best thing for parents to do is to be calm around food and about food and moms, if you have an eating disorder, make it a priority to get yourself better. Eating disorders are contagious.

If my kids make it through the turmoil of adolescence and into adulthood still knowing how to eat intuitively, it’ll be a huge accomplishment. I seriously hope it keeps working and serves them for a lifetime.

All the techniques I use I got from an excellent book called Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Please read my many posts on the book, how I feed my kids, and how I recovered fully from an eating disorder myself many years ago, starting here.

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