Guest Post: Raising Joyful Eaters

This blog post is brought to you by Sarah Anderson, RD, LD. Outpatient Dietitian for New London Hospital, New London, NH.

Do you remember what your favorite foods were when you were a child? Do you remember how excited you were when you got to eat your favorite food? I can remember jumping for joy and feeling loved when my mom made my favorite homemade macaroni and cheese with a saltine cracker and butter topping. I would eat it with gusto, enjoying every bite without guilt. As a child, I did not know the nutritional components of food. I didn’t think of the calories, the fat, or the carbohydrates. I didn’t worry about any of that. I just had the pure enjoyment of eating, savoring the flavors and textures.
I am reminded of this when I see my daughter react to her favorite foods. She LOVES pasta. Pasta in any shape or form. She jumps around and does a little dance when I tell her that we are having pasta for dinner. I so admire her reaction to her favorite food, because for many, this is just not the case. In fact, I have many clients who respond the opposite. They no longer enjoy eating their favorite food. They are fearful, worried, and guilt ridden just thinking about eating something they love.
So why is it that some people no longer eat their favorite food with gusto? Eating disorders are on the rise, particularly in children younger than 12 years of age . At the same time, obesity rates are also increasing. It is thought that perhaps with the “increased focus in weight management and dieting, that some overweight children may take the message to lose weight too far.” Our society is focused on weight and not health. What is a parent to do?
There are many steps to take toward the prevention of eating disorders. One of my favorite sources for families is Ellyn Satter’s approach to eating. She has written several books on how to raise children to be “joyful and competent with eating.” She quotes: “The secret to feeding a healthy family is to love good food, trust yourself, and share that love and trust with your child. When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” One step to begin with is having family meals together. I know life gets busy and this may not happen daily, but try for at least a couple times a week. Research shows that having family meals together help decrease the risk of developing an eating disorder. Take the time to talk about your day with your friends and loved ones. Share the best part of your day, the worst part, the funniest, etc. Bring joy to eating. And next time you eat your favorite food, do a little dance, if only in your heart.

Clinical Report – Identification and Management of Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 2010;126:6 1240-1253

Family Meals Curb Eating Disorders. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2008;162(1):17-22