Family Meals Focus
The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter
Food restriction in disguise
by Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist
If your child is gaining weigh too fast or too slowly, is extremely picky, refuses to eat, or behaves badly at family meals, it is highly likely that you are doing things with feeding that simply don’t work. Correct your errors by following the division of responsibility in feeding. You do the what, when, and where of feeding; your child the how much and whether of eating. Lack or structure, interfering with what and how much your child eats, or both, creates feeding problems.
Restriction has changed since 1989
In the process of making the Feeding with Love and Good Sense II DVD, I had the privilege of going into 30 California homes and watching parents feed their children. The 80 minute DVD is based on that footage, brilliantly showing what works and what doesn’t work with feeding. I was disappointed in my quest for another Andrew. He is the eight-month-old from the 1989 Feeding with Love and Good Sense I DVD whose mother is convinced “has no stopping place.” She instructs his child care provider not to let him eat as much as he wants. At the end of the feeding, Andrew is disappointed, crying, and looking pleadingly at the provider to give him more food. Viewers get the message: restricting children’s food intake is cruel. Today’s children appear to be restricted by being forced to eat vegetables, the idea seeming to be that vegetables are slimming. They aren’t. I am not sure if forcing vegetable consumption is better or worse than outright food restriction, but it surely is disrespectful and counterproductive.
Feeding interference undermines children’s knowing how much to eat
Many feeding patterns undermined the child’s being able to tune in on his or her hunger and satiety. That undermining sets the child up for making errors in food regulation and weight consistency throughout life.
in addition to the almost-universal vegetable pressure, I saw many feeding patterns that undermined the child’s being able to tune in on his or her hunger and satiety. That undermining, of course, sets the child up for making errors in food regulation and weight consistency throughout life. Examples include:
- Getting a child to eat solids when he doesn’t want to.
- Only letting a child have a prescribed amount of solid food and formula.
- Letting the child eat or not eat to keep the parents’ attention.
- Getting the child to eat a few more bites when he indicates he is done.
- Withholding dessert until the child has eaten “enough.”
- Letting the child eat on his own, i.e., not with parents.
- Letting the child eat in front of the TV rather than at the meal with the rest of the family.
- Making stopping comments when the child eats a lot.
Poor feeding undermines normal eating and growth
The parents we videoed feed in contradictory ways. The same parents who enforce certain amounts and types of food at mealtime allow their child free access to food and caloric beverages between meals. In fact, none of the parents surveyed indicated that they structured snacks. Some parents are relaxed about meals but still hassle children to eat. Hassling children upsets them, whether it is about eating certain amounts and types of foods, using silverware, or taking “no thank you” bites. That upset generates internal static, which drowns out sensations of hunger and fullness. Think of yourself when demands come at you thick and fast. How capable are you of tuning in on yourself and knowing what you want and need? So children make errors in food regulation. Some make the error of eating too much and growing too fast, some make the error of eating too little and growing too slowly, and some regulate well and grow consistently in spite of all the aggravation.
To see more good and not-so-good feeding, see Feeding with Love and Good Sense I DVD The haircuts are funny and the TVs have knobs, but the feeding relationships are as fresh as ever.
More about feeding
- Follow Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding
- Avoid pressure
- Avoid restriction
- Evitando la Presión
- Children know how much they need to eat
- Family-friendly feeding tips
- How children become competent eaters
- How children learn to eat new food
- Sit-down snacks
- Using “forbidden” food