As suggested in the webinar, I’ve been shifting the emphasis of my motivation away from weight loss alone. I’ve wondered about mentioning to him – in a light way – some of the reasons we might choose some foods over others, in terms of their effects on our health, rather than only weight. I don’t want to go overboard with this, because children only need to hear things a few times to take them in (even if it doesn’t always seem this way!).
I deliberately try not to comment on his weight or the weight of others or myself, in a negative or a positive way. I know he will pick up on any of this as evidence that ‘weight matters’, reinforcing the over-emphasis on weight and appearance in our culture. It wasn’t the case in my family, but I know some people grew up with parents saying: “you’ll get fat if you eat that” which can create really unhelpful associations about certain foods being ‘forbidden’. I think it’s better to teach him that some things you eat give your body the nutrition it needs and some things don’t. It seems to me to be a more effective way to encourage better eating.
It is true, though, that promoting a sense of real choice can be a minefield! How can you encourage good eating without introducing prohibitive thinking, which could prompt rebellion? Perhaps partly by deliberately not saying, “no, you can’t”, and instead trying, “not today, maybe next week” or, “how about looking forward to one of those tomorrow?” In other words, by leaving future choices open. I do make sure to follow through with these sometimes; otherwise he may experience it as prohibition anyway.
We do in fact do have a lot of power in what our younger children eat, mostly because if we don’t buy it, they can’t have it! And at least to some extent there’s nothing wrong with that. They are, after all, children. They don’t have adult brains, knowledge or the wisdom that comes from experience. I don’t think it’s wise to give them total freedom with food any more than we do with anything else, such as staying out late or running across roads.
We can, however, offer them quite a lot of choice, whilst offering ‘real food’ at least most of the time. If or when they are hungry, they will eat something. Getting them involved in food preparation can be very helpful to encourage experimenting with new foods. By offering mainly nutritional choices, I get less worried about whether he eats or leaves any of it, which I think means he’s less likely to develop particular aversions.