Q&A: For mothers – and others

The Question:

I’ve been reading and re-reading both of your books and have been putting so many changes into practice, and pleased to find they actually stay in place! I’m a single mother of an 8-year-old daughter, and I would be interested to hear from you how far you think I should take her on this journey with me. Do I let her eat all the sugar she wants, all the sugar she has been eating for most of her life, or should I start to impose restrictions? I understand what you write about how unhelpful it is to make rules, but I don’t know how I can do away with rules as far as she’s concerned.

My Answer:

This is such an important question, one I’m often asked and tough for me to answer. Tough, I think, for two reasons: because it is quite a challenge, and also because the details of how you make any changes will be so individual to you, your daughter and your relationship, it’s difficult for me to make helpful suggestions.

Having said that, there is plenty for me to say on the subject and I hope you can take away something you can use. As childhood obesity is such an important topic these days, there’s a lot of research, including studies on what happens when snack foods high in sugar are restricted. (1, 2, 3)

The general conclusion of this research can be summarised as follows:

“Parents’ use of restrictive feeding practices is counterproductive, increasing children’s intake of restricted foods and risk for excessive weight gain.” (1)

Keeping that in mind, here are some of my ideas and possible strategies:

  • My first suggestion is to make changes gradually. I’d say, “slow and steady wins the race”.
  • When your daughter asks why a particular change about food has been made, answer in terms of looking after your health, rather than trying to lose or not gain weight. If you can point out an example, so much the better. For instance, “the stomach ache you got yesterday was your body telling you it wasn’t happy with all that cake you ate.” Preferably this is said in a friendly and sympathetic tone of voice.

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  1. rketels@hotmail.co.uk'Robyn

    Gillian, I found your article very interesting. I am 53 and was placed on a diet by my mother when I was 11 or 12, as I had put on weight whilst being in hospital for 6 weeks when I was almost 11. Hard to believe that someone could put weight on in hospital, but it’s absolutely true and I’ve been dealing with it ever since.

    I’ve have done some email work with you before but am still struggling with this whole thing and over the last few days I have thought the reason is because I find it very hard to allow myself to really have choice about what I eat. There is so much underlying guilt, prohibition and deprivation involved. I’m not sure how I am ever going to get past it but you have certainly given me something to think about.

    Very timely article. Thank you.

  2. andrea.welch1@btinternet.com'Andrea

    There is some great advice there Gillian. I have found a lot of comfort and help in reading your books. I am not overweight but do struggle with food addiction, particularly sweet things and I had become too concerned about appearances. I gained a lot of perspective from your writing. I really feel for the children and young adults who have weight problems and the thought of being on a diet at such a young age is distressing. Really feel for you Robyn.

    As far as advice goes for children I firmly believe that getting kids educated and knowing their way around the kitchen is key. I think one of the saving graces for me is that I was lucky to be taught to plan and cook meals at a very early age and was able to pass this on to my own children. Getting the kids to plan a meal, write the shopping list, shop and cook is the best and most practical way. They love it too and you can concentrate them on cooking a healthy main meal with sweet stuff taking a back seat. Schools don’t do this so much anymore and sadly when they do it seems they only end up cooking buns, cakes etc.
    Thank you Gillian.

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