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Raising a “Good” Eater – prevent, not create problems

By Michelle May, M.D.

(In my last post, You’re Not the Boss of My Body, I spoke about why Michelle Obama’s campaign should have focused on health instead of weight.)

While I love that Michelle Obama’s campaign is generating needed attention for issues affecting the health of our children, there is great risk in waging a war on childhood obesity. Words like war, battle, and fight stir up the media and the masses, but well-intentioned leaders, health care professionals, and parents are poised to make grave errors based on a flawed paradigm that doesn’t work for adults and will only worsen the problem in children.

As a chubby kid (long before it was even popular and before anyone ever heard the term childhood obesity), I remember the teasing, the bad advice, the shame, and the beginning of a twenty year struggle with yo-yo dieting. This all clearly made matters worse, not better.

Here are what I believe to be the critical keys to preventing problems, without causing more:

  • Children are born with the ability to naturally regulate their food intake to meet their caloric needs. Pay attention when they say they are hungry or full.
  • Don’t force children to clean their plates or bribe them with dessert for finishing their meal.
  • Never use food as a reward. Reward desired behavior with praise, extra attention, and privileges.
  • Don’t comfort your child with food. Use understanding words and hugs instead.
  • Help your child develop interests and skills that increase their success and pleasure so they will be less likely to turn to food for fulfillment.
  • Teach your children to cope with their emotions effectively so food won’t serve that purpose for them.
  • Don’t impose stringent food rules since this may lead to rebellious eating when your children are out of your control.
  • Avoid labeling some foods as “good” and others as “bad.” Instead, teach your children how to balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment.
  • Involve children in shopping, meal planning, and preparation. This is a great opportunity to teach them about nutrition–and they’re more likely to try new foods they picked.
  • Sit down and eat together as a family. Mealtimes should be a pleasant time to reconnect with one another and model healthy eating and conversation.
  • Help your child build a lifetime exercise habit by reducing the amount of time your family spends in sedentary activities like TV and video games.
  • Plan fun activities that provide everyone with exercise, enjoyment, and time together.
  • Be a positive, encouraging role model for your family. When your children see you enjoying healthful foods and physical activity, they are more likely to do the same.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, it’s never too late for you or your children to learn or relearn these lessons.

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

One Comment

  1. Kevin Graham says:

    I love your positive approach to weight loss. Being informed about the process to take better care of ourselves is half the battle. Excellent blog. Thanks!

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