I recently had the privilege of sitting on a doctoral candidate’s dissertation committee.• She was researching maternal intuitive eating and how this can prevent children from developing obesity. One title she considered was “You are what your mother eats,” which, though catchy, we decided was just too reinforcing of the already all-too-prevelant “mother guilt.” If you are a mother, you know what I am talking about: you worry about what your child eats, doesn’t eat, how much, in what way, whether it is packaged in BPA free packaging, whether their daily sugar intake is setting them up for future alcoholism…(OK, I may be getting a bit too far into neurosis here, but the point is that moms worry about their kids, and specifically, what their kids eat). So we decided to change the title.
You are (and are not) what your mother eats.
OK, so now that we have put the guilt aside, her research was fascinating! In many ways, it confirmed much of what has already been discovered about intuitive eating. Intuitive eating (1) can be summarized by the following factors:
- relying on internal cues for hunger and satiety
- eating for physiological rather than emotional reasons
- no dietary restrictions/unconditional permission to eat
- body size acceptance
It has been discovered and empirically validated that infants and toddlers have the capacity to self regulate their eating (2), given the right conditions. The right conditions being: provide a wide variety of nutrient dense food, while allowing the child autonomy to choose which of these foods to eat and when they are hungry.
Ellyn Satter’s work summarizes how parents can think about and put into practice modeling/trusting intuitive eating with children, while surrendering battles for control over two-year-olds refusing to eat broccoli in the following way:
The Division of Responsibility for infants:
- The parent is responsible for what.
- The child is responsible for how much (and everything else).
The Division of Responsibility for toddlers through adolescents
- The parent is responsible for what, when, where.
- The child is responsible for how much and whether.
More on Ellyn Satter (and down loadable handouts) here: http://ellynsatterinstitute.org
Two of the most fascinating clinical implications of this candidate’s research were:
- Mothers can learn about how they can indirectly influence their child’s self-regulation via body acceptance messages.
- Body appreciation is a predictor of intuitive eating and Body acceptance messages from mothers predict awareness of the internal feelings and function of the body.
In other words, the more YOU as a mother listen to YOUR OWN body, hunger cues, appreciate and do not criticize your own body, the more this translates to your child(ren).
She found that “controlling feeding practices” such as:
- Pressuring your child to eat,
- Restricting access to certain foods, as a means to decrease the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes, and
- Monitoring food intake, as a means to track the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes. (4)
all have a negative correlation with developing intuitive eating and do not support body appreciation.
Yep, that means NOT saying “you can have dessert if you eat your vegetables,” not pressuring your child to finish what’s on their plate, and stop micromanaging how much sugar your child eats at various birthday parties. I know, it’s hard! I’m on the journey with you, Mama, trusting that at SOME point in his lifetime my child will eat broccoli…or not! And I can model that it is ok either way.
*Congratulations Dr. Rosanna Franklin, PsyD, California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University, 2014.
1. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyses Resch, 1995
2. Birch and Deysher 1985; Matheny, Birch, and Picciano, 1990.
3. Augustus-Horvath & Tylka, 2011; Avalos & Tylka, 2006.
4. Birch et al., 2001.