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Letting children self regulate with food

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 
Hi,
I've just finished reading 'Are You Hungry' by Jane R.Hirschmann and Lela Zaphiropouios. Having many food issues myself that i don't want to pass onto my children and a really picky 6 year old I thought i'd give the whole self regulation thing a go.

So today i told them they could eat what ever they want, when ever they want. DS1 has eaten 4 bowls of ice cream and 8 bowls of cereal and DS2 has had 3 bowls of ice cream, 5 bowls of cereal and a muffin! So i am expecting this 'testing' phase to last a few weeks till they can trust me to give them what they are hungry for and don't keep on feeling the need to eat restricted foods because they are no longer restricted. But at the moment i feel like the worlds worst mother for letting my children eat such rubbish.

So has any one else tried this, how did it work?

I think DS1 might be on the spectrum which accounts for his pickiness - will this way of eating help him eat a wider range of foods or will it encourage his food obsessiveness? Previously we have tried to 'make' him eat new foods by bribing him with sweet stuff but that just doesn't feel right to me. I hate dinner times being a battle with me putting food in front of them and them not wanting it - given the choice they eat fruit, cereal, bread, pasta, carrots and corn on the cob.

So am i creating sugar eating monsters by letting them self regulate?

Vikki
post #2 of 63
Well...I have read Mindful Eating which talks a lot about the difference between external and internal eating cues. (Like portion size, big plates, food availability, and so on.) It's a great read. It points out that most humans regulate reasonably well, but can be off by 100 calories or so a day. And that does impact on health in the long run, if the 'off' is always 'over' on sweets and things.

Before the age of about 5 (varies a bit for each kid) kids do generally self-regulate really well. After that they become the sophisticated social human beings we all are and their food choices can definitely be influenced by a lot of things including advertising, peers and so on.

So I have come to believe that with school-aged kids parental guidance is helpful and even important, as is setting kids up for success.

That doesn't mean regulating every bite or every meal. It might be as simple as not buying more ice cream when it's gone (although with siblings, I think it would be important not to penalize the sibling that doesn't get there first, so separate containers or something). It might be making sure the fronts of cupboards are full of healthy & appetizing choices. Or setting budgets.

So basically...I think that self-regulation is pretty complex once kids are older.
post #3 of 63
We do kind of a mix, we don't keep much in the way of "junk foods" in the house either. And that's not just because of the kids, but also us adults. My kids prefer fruit anyways. Meal times are regulated (as in, we have a meal plan, eat as a family and they "try" things that are served), but there are free for all foods in the house for other times. Sandwiches are always ok, as is cereal and oatmeal, I usually have a free for all fruit on hand too like grapes or bananas. Then we have a actual snacks, mostly used for school. Generally they each have their own set of snacks and they regulate how they use it, they know I only restock every 2 weeks so if they eat them all right away they'll be stuck with "boring" snacks for school. After they figured that out they started to regulate those on their own.

I can't allow full access to everything because there is no way we could afford it, but I think a good balance and available options has worked well for us.
post #4 of 63
I am a big believer in honoring the kids' internal food cues. This means that when we can be we are a little more flexible with their meal times and also let them graze whenever they want. It also means that they don't have to "clean their plates" at any meal.

However, I also have a responsibility to provide them healthy choices and balance. So no they don't have to finish everything on their plates at dinner, but if they aren't hungry enough to at least try everything on their plate, they probably aren't hungry enough for dessert.

They must have just a little bit of healthy breakfast before they go to school so their bodies know it's time to wake up.

And I try to steer them to healthy choices. How about a banana? How about yogurt? Let's pick the whole grain bread this time - see how much fuller it makes you?

It's a tricky balance. For example, my younger ds is inclined to eat a tiny breakfast, a big morning snack, a tiny lunch, a big afternoon snack, a smaller dinner and then want a snack right before bed. It wouldn't be my choice, but as long as what he chooses from is healthy, then I honor his cues.
post #5 of 63
We do this - we just don't buy the rubbish. If it isn't in our house - who is gonna eat it?
post #6 of 63
I will add that this is mostly because I struggle a lot with food issues (being restricted in my own childhood) and don't like currently being the size I am - don't want to get bigger and have no self control if it is in the house - so we don't buy the crap because I might eat it all! lol
post #7 of 63
Thread Starter 
Well i've been making healthy suggestions and it seems like the need for cereal has eased off for today at least. Before today i guess we have always been pretty relaxed with food, i don't make them try or eat anything but i always ask and there is always loads of healthy food in the house. I guess it doesn't make so much sense if you've not read the book! I want to be able to leave them to make healthy choices with what we have in the house but take away all the coercion - i want them to trust their own bodies to know what they want and when they want it. DS1 does not do coercion at all, if you push anything he runs away, i think he would eat better if i did not make such a big deal out of it - i tell him what the foods contain and what they will do to his body.
post #8 of 63
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ann_of_loxley View Post
I will add that this is mostly because I struggle a lot with food issues (being restricted in my own childhood) and don't like currently being the size I am - don't want to get bigger and have no self control if it is in the house - so we don't buy the crap because I might eat it all! lol
This is me too but following the book says that you should let them choose what they want - so i let them choose some ice cream which DH went to buy -the theory being that if you let them have ice cream as often as they want the need for it will abate and it will be seen psychologically as no better / worse than cabbage - it is all food. It's because i can't have 'bad' foods in the house without binging on them that i am interested in this route.
post #9 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by puddleduck View Post
This is me too but following the book says that you should let them choose what they want - so i let them choose some ice cream which DH went to buy -the theory being that if you let them have ice cream as often as they want the need for it will abate and it will be seen psychologically as no better / worse than cabbage - it is all food. It's because i can't have 'bad' foods in the house without binging on them that i am interested in this route.
As anecdata, I grew up in a ridiculously pro-sugar house (my mom thinks that oatmeal cookies are a very healthy breakfast... and I'm talking a couple of cups of sugar in a batch) and she put Pepsi in my bottle and so on. I very rarely mindlessly eat sugar. I don't crave it very often. My husband grew up with sugar being verboten and as a result he is flat out an addict. I eat as much sugar as I do (still pretty low for a standard American) because he pushes it constantly. I can have a pint of ice cream sit in the freezer for months. As a result I'm pretty ok with letting my kids self-regulate. When she gets ice cream she is awesome about having some... and then knowing she's done. For snack she is more likely to ask for nuts and fruit than cookies though I don't have a problem with her having cookies.

So far we have been limiting sugar after 7pm, but I've been seeing data lately that makes me think even that is kind of silly. If we'll let her have other high carb snacks after 7 we probably shouldn't care about her having some sugar.

Uhm it's worth pointing out that with the exception of fruit she probably only has sugary food a couple of times a week and she has fairly small servings when she does eat it. It's not an all-day sugar binge just because she can have it when she wants it.
post #10 of 63
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by rightkindofme View Post
As anecdata, I grew up in a ridiculously pro-sugar house (my mom thinks that oatmeal cookies are a very healthy breakfast... and I'm talking a couple of cups of sugar in a batch) and she put Pepsi in my bottle and so on. I very rarely mindlessly eat sugar. I don't crave it very often. My husband grew up with sugar being verboten and as a result he is flat out an addict. I eat as much sugar as I do (still pretty low for a standard American) because he pushes it constantly. I can have a pint of ice cream sit in the freezer for months. As a result I'm pretty ok with letting my kids self-regulate. When she gets ice cream she is awesome about having some... and then knowing she's done. For snack she is more likely to ask for nuts and fruit than cookies though I don't have a problem with her having cookies.

So far we have been limiting sugar after 7pm, but I've been seeing data lately that makes me think even that is kind of silly. If we'll let her have other high carb snacks after 7 we probably shouldn't care about her having some sugar.

Uhm it's worth pointing out that with the exception of fruit she probably only has sugary food a couple of times a week and she has fairly small servings when she does eat it. It's not an all-day sugar binge just because she can have it when she wants it.
That would be ideal, them choosing to have sugar a couple of times a week and to be honest normally they don't have a lot. I do restrict cereal to every other day and only 2 bowls and we only buy ice cream once a month, chocolate only occasionally, so by normal standards they don't eat much but i want them to chose it not me to force it.

I grew up in a house where my mother was constantly on a diet - she put me on a diet at the age of 14 and i've been on/off diets ever since, i have no idea how to eat like a normal person. She used food for comfort/bribery and i really don't want to pass it on.
post #11 of 63
We let the kids self regulate with food. But, it would be rare for them to eat 8 bowls of cereal and 4 of ice cream, b/c we rarely have those in our house. And really, when I do buy a box of cereal, with four kids, it's usually gone in about a day - which is partly why I don't buy it often, the other reason being it's not very healthy, even the non-sugary kinds. Ice cream is a pretty rare treat and is also gone in a day or two. So, my kids know that when a specific food item is gone, it's gone. Even things like blackberries, b/c at the very least, I won't be buying them again for a week or so. Staples that are always available - such as cheese, nuts, fruits, vegetables, bread, etc., I do replenish often (I go to the grocery store at least twice a week), but I don't regularly buy food items that I wouldn't be okay with them eating frequently.

I do think kids will eat what their bodies need if they have healthy food options available to have as they please. If they aren't used to self-regulating and there are unhealthy options available, of course they are more likely to choose cookies over carrots. And they may even gorge on the junk while it's there, especially if it's a new thing to not have to ask first before helping themselves.

I try really hard to fill our home with real, whole foods that I can live with my kids eating when they please. We do have most meals together, and I don't cook separate things for picky kids (it's just not an issue here), but I also make foods I know everyone will like - or I leave out the green chile, or whatever, for those who think it's too spicy. But snacks and eating in general, is pretty free-range in my home. The only one who really asks first is the 3 yr old, and that's just b/c he can't help himself as easily.

All that isn't to say we don't buy chips or bake sweets at times - we do. But again, when it's gone, it's gone, and my kids do pretty well not choosing cake every time they want a snack for the couple days it's still available.
post #12 of 63
And I grew up in a family where we could eat what we wanted, pretty much, although my mother was a bit of a health-freak in her own way: She wouldn't put sugar in pancakes, made most things fat-free if possible and put grated vegetables in pancakes, baking etc., but her cupboards were always full of store-bought cookies, loads of ice cream in freezer etc., soda in garage. And we could always help ourself from an early age. I used to come home from school at about age 9, and curl up with a book, a bowl of ice cream and a bottle of soda. My mother's concern with that would be that I insisted on reading rather than being outside playing with the other kids. We rarely had candy in my house, and so candy was something we bought with pocket money given on Saturdays. And chips was a family night treat, so we were not allowed to open any bags of chips in the cupboard. There was always plenty of vegetables and fruits, and we were welcome to everything.

I have struggled with food issues (over-eating, emotional eating, weight gain...) since my early teens. I've also been tired for years. When I cut out sugar some years ago (the first time, as my inability to eat almost anything during pregnancy, caused me to choose to eat anything I fancied, as it wasn't much) I rapidly lost weight, and got a lot more energy, and lost my need to always graze on food. I feel so much better, since I cut it out again almost a year ago!

My sister is a recovered anorexic. She stopped eating butter and fat at about age 6, by her own choice. When she was about 8 or 9 we both had a candy promise (no candy for a whole year, except 3 pre-chosen days. and our parents paid us about $100, I think). as we had friends who were doing. My sister didn't start eating candy again after that year. Over the years her health-conscious approach, encouraged by my parents agreement that it was healthy, took over more and more. She is an athlete, which played a big part. By her late teens my parents finally realized that she was severely anorexic. Her last year of High School was a nightmare, then she got a scholarship to a college with a program for eating disorders, where she did, over the next three years, recover, at least in body. She is eating now, but she always feels guilty about eating unhealthy food, feels bad about herself, has a need to exercise a lot and has plenty of depressive episodes.

My brother is the healthiest of us. An athlete as well, although he has another day job, he eats what he wants. He is extremely picky with food, took after our sister with some of her ideas. On the other hand, he's likely to finish a litre carton of ice cream in a couple of days, and will usually be eating ice cream every day (and if he doesn't do that as much in his own flat as at my parents, it is because he is VERY careful with money).

Both my sister, brother and father eats a lot of ice cream. None of them are fat, because they all do a LOT of sports. My mother's thing is eating whole packets of cookies in one sitting, but she's also very sporty and not at all fat.

I really don't think anyone of us learnt to regulate food intake by being allowed to eat what we wanted. I know that by the time I went to university I had lost all feelings of hunger and had no idea why I was eating. I could go a day without food, or eat constantly. It took me several years of hard work to learn to recognize hunger, and other feelings.
post #13 of 63
Thread Starter 
AislinCarys Thanks for your reply. Do you think you're food issues may have stemmed from your mother being obsessive with food? Maybe you had free access to all foods but little knowledge to go with it?


At the moment most of the replies i am getting seem to say allow free access but only to healthy foods - that is what we normally do but do you not think that they should be able to make healthy choices when surrounded with unhealthy foods? My friends children eat very healthily but non healthy foods are v.restricted but when they are at a party with chocolate and crisps they go crazy. I want my children to eat their vegetables because they want them and they know it will make their body strong not because they will get to eat ice cream afterwards because that is saying that ice cream is better than vegetables.

I personally did the eat when your hungry and what you want for 2 weeks - and when i actually ate what i wanted when i was hungry i ate 95% healthy foods and so much less than normally - it made me realise how much i eat when i'm bored, tiered, distracted etc It made me realise how I link eating to doing something else like reading or watching a dvd.

I want to give my children the gift of eating normally and it is really hard because i don't know how to do it myself.
post #14 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by jkpmomtoboys View Post
I am a big believer in honoring the kids' internal food cues. This means that when we can be we are a little more flexible with their meal times and also let them graze whenever they want. It also means that they don't have to "clean their plates" at any meal.

However, I also have a responsibility to provide them healthy choices and balance. So no they don't have to finish everything on their plates at dinner, but if they aren't hungry enough to at least try everything on their plate, they probably aren't hungry enough for dessert.

They must have just a little bit of healthy breakfast before they go to school so their bodies know it's time to wake up.

And I try to steer them to healthy choices. How about a banana? How about yogurt? Let's pick the whole grain bread this time - see how much fuller it makes you?

It's a tricky balance. For example, my younger ds is inclined to eat a tiny breakfast, a big morning snack, a tiny lunch, a big afternoon snack, a smaller dinner and then want a snack right before bed. It wouldn't be my choice, but as long as what he chooses from is healthy, then I honor his cues.
That's what we do. We do have treats in the house and they can have them. But they also know they need to eat the healthy food as well. I don't want to raise my kids to eat everything they're given just because it's there, but I also don't want them to grow thinking its ok to waste food.
post #15 of 63
We do 3 meals, 2-3 snacks, and dessert. Dd can eat whatever she wants of what is offered. We have quite a restricted diet due to dd's food intolerances and I don't want her to feel deprived because of that, so we have plenty of healthy treats that she can have. Like homemade coconut milk ice cream or chia seed pudding. She does remarkable well at self regulating, imo, and asks for stuff like asparagus and bone-in, skin-on sardines.
post #16 of 63
We take an in between approach.

I'm not a short order cook or a snack food vendor. So if I were going to go wholly in the self-regulation direction, there wouldn't be ice cream in the house to start with.

I think overall self regulation is a really good thing, but to me that doesn't mean that *anything* goes. It's more about not rigidly restricting or persistently pushing food, not keeping to rigid schedules for eating (though we have a flexible routine for eating), and that sort of thing.
post #17 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by puddleduck View Post
but do you not think that they should be able to make healthy choices when surrounded with unhealthy foods? My friends children eat very healthily but non healthy foods are v.restricted but when they are at a party with chocolate and crisps they go crazy. I want my children to eat their vegetables because they want them and they know it will make their body strong not because they will get to eat ice cream afterwards because that is saying that ice cream is better than vegetables.
I am a grown up. If someone was willing to pay for and go get ice cream and I had no knowledge of what it did to the size of my butt you bet I would eat nothing but all the days of my life. I like veggies. I like ice cream more.

I ate fairly healthy as a child and in high school not because I I wanted too but because we were too poor for processed food/junk/cereal/soda etc. (we never did have a lot of fresh fruits or veggies though, white bread) I was given lunch money but often skipped lunch in favor of saving the money. Once I moved out and had money (the two did not happen at the same time) I instantly started eating worse. one would figure I would self regulate and drift back to my veggie loving state. Honestly, 90% of the time i would choose ice cream and sugar cereal if I had the choice and money was no object. I buy and eat veggies because I know they are good for me. I am also on a mission to spite my mother by having low cholesterol because she keep insisting hers is hereditary (its not. The only thing passed down in that family is an affection for deep fat frying). So I do self regulate now (after about 15 years of craziness caused by freedom and access ) but more out of knowledge than some intuitive drive. The knowledge of weight gain is the only thing keeping me from going to the candy stash right now. If I was not motivated to lose weight nothing would stop me from making bad food choices. I like candy and ice cream and cake and cookies. I chose veggies because I know they are good for me and that stuff is not.

as for kids and forbidden fruit etc. I raised all three of my kids the same way. Their relation to junk food, over eating, trying new things and making healthy choices reflects more the personality than anything else. They all are very true to form in eating. M my oldest is a junk food fanatic and show little restraint (but she is like this in most areas. making good choices is hard for her). She hates trying new things, is the pickiest eater of the three, and is the first to break our religious fasts every opportunity she gets. She is 14. L is the one who will stop half way through a piece of cake and say "I am full." She is very thoughtful in most areas of life, weighing pros and cons and making an informed decision. Always eager to eat new things, most likely to choose something unusual/new/ethnic/healthy to eat, and usually is eager to keep religious fast periods without encouragement from me. She is 10. A. won't say no to a serving of junk or another but I don't have to worry about her sneaking food into her room and she doesn't usually beg for junk. and she also remembers the next time how it felt when she over did it last time. She will try new things a hundred times but rarely likes them. Is moderately picky but not in a troubling way. She is prone to a little impulsiveness bound by regret. Never extreme and usually in the middle of the other two. Oh and she will keep the religious fasts but only if i ask her to. She is 8. I tell you this because their ability to try new things and make good choices and show self control have nothing to do with how they were raised with regards to food. It fits more into the overall personalities as they were all given more or less the same foods. Ava probably had the worst diet of processed food and sugar because she was born during a very hard time....but still she is moderate and average in all things. I could drop her off a tall building and she would only be moderately injured. She was the baby you read about in parenting books
post #18 of 63
OP, I get what you are trying to do, and I think it sounds awesome, and ideal. I just don't know how feasible it is, for most people.

I eat super, super, super healthy. And I like it. I honestly enjoy hummus and veggies and eggplant and goat cheese and that kind of stuff. Barley is probalby one of my favorite foods!

But I also like cakes and cookies and white bread. Not too much; I wouldn't say that I have a sweet tooth, necessarily, but I do believe that that is because I have trained myself not to, in a way. For me, sugar is an addictive substance. It doesn't make me wired or anything too bad like that, but if I eat a lot of sweets one week, then that is what I want to eat the next week, too. Whereas if I have gone a solid week without any sugar, then I am able to fully appreciate the sweetness of grapes and toasted whole wheat bread, and am satisfied by that. And, if I have a week or so without sugar, it takes less of it to make me feel like I have gotten a "fix" if that makes sense. Whereas if I've been eating more sugar (like lately!) then it takes more sugar in something for it to taste sweet.

So I guess what I am saying is that I do a pretty good job of self regulation by keeping mostly only healthy stuff in the house. I suppose if I had more access to sweet things, then I might have more of a problem.

I do think it awesome, though, that you are really trying to help your kids out with this. It has been a serious, serious struggle with me, complete with anorexia, to finally figure out how I need to eat to feel good, look good, and be healthy. I come from a family with some messed up eating habits, so I am glad to have "gotten out" of that, but it hasn't been easy. I wish my mom had not made me feel guilty about wanting fuller fat foods when I was in high school. But, I turned out ok in the long run.
post #19 of 63
We're sort of doing the "self regulating" thing, mixed with talk about what things our bodies need to function well & grow, & budgeting. We shop 1x a week, & don't buy too many snacky things - once they're gone, they're gone until next week. Ice cream is for birthdays, since DH can't leave it alone. I do talk about what protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, vitamins, dairy, etc. do for us - and that we need to buy (& fill up on) the important "growing" foods first, then we can have some snacks/dessert afterwards, once we've taken care of what our bodies need (we like to eat some things our bodies don't need, because they taste good; & that's OK, in moderation). We have a small garden, which is useful, as they see where some foods come from, & they like to "graze", on tomatos, pea pods, spinach, lettuce, dill, cilantro, parsley, chard, nasturtium flowers, etc. I think some guidance & modeling are important, because how else will kids have a knowledge base to form their own opinions?

I'm an extremely picky eater myself - I don't like funny textures or certain flavors - so I'm trying to do better by my kids, & while they're mostly interested in a rote set of things, I try to give them a variety of foods at each meal, & provide/encourage healthy snacks. For snacks, they like fruit (apples, oranges, peaches, plums, bananas, grapes, kiwi, melon, pineapple, berries, etc), vegetables (spinach leaves, a large raw carrot, frozen green beans (why frozen? ), raw swiss chard (from garden), cheese, frozen juice popsicles, the usual dry cereals (o shaped, chex), & the ubiquitous cheddar fish crackers.
post #20 of 63
I tried this on myself a few years ago, and still try to have a similar policy.
I can`t remember which book I read, likely one by Geneen Roth but I believe she talks a lot about this concept, having all your "binge" foods around and letting yourself eat as much as you want so that you lose that feeling of urgency when you eat it because you know you can always have more. After years of an eating disorder (I was at the very tail end at that point) it really did help me and I can now have a pint of ice cream sit in the freezer, which still today does at times seem miraculous.
I don't think I would try it with children in that capacity. I fully believe in kids ability to self regulate healthy food from day one if not disrupted by adults but a lot of kids seem to have a hard time self regulating very sugary foods, I work with children and the way they act when candy is involved can be scary. I think instead of offering it and asking what they want I would have it in the house and while it is there let them serve themselves without saying anything, but I would also make sure to prepare and serve real meals. In order to not want only ice cream I think they need to have some proper food also. If they don't have food issues already I think making food an issue can be a problem. I personally would try not to bring it up and model healthy eating and body talk around them.
Honestly, I also don't think I could ever watch my kids eat that much ice cream without feeling panicked, 95% of my food issues are gone but when I watch someone engaging in eating disordered behaviour like that I get very panicky.
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