When I asked Norae to share some of her smarts on nutrition and diet here at The Mine, I had no idea what I was getting into: the ideas, tips, and opinions just keep coming. Thank you, Norae!
A Guest Post by registered dietitian Norae Ferrara
First, please let me say that I know not all of you readers are in this category. And some of you will probably disagree with this view. But, what I can share is that through my nutrition counseling experience that many, many, many of my patients have shared this fear with me. One such client was a first-time mom, in a group nutrition class with her healthy six-month old, and asking me, "So when do I need to start worrying about childhood obesity?" Funny, I thought, that she was unaware that she is already worried about it—and also unaware that that exact thought makes her child more likely to be obese. What you focus on expands, you know? And clinical and behavioral studies have shown that parents who restrict food intake unnecessarily may create over-eaters as a result. So I am writing this because I know there are at least a few (hundred) of you out there who know how this new mom felt, and will benefit from this insight.
Let's define the fear
The fear is very real. Overweight parents, usually suffering from what I call "chronic dieter's syndrome," worry that their children will grow up with the same set of insecurities, an all-consuming cycle of dieting that often leaves them with more weight than they started before the diet. The fear is even more intense with Type 2 diabetics who want to do everything they can to help prevent their child from having to go through what they go through. Well, if this is your fear and you can understand the next few paragraphs and apply the concepts to your life, you will never have to worry about him or her growing up with overweight or over-eating issues again.
Change your relationship with food and you change your life — and your child's life
What do I mean relationship with food? Well, if we have been taught to eat our vegetables before we get dessert, it is likely that we have ingrained in our subconscious an idea that vegetables are punishment and dessert is a reward. And, if we also watch enough television, the commercials have most definitely convinced our subconscious mind that after a long day of work, we don't have enough time to eat healthy and only a large meal will satisfy us. We deserve it after a tough day, right? And in the commercials, after a large plate of hot food, the actors always look better, don't they?
This is a fundamental error in our thinking, and leads to over-indulgence when we feel bad. I find that some diabetics feel punished by the need to monitor carbohydrate intake and avoid sugars. It's true — it is not fun, but changing the way you look at it can have incredible reward. If you feel punished, it is more than likely your child will also grow up with a view of sweets and "forbidden" foods as rewards, and the restriction of them as a punishment.
Ok, so what are we supposed to think?
Eat what you need, not what you want. What you need is actually what you want anyway, you just have to re-train your brain to understand this. It feels better to eat healthy and eat the right amount. And, what makes it so easy is that you already know how to do it! That's right: we were born with the amazing ability to eat just the right amount. It is actually our instinct! Just ask any mom who has breastfed how she knew her child was hungry? It was not by the clock, or by the amount of work the infant put in that day in the office, and he never felt obligated to eat because others were eating — she knew he needed to eat when he started crying or fussing. He was uncomfortable, and he let her know. Then ask her how she knew that he was full? "He stopped eating," she'll tell you. "He fell asleep or started sticking his tongue out. He just stopped." And the final question is "how did you know how many carbs and calories and fats he got?" The answer was simple—she had no idea. But he grew well, and for as long as this system of intuitive eating was left in place, he grew normally. And if you can tap into this ability for yourself, your days of eating too much of the wrong thing will be numbered, and few and far between.
Learn to listen closely to your signs of hunger
Adults have the same ability as the infants. Instead of crying or fussing when we are hungry, we get irritable, unfocused, tired, de-motivated, etc. When we listen to this, and can decipher the difference between true hunger and some other type of stress, we do very well. The challenge is that many of us have already learned to solve emotional or mental stress-type problems with food. When we do this, we are not solving anything. In fact, if you are paying attention, you actually feel worse! And as a diabetic, repeated episodes of the reward-punishment cycle will result in major problems.
For the kids
It is important to set boundaries around food with them. They need structured, set, scheduled meal times, and they need healthy choices. You pick the choices, make sure there are balanced options, and allow them to use their infant instincts about the portions—they will stop when they are full! Some days they will eat more than others. Some days they will hardly eat and sometimes they will eat more than double of what you eat. It's normal, and expected. Allow them to maintain this personal control and you will raise a healthy eater with a healthy body. It works every time.
So do the same for yourself. Regardless of whether there is free food at the meeting, or if the extra large is 50% less per ounce than the regular size, make your decisions based on hunger, and stop when you feel better. That is all we need to do (in addition to picking healthy foods of course!) to stay healthy and model healthy behavior for our kids. The fundamental question I will leave you with to help you in your journey for balance is "Do I feel better?" Ask yourself this question, every time, after a meal or a snack, and you will get the information you need. When the answer is no, dig a little deeper and you can get to the root of it. If you struggle with figuring these things out, get some support! This is what dietitians are for!
You can find a dietitian in your area by contacting your doctor or visiting www.eatright.org (the American dietetic association website). Visit Norae online or in person at her practice, the San Francisco Nutrition Clinic.