How to help your children develop a positive relationship with food

What did you learn about food growing up? Were you raised in a household with a parent that was always on a diet and worrying about their weight? Did you grow up thinking ice-cream and sweet foods were a treat or reward for doing well at school? Perhaps you learnt that certain foods are "good" and others are "bad" because they make you put on weight?


Something that I notice when helping individuals to rebuild their relationship with food is that our view of food is often formed very early on in our lives. Someone that has grown up with a parent that is always on a diet, may then always worry about their weight and food choices well into adulthood. Someone that has grown up feeling that sweet food is something that can make them feel better when they are sad - may still as an adult turn to sugar as coping mechanism. Of course school influences, friends, university, media-outlets and other factors all play a role in the relationship with food that we form - and the upbringing from our parents isn't the sole factor shaping how we feel about food. Yet knowing that our childhood experiences with food can have a significant impact on how we view food in adulthood, how can a parent help their children to build a positive relationship with food?


Here are some tips for all of you parents and caregivers on helping your children to build a positive relationship with food:


1. Keep the conversation away from weight and calories

Many of the people that I work with have grown up in households where weight was often a topic of conversation. If someone lost weight then this was praised and if someone gained weight then this was frowned upon. This narrative around and focus on weight can however be very destructive for an individual's relationship with food. Food can then only be looked at through the lens of weight i.e. will this food make me put on weight - rather than as the source of nourishment. Inviting children to focus on their calorie consumption can also make them more prone to obsessive thoughts about food and to developing eating disorders. It is safest to keep the conversations away from weight and calories and instead talk about food in terms of its health-promoting properties.


2. Encourage variety

AFRID (or avoidant food restrictive intake disorder) is an eating disorder that often develops from childhood and involves an individual having a fear of eating certain foods due to their taste, texture or smell. It often involves an individual only eating beige or "safe"/bland foods and often having a fear of eating many fruits, vegetables and other food groups. A way to prevent this condition from arising in your children is to ensure that they are encouraged to try and eat a variety of different foods - even those that they don't particularly like initially. Don't stop encouraging them to eat foods because they don't like them at first - keep encouraging them to try different things as their taste buds can change as they get older. Of course the best way to do this is to role model this positive behaviour by having lots of variety in your diet too.


3. Don't be on restrictive diets yourself or talk about dieting

Children don't just pick up what you tell them - they pick up a lot of what you show them through your behaviours too. Subconscious