• Paige Smathers

72: Loving with Limits—A Conversation about Parent Feeding Styles

In this episode, I talked with Jill Castle, MS, RDN who is a childhood nutrition expert, author and mother of four. We talk about the different feeding styles parents can have and discuss why parents approach feeding their kids the way they do. We also outline how to navigate difficult conversations with your kids about weight and food when those topics come up in your home.

Every parent wants the best for their child. Every parent wants to provide the tools and education for their children to grow healthfully and happily. But, sometimes even well-intentioned parents approach the feeding relationship in ways that perpetuate or even create issues around food, eating and body image. Jill and I talk about how to avoid the common pitfalls of the feeding relationship and how to feed your children fearlessly.

Jill is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a sought-after speaker the author of several books, a podcast host and a blogger.

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Full transcript:

Paige: Hey guys it’s Paige. Welcome to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. I’m so glad you’re here as always. And before we get into talking about today’s subject and me introducing our guest, I wanted to just have you take a minute, just stop the recording, get on Itunes and leave a review. If you’re on your phone and you have an iphone you just go into the podcast app, you click on let’s see, I’m gonna do it with you right here. You click on search, search nutrition matters and then once you’ve done that you click on the icon with the strawberries, then you do the middle button there, there’s details, reviews, and related. Click on reviews and then click on write a review. I would love it, love it, love it if you just took 2 minutes to do that. That helps the rankings of the show climb, that helps people find the podcast, that helps me to be able to continue to do this work so that, you know, more people are finding this message which means that I’m potentially able to make an income off of it. So if you would take a moment to do that, if you found anything that you’ve listened to on the podcast helpful that would be one of the best ways to be able to give back is just leaving a quick review. It’s also very very helpful to me just on like a, little bit of a personal level. It’s just nice to know that there’s people out there who this is helping and I read every single one of them and each and every one I read just makes my day. So take a second to do that. Also if you’d like to join me on my facebook group to be able to talk about these episodes in more depth, then kind of have a little bit more a little community feel around, to be able to learn more about these issues and to be able to discuss with other people on similar paths, join me there. That’s Nutrition Matter Podcast study group. Ok, so with that let’s talk about our conversation today, today I am talking with Jill Castle, who is a registered dietitian nutritionist and she is an expert in childhood nutrition. She has spent the last 25 years of her life dedicating herself to help babies, toddlers, children and teens and parents of all of those children to develop a healthy relationship with food and she’s the author of two books but I’m sure there’s more. Two books that I know of called, one is called, Eat Like a Champion, and then next is called, Fearless Feeding, with Maryann Jacobsen, who I actually also interviewed on this podcast. So she is just a joy to talk to, she also, oh this is another thing I needed to tell you is that she has a podcast and she’s going to tell you about it on the episode today but it’s called, The Nourished Child. So if you’re really interested in learning more about childhood feeding and feeding dynamics that we’re talking about in this episode, you might want to check out her podcast and blog. She has a lot of great free resources available as well. So today on the podcast, Jill and I discuss this idea of different feeding styles that parents have and really trying to dive into why do we feed our kids the way that we do. How does the way that we were fed as children affect our own relationship with food and our own way that we feed our kids? And what are the consequences of the different feeding styles and how do we develop a quote on quote, “ideal feeding style” with our parenting relationship that we have. And then in the last part of the conversation, we also have a conversation about how to talk to kids about weight. So that was really interesting and I loved her take on that and I am sure that you’ll enjoy it. So with that, let’s get on and take a listen.

Paige: Alright, well Jill Castle welcome to Nutrition Matter Podcast and thank you so much for being here.

Jill: Thank you so much for having me Paige! I’m happy to be on your show.

Paige: Yay! Me too. So let’s get right on into the topic for the day. We want to talk a little bit about the things that you’re most excited and passionate about and you’ve spent the last 25 or so years of your life dedicating your career and time to helping parents create healthy feeding dynamics for their families and for kids to be raised in homes that are happy and healthy from a mental and physical perspective. Is that somewhat of a good summary? Do you want to add some more to that?

Jill: Yeah, oh yeah no that’s a great summary. I think that kids are my passion and my purpose is to help parents be you know, the wonderful providers and feeders and connectors that they can be around food and nutrition. So it’s not easy in today’s world, as you well know.

Paige: Yes, it’s so true.

Jill: It gets harder and harder it seems but I’ve got 4 of my own kids so I, you know, those poor 4 kids, they’ve been my guinea pigs along the way too. So I feel like I have the nutrition expertise but I also have some of the parenting and the feeding expertise you know to sort of back up what I find works for my clients and what has worked for me.

Paige: Yeah I think it’s always a little bit of a weaving your own personal experience with the research and with working with other people, it’s just this nice little molding for each individual of what’s going to work best for them based on all those things.

Jill: Right.

Paige: So let’s, let me just ask a really broad question and then we’ll see where this conversation goes. So today we wanted to talk a little bit about feeding dynamics and feeding styles and kind of how these feeding styles develop in parents and then how the different styles of feeding affect children. And then one of the big, one of the big things I want to hit on today too is this idea of how to talk to our kids about weight because I think, I think that is one of the questions I get a lot from my podcast listeners is like, ok thanks for all these resources for me as the adult and thanks for this advice about feeding kids but what about, like what do I say? Like what words can I and can’t I say? And for anyone listening who’s listened to this podcast for a while you know I kind of really try to avoid that black and white thinking, that’s like, this is a good way to say it and this is a bad way to say it. You know, we don’t want to have super huge rules in our head about what’s good and bad and right and wrong around these issues. It really depends on your own family and your own kids and their personalities and your own style but I wanna have a general discussion around that because it can be really tricky when you become aware of these issues and you become sensitized to them, then you sort of sometimes feel paralyzed. Well how do I talk and how do I act if I know that something I might say might really affect my child you know? So sometimes parents feel really nervous about navigating that and I think that’s reasonable fear that some parents have.

Jill: Sure. Mmhmm, definitely.

Paige: Alright, so with that where do you wanna start? What would be a good spot to start with all those topics and things I have in mind?

Jill: Well, yeah I think the first place to start is probably thinking about as a parent you know, sort of what your roots are, what your history is with food and how you were raised and you know, on my own podcast when I, whenever I interview another expert I always ask, what was your experience like as a child around food and nutrition particularly in the area of feeding? And everybody has a story, Paige, everybody has a memory. Many of the memories aren’t very positive to be quite honest. And yet at the same time even though they might be a negative memory or a negative feeling they still come out on top, they still have you know, they’ve done ok so despite having some things happen in their past with feeding they’ve managed to grow up as adults and figure it all out. So I think when I, whenever I’m working with parents, I’m always curious about what their history is and when I say, what’s your history around feeding? I’m really interested in how they were raised. So what feeding style was used when they were raised and what were some of the practices that were happening around food and around meal time. So we know that there are 4 different feeding styles. There’s the authoritarian feeding style which is sort of my way or the highway, if I tell you, you have to sit at the table and eat your food and not leave until it’s done, that’s the way it’s gonna play out that’s what’s gonna happen or else. That’s the authoritarian feeding style and it’s really more about the parent, it’s more centered around the parent’s wishes and desires and less so around the child’s food preferences or their own appetite for example.

Paige: You know what’s so interesting about that?

Jill: Hmm

Paige: And I can trace my line back and I know that my grandma on my mom’s side was very much that way and I can see, I could see my mom’s feeding style be very much affected by the way her mom fed her she was somewhat of the opposite. So it will be interesting to hear these different other styles because I, I think that sometimes we are a reaction to our parents, right? And I think that’s part of where you’re going with this.

Jill: Absolutely.

Paige: But as people are listening, start thinking back, not only to your parents but maybe to even the stories you’ve heard from your parents about how they were fed and we often sort of react and maybe go to a different extreme sometimes when we’re navigating that. So keep going but I love it so far.

Jill: Yeah, most definitely. Yeah, yeah and I will share myself, I was, I’m the daughter of the oldest daughter of two German parents from you know, my father’s heritage is directly from Germany and I was raised with an authoritarian feeding style. No doubt I had to sit at the table till I was done eating and the plate was clean so that being said, I was never punished, it was never a horrible thing for me because I was a good girl, my personality was to be a pleaser and to never break the rules and do everything I was told so I didn’t have a lot of negative association with that as a child but I do, I do recall and understand that that’s sort of my background. But because of that, you mentioned your mother feeding in an opposite way, the next feeding style is called the permissive feeding style and it is pretty much the opposite of the authoritarian so it’s characterized by being very responsive to a child’s wishes and desires and also not having tons of structure and boundaries around food and eating. So I always say to the families that I’m working with, that’s like the Yes parent. That’s the parent that if the child says he’s hungry even though it’s just been a half an hour since he’s had lunch, the permissive parent will quickly scramble to find something for that child to eat. Or that parent might just really want to please the child in any way she can and food is an easy way to please the child so there might not be a lot of structure around sweets and treats and snacking for example.

Paige: I can be, I can see how that style would come maybe become more pronounced and prominent in situations where there’s a divorce or there’s a bunch of chaos or maybe working full time both parents you know, where just like you’re kind of in survival mode around food sometimes. Yeah that’s interesting. K sorry. I’m just commenting on each one.

Jill: No that’s ok, and definitely for some people who were raised with that authoritarian, strong arm way of feeding, they, and I’ve had clients in my practice who have said, listen, this is how I was raised so there’s no way I’m raising my child like that.

Paige: Right!

Jill: I am going to be much more flexible, they think they’re being flexible with food but often times they’re just being, they’re allowing the child to basically set the parameters around food and eating and all of those things which is not good either.

Paige: So any hint of structure or authoritarian, yes or no or saying no maybe is scary to someone who’s been raised in that way. I could imagine. Yeah ok.

Jill: Exactly. The third style is the neglectful style and that is really where food and feeding children is not a high priority for the parent but that can also be a feeding style that’s not used because of sort of the history of how they were fed, it could be that it’s related to socioeconomic situations so parents that are working all the time and aren’t home to feed their children or don’t have the means to access food. So that neglectful feeding style what it does, it really comes off to a child as an insecurity around food and meal time because they don’t, nothing’s predictable so we know that from the little research in that area, is that children might become more focused on food because it’s not predictable, regular, and might not be what they want to eat or enough so they get nervous.

Paige: Yeah

Jill: They get a little focused on it and they get a little nervous around food.

Paige: I’ve seen that, that type of feeding style in adults that I’ve worked with and sort of how that affects them later and that’s what you just said about the research just consistent with what I’ve seen many times with people who were raised with that feeding style. And like you said, it’s often out of you know, the parents control and not intentional but just kind of the way it goes you know?

Jill: Yeah, and then the last one is sort of, it’s called the authoritative feeding style and it’s the positive feeding style there’s two T’s in it. And I always say, there’s two T’s there’s two plus signs, that means it’s positive positive because parents can get confused with the authoritarian style cause it’s a similar word but the authoritative style is the love with limits style. So you love your child, you appreciate his food preferences, you understand his temperament, you respond to his appetite signs but you also have structure, you have boundaries around food and feeding and, but you also allow your child to have a voice in matters. So you might allow your child to serve himself his own food at dinner time or you may allow your child to help do the meal planning or select some of the food that’s being purchased for the week. So the child has a say in what he eats and that whole dynamic around feeding but he’s not in charge, the parent is still in charge.

Paige: Ok, so if I’m kind of a visual person and even though I podcast, I like to sometimes paint a picture so here’s what I’m imagining in my head, kind of on one end of the spectrum we have the authoritarian style and then on the other end we have the permissive style and then in the middle maybe is the authoritative, where there’s some situations where you’re, where you are a bit more, nope we’re not doing that and there’s other situations where you are a bit more permissive or a bit more collaborative with your child about, about decisions and about food preferences and selection and all that. And maybe neglect, the neglectful style, is that how you said it? Neglectful?

Jill: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.

Paige: Maybe that’s not really on the spectrum just because it’s maybe a bit more related to financials, socioeconomic situation, less related to personalities of the parent. Is that fair?

Jill: Right. Yeah.

Paige: That’s just what I’m imagining

Jill: Yeah, and the funny thing is that pretty much all parents dip their toes into all the different feeding styles depending on the situation or circumstances that they’re in.

Paige: Oh yeah, I can see that.

Jill: Yeah I mean I’ve, when I’m really busy and traveling, I might not stock the house with food before I leave, I might you know, just be too busy to do that. Well that can come off neglectful as a child so, to a child rather. So I think it’s important to note that we can all demonstrate all 4 of these feeding styles but generally there’s one that prevails and the way that you can tell which on prevails is by the practices that are happening day in and day out. So with the, and this might get a little confusing and I can actually give you a download, a couple of download handouts for you to share that sort of separates these things out.

Paige: Oh that’d be great.

Jill: The authoritarian feeding style, so that controlling feeding style, is what we see for practices like the day to day stuff, restricting your child from you know, indulgent foods like sweets or candy or sodas, really having a tight tight control over those foods. That’s consistent with that authoritarian feeding style. Another practice is to reward your child with treats or sweets to get them to eat what you want them to eat so mostly that’s healthy foods like vegetables or to get them to behave in a certain way so you want them to be quiet or well behaved at the doctor’s office, you promise a sucker when you’re done. That is another practice that we can see that tells us that parent’s feeding style is more like an authoritarian feeding style.

Paige: Yeah, not a big fan of the food reward thing.

Jill: Yeah so food reward, food restriction.

Paige: Gets tricky for a child to understand what that means and it can become really easy to manipulate and it’s, yeah, kind of gets into some murky waters.

Jill: Definitely.

Paige: Although, it’s tricky as a parent because it really does work right?

Jill: Mmhmm.

Paige: So it’s like, sometimes you’re just desperate and you’re like, stop this huge fit you’re embarrassing me at the doctor’s office. Just if you stop, I will give you something, something delicious. Yeah so I, I mean, while I’m not a big fan of it, I do have compassion for people and even for myself because sometimes I found myself doing that.

Jill: Definitely.

Paige: It’s just, it’s just, it’s really tricky.

Jill: Yeah, definitely. And I think the point is, it becomes problematic if it’s used a lot. I think that again, if predominantly you’re parenting with that love, love limits and sometimes you’re using a reward or sometimes. All of these different practices are negative in general, if you look at the literature, they are all considered to be negative practices. But part of the trick is that parents don’t even recognize they’re doing them and they often times are frustrated with their child and they think it’s, my child won’t eat their vegetables or this that or the other and it really isn’t about the vegetables so much as it is about the practices that they are using that are sort of shooting themselves in the foot in terms of getting their child to eat their vegetables.

Paige: Yeah

Jill: The third practice that’s really common too, Paige, is pressure to eat. And pressure to eat is basically reminding, nagging, pushing your child to take another bite, try new food, to eat all their food on the plate. That’s all pressure and in children, particularly children who are picky eaters, we know that pressure to eat really backfires. It really turns them off, it really turns off their appetite. They don’t eat better and they don’t eat more. And in children who might struggle with their weight, they also this pressure to eat can really backfire because it helps, it basically enables them to tune out of their appetite and eat more than their body tells them to eat. So sometimes you know, you’re at a party or you’re having a dinner and the parent is saying you need to clean your plate, well, that’s pressure to eat. You need to clean your plate before you can leave and the child says, but I’m not hungry anymore. But the parent says, well I really want you to eat all that broccoli. And so the child, being the good child that they are, they go ahead and they eat all that broccoli when they weren’t hungry. So pressure to eat can have that other effect where you are pushing the child to have more your own agenda of what you want your child to eat and that child complies and all the while is learning to ignore his internal regulator.

Paige: Right, disconnecting from those fullness queues and it seems like personality of the child makes a difference here right? Like you mentioned earlier that you were they type of kid that was like, I’m a good girl, I’ll do what you ask, I’m a people pleaser and that’s the type of kid I was too and so if my mom told me to eat more, I wouldn’t even think about what my body was saying, I would just do it.

Jill: Mmhmm.

Paige: And then, I could also see how you know, for a more kind of defiant sort of like…

Jill: Rebellious child.

Paige: Yeah rebellious child that that would have the opposite effect like oh, you think you can tell me what to do? Let me show you how you can’t.

Jill: Right.

Paige: and either way, it’s disconnecting the child from what they really should be tuning into which is you know, those natural queues that we’re all born with that we all somehow move away from throughout these years of toddlerhood or early childhood and then on to adulthood as well.

Jill: Well, and that’s the thing, I mean there’s so much now, I’ll get on a little soapbox and a little tangent, there’s so much now about re-teaching adults how to be intuitive eaters and my, part of my purpose I feel on the planet is to help parents capture and hang on to what was already there when they were born. Is that intuition.

Paige: Amen. Yes

Jill: That intuition is there and it’s these practices and the feeding style and the lack of food system and feeding structure and developmental awareness of where their child is at. That gets parents into murky waters and can oftentimes result in them using some of these practices which completely disconnect their children from that intuition that they are born with.

Paige: Yeah that’s very well said and I completely agree with that I think that’s so important and I love the idea that this is not really learning something new. This is just coming back to something we already know as adults and then once we’ve, and that’s what I sort of see my work as primarily and then I love, I love bringing in the idea of parenting and raising up this new generation of little eaters who are able to connect to their bodies and it’s so much easier for a child to do that when they’re when the feeding dynamics are, I love what you said about the love, wait, what did you say about the loving with..?

Jill: Love with limits.

Paige: Love with limits. That’s awesome and, but I think it’s hard to feed in this style if you are a very rigid body image obsessed sort of like, chaotic, orthorexic eater, right? I mean if you’re, it’s very difficult to pass on great eating habits when you struggle yourself and so I think it’s this really important message just in general for parents to be able to do this themselves so then they can set that example for their kids.

Jill: Right and that’s why I think that’s the first step is going back to your own roots and identifying your own experience as a child because that informs you of your triggers, of your tendencies, what could be. And even if you’re not mimicking what your parents were doing with you, if you rejected that and adopted something else instead that new thing might not be the most positive thing and so really just sort of doing a deep dive and understanding where you’re coming from as an individual who has had an experience as a child, what does that experience tell you? And how is that potentially playing out with your children. So that’s a first step really.

Paige: Yeah and just one more comment about that and then I wanna hear about your next step but you know, sometimes as parents, I think something we do is we say, oh my parents did it that way and I didn’t like that so I’m going to just reject everything about the way that they did that and do the opposite. And I think it’s hardly ever the right answer to do the complete one hundred eighty percent or one hundred and eighty degrees, is what I meant to say, turn from your parents. Maybe thinking about what were the elements that were good and what can I hold on to? What can I let go of and what’s right for my child? Not necessarily, how can I be completely opposite from the way that my parents did it. You know?

Jill: Yeah absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s a big circle and it’s all connected, and I always like to say, survey and select. No parent is 100% bad and most every parent I know I feel that I know anyways, is well intentioned

Paige: Right.

Jill: So you know, look for, look for the pearls of wisdom, look for the positive slices. Unfortunately, kids, the literature even tells us this, adults tend to remember the negative stuff when it comes to their experience of feeding but I also believe that good solid foundations carry through so even though I was raised with an authoritarian feeding style, my mother had dinner on the table every night at 6 o’clock and she made and cooked food for us every night. And so I hold onto that because that was a good habit and that’s a habit that I want for my own family. So despite being authoritarian, she did great stuff too.

Paige: Yeah, yeah.

Jill: And I think that’s what everybody can kind of look for from their own childhood experience.

Paige: And also for anyone who’s wanting to make some different choices in their own parenting experience you know, so if you have been somewhat of an authoritarian or maybe a permissive parent in the past with your feeding style, maybe hold onto the things that you were doing right and let go of some of the things that you feel weren’t as functional or helpful for your family and don’t beat yourself up about it. The cool thing about kids is they’re super resilient and forgiving.

Jill: Mmhmm.

Paige: Right?

Jill: Absolutely.

Paige: So there’s always room for, for doing that with yourself, kind of like we were talking with, about with a parent, with your own parents is you can keep what worked and leave what didn’t but you can do that with yourself too.

Jill: Yeah, definitely. I always say childhood is a period of growth and it’s not just physical growth. Their minds are growing, they’re attitudes are growing, their philosophies are growing and so there’s a lot of molding that can be happening and even though you might mess something up, there’s so much room for growth from that in childhood, which is the beauty of pediatric nutrition and childhood, I think because nobody’s ever a done deal when they’re in childhood.

Paige: Exactly and I think even parents somewhat, sometimes if this is appropriate, you know I’ve done this myself, where you make a mistake with your kids and maybe you lose your patience and instead of just sweeping it under the rug and saying and just moving on and not saying anything about it, sometimes I’ll get down on their level and look them right in the eye and say, you know what? I’m so sorry I just made a mistake. Even mommies make mistakes. And I think we can sometimes even do that with the feeding relationship if you’ve been saying something li