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  • Writer's picturePaige 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 like, oh sugar is terrible don’t ever eat it and then you realize oh maybe that was doing more harm than good, I don’t know I’d love to hear your thoughts, Jill, but I think it’s reasonable to sometimes own up to that and say, I thought that I was doing the right thing there but I realized that you know, maybe all foods can fit and keep it simple and age appropriate. But I think there’s some space to have some simple conversations around you know, parents making mistakes cause they do! We all do!

Jill: Absolutely! Absolutely and you know it’s funny because a lot of parents that I work with will tell me, ok how do I do this? How do I do this new feeding approach cause, you know, I want all my parents to be authoritative in their feeding style, I want them all to have a food system, a feeding structure, and strategies that are positive and that work. So I’m always working to get my families converted over to being more authoritative so always, always the question is, ok what do I say to my kids now? And I always say, you’re gonna have a family meeting and you’re gonna say, listen, I’ve made some mistakes here, I’ve been doing some things wrong. Number 1: I haven’t been giving you a voice in things about your food preferences. I’ve been being too forceful with making you clean your plate. We’re gonna do things differently. I’m learning how to be better and I’m going to, me being better means that I’m going to be able to be better at parenting you around food and this is how we’re gonna do it. And I’m getting help to do it better. So I kind of coach my families through that whole conversation so that they can sit down with their kids and basically do what you just said. Say, I’ve been messing this up. I didn’t know how to do this. I’ve learned a lot and there are some things I want to change. I want to be up front with what’s going to happen but I also want you to be understanding that I am learning as I go and I’m trying to do better.

Paige: I love it. I think that that’s a really powerful lesson in and of itself to teach your children. That parents make mistakes, parents are learning as they go, parents are able to say sorry and get collaboration and input from children. I just think that’s such a beautiful thing and I’m glad that you agree that that’s not a crazy idea.

Jill: No. No, no, no. I’m a huge fan of talking and family meetings and I think I’m doing an ok job with my 4 kids and I really think it goes back to all that communication and just really being connected with your kids and that means you have to talk with them.

Paige: How old are your kids, Jill?

Jill: So my oldest is 20 and I have a 19 year old, a 17 year old, and a 15 year old.

Paige: Oh my goodness!

Jill: So I have 2 in college and 2 in high school and you know, I am not a perfect parent. I am not a perfect feeder. And we have had our ups and downs for sure. But now I have you know, some older children who have gone through childhood and they’re on their own, making their own decisions and you know what? They are making really good decisions. I sit back and I’m like, ahhh you know? I didn’t have to shove this information down their throat. I didn’t have to restrict them, I didn’t have to pressure them, I didn’t have to use a lot of rewards. Not that I never did that but I didn’t, it wasn’t my go-to method. My go-to method was to be very authoritative and I had to teach myself how to do that.

Paige: Yeah, what does that mean practically?

Jill: So practically, that means I had a structure with feeding my kids. We had meals and snacks at regular times and in regular spots and I set the menu. I followed the division of responsibility by Ellyn Satter. I learned a lot from her.

Paige: Which we’ve also talked about on this podcast.

Jill: But I’ve also done research. Yeah, but I also dug into the research myself and I actually had a very eye opening experience with my first daughter who was at a year, underweight and at 18 months, iron deficient. And I learned a lot from that because I was not paying attention to the food part of it. I was just paying attention to the feeding and she was a strong willed child and didn’t want to eat and put up a lot of fuss, particularly with me when she was in the high chair. So I was really having a hard time figuring things out and, oh by the way, as things went she ended up being underweight and anemic and I woke up one day and was like, you know what? I’ve got to pay attention to the food and the feeding and I need to understand what she’s going through developmentally so I just started to just putting those 3 components together and I used it with my children, that’s how I practiced, Fearless Feeding was born out of that so it’s not just feeding, I feel strongly about the fact that parents need to also be aware of food and nutrition and in our society today you just can’t not be aware. I think that you have to be, I encourage my families that I work with to be very flexible and fearless with food but I know that in order to be flexible and fearless you have to be informed and you need to have credible, science-based evidence. Not the crazy stuff that’s out there right now but really just balance and helping each family strike a balance with food and have a system that they feel good about, that’s good for their children so I learned it for myself, I teach it to my clients and it’s working out pretty well I think. And my children, now that I said that they’re older, they’re flexible with food. They’re gonna have dessert when they want dessert but they also will eat a very healthy, have a day of just nutritious foods all day long, they’ll work out, they get good sleep. They’re really just well balanced.

Paige: Well good for you, that’s awesome. It says a lot and it’s you know, it’s one thing for someone like me who has young kids to talk about this. It’s another to hear someone who’s so much farther down the road and to be able to see some of the consequences or fruits of your efforts sort of, in the way that your kids approach food. That’s just really awesome and so fun to hear. Paige: One of my, I don’t know if fear is the right word but just kinda like angst, I have some angst about this because I’ve tried my very best to create this home, very similarly to what you’re saying of lots of structure around food but lots of flexibility and lots of autonomy with my kids being able to decide if they eat and how much and things like that. And no body shaming talk in our house, no dieting talk, you know, we’re just very kind of, it’s almost not body positive it’s more just like neutral.

Jill: Body neutral.

Paige: Yeah, we’re not like obsessing about the way our bodies look, right?

Jill: Right.

Paige: So, I have two little girls who I think just have the most amazing, everything about them I love them but their little bodies and the way they eat, they have great appetites. They eat lots of good food and they’re so pure still, they don’t have any real influence of good and bad and right and wrong in terms of food and the way bodies look and they just don’t have those messages in their heads yet. And I know that there will come a day when I will have to face, you know, some comments about bodies or something like that and wait and it kind of freaks me out a little so let’s talk about that, let’s talk about what your ideas are about how to approach conversations about weight with your kids. What do you have in mind off hand and then all ask some follow up questions.

Jill: Sure, so a long, long time ago in my practice and when I was a younger mother, one of the questions that I would hear a lot would be from parents who were really upset that their child had asked them, do you think I’m fat? And for some reason this is back in you know, 2008, 2009. It was coming up a lot in my practice and I had a really good friend who was a therapist and my response to that was, if your child says, do you think I’m fat? No! I don’t think you’re fat, I think you’re perfect! And I love you just the way you are and I especially love how loyal you are to your friends and how creative you are and how responsible you are with making your bed, you know, highlight all the positive things about your child that’s not really related to their body or their weight. But I talked to my therapist friend because I had a client whose daughter kept asking the question, do you think I’m fat? And I said, I sought counsel from this therapist because my thought was that this child was feeling insecure, this was beyond just reassure me that you love me. It was more than that and the therapist advised me and I thought it was really good advice and I ended writing a blog post about it called, “Do you think I’m fat?” and the therapist had said, always no matter the topic if a child brings up the topic more than once, it’s generally an indication that there’s something going on and you need to sit down and have a conversation with that child. And so I’ve always sort of counseled my parents along those lines. First time only question it’s generally the child is looking for reassurance that you love them no matter what and that’s the most important point to make to a child any time they are seemingly unsure of themselves. But then if it’s a persistent question I think that you have to have a conversation and find out what’s going on. I think maybe the child is bullied, maybe the child is having a low self-esteem. Maybe the child is feeling ignored. But usually when they’re asking more than once, it’s a sign that you probably need to sit down and have just a conversation. More out of curiosity, not a lecture to tell the child they are you know, shouldn’t being worrying about stuff like that but more out of just where’s this coming from? Tell me what you thinks that.

Paige: Right, cause you never know what’s behind it.

Jill: Exactly.

Paige: You know what? That is so funny that you bring that particular questions up and one thing that my oldest asked me yesterday as I was laying in the hammock with her, and she said, mom you’re fat. Haha. I was like, oh ok. What makes you say that? She said that my breasts are fat you know? So she was like, well look right there! And I was like, oh ok I can see what you’re talking about. And I was like, well that’s just kind of the way that you know, girls bodies are when they’re older and you know, even if I were fat that would be ok because we all have different bodies and some people are tall, some people are short, some people are bigger, some people are smaller, and we like people who are different than us and that’s ok. We can all just have the bodies we have when we eat food and take care of ourselves and she seemed to be satisfied with that answer but that’s sort of one of my go-to’s is just normalizing differences and just saying like we’re going to be pointing out like, oh her skin is that color and her skin is that color and his body looks like that and his body looks like that. Kids are going to do that and I think the more we say, Shh shhh don’t talk about that or like oh no! that hurt someone’s feelings! I think it creates you know, more secretiveness around it and less openness and confusion. And so, I just try to sort of say, ehh we all have different bodies and you know, by the way mommies have different shaped bodies than you do and that’s ok too.

Jill: Mmmhmm

Paige: So I don’t know, what are your thoughts about sort of those questions about, cause sometimes I think the questions of, am I fat? Is sort of trying to understand what’s ok and what’s not and to be honest I think fat phobia and all of these, this obsession we have these days about body size is really, I think, easy to absorb even at a very young age and I like to just kind of help my kids understand that everybody has different shaped bodies and that’s ok.

Jill: Mmhmm. Well I think I have a couple of thought about that I think for your listeners, it’s important to understand that children particularly as they get into the school age years they look for differences that’s how they figure out who they are. They are very aware of differences and to talk about them and point them out. And so that awareness of body shape, weight, or size difference is very normal because they’re like you said, they’re also noticing if somebody has curly hair and somebody has straight hair and somebody has darker skin and somebody has lighter skin and somebody’s short and somebody’s tall. So kids in the school years are very attuned to differences and that’s how they identify themselves as who they are. Are they normal? Or are they really different? And that’s just a normal part of growing up, that’s a normal part of the developmental process. I think the other point I wanted to just comment on is developing tolerance is something that’s taught. You know, kids are really open and they’re really accepting and tolerant when they’re young. I mean you see it in preschool and toddlers. They’re happy. They’re not judgmental. They’re not critical. They learn that stuff so I would encourage you know, everybody out there who’s a parent to really, you know, it’s not just tolerance to ethnic diversity or social diversity we want to teach tolerance of all diversity and not just body diversity but all diversity. Food preference diversity. Food philosophy diversity. I mean I think to me I always say to my families that I work with, nutrition’s very personal it is not my place to judge your nutrition and food choice but if you’re wanting help and guidance in certain areas, that’s where I can help. So I think teaching tolerance is really sort of the crux of you know, helping kids understand diversity in any shape, weight, or form it’s related to teaching them to be tolerable of all kinds of differences. And then it’s a normal conversation, it’s not a loaded conversation about somebody’s weight, it’s just a normal conversation you’re having about any topic related to differences.

Paige: Yes absolutely and I think, I think that what you said about developmentally it being very normal for a child to recognize and articulate differences in others that they see. I also think it’s good to sort of establish that train of thought that the next thought you have is, great! I’m so glad that people are different and that’s ok. And so that’s kind of what you’re talking about there. That tolerance. They’re going to notice it and the parent’s job is maybe to model the fact that we LOVE that. We love that everybody’s different and that’s so fun. And that’s what makes life really interesting and enjoyable. It’s just all of the different people.

Jill: Yeah, that’s the spice of life.

Paige: Totally! Yeah!

Jill: I always say to my kids, I’ve always said to my kids, you know people will like you for the way your brain thinks and your brain and the differences that you have about who you are, that’s what attracts people. Not your sameness.

Paige: Oh, that’s so true.

Jill: It’s your difference.

Paige: I know how many people listening who are married, are married to someone exactly like them? You know? I know for me, my husband is like polar opposite of me personality wise. I’m super extroverted and could talk to anyone and he’s kind of shy, you know?

Jill: Mmhmm.

Paige: Yeah I think that is what attracts us to others is saying, oh, I don’t recognize that, interesting that’s so different from the way that it works for me.

Jill: Right right.

Paige: Well ok, so conversations about weight and body shape and size are going to come up, developmentally it’s very normal for kids to recognize differences in their peers and in people that they come across and sort of what I’m hearing from you is, I loved the idea if it comes up once they’re looking for reassurance and if it comes up more than that, maybe just asking a lot of questions and being open to having a conversation, maybe stop what you’re doing and find out what’s behind that and do your best to help, help them with whatever maybe brought that on by asking questions and being supportive and you know, again I think this conversation comes back to parents need to do their own work with their, if they struggle with really not being happy or content with their own body, maybe doing their own work to develop at least some neutrality around that so that they can model that for their children. And just like we talked about earlier with the feeding styles, right? It’s crucial to kind of do your best to make peace with your own situations with food and body image and weight and all of that to be able to model that for your kids.

Jill: Right and just pay attention to their reactions. I think sometimes we’re moving so fast all the time and we hear these things our kids say and we’re like, we get angry or we freak out or we panic and we think automatic it’s like some pathological situation that’s starting to unravel and unfold and I think that if you have any kind of gut reaction to something like that, there’s something behind there, you’ve been triggered in some way shape or form and that’s worth exploring within yourself, you know too.

Paige: Great point, yeah.

Jill: Yeah, because I think we know, we know that there’s just so much and you know, this is more your area than it is my area but we do know that from a feeding stand point anyways, mothers who have struggled with their own body weight who have struggled with their own body image are going to be more likely to be controlling in their feeding. They are going to be more likely to restrict or to reward or to pressure because they’ve got their own history of body image and weight concerns. So that’s something that’s worth exploring for parents who might be struggling in that area with feeding their children, where you know, how is their own feeling about themselves and their own history of feeding as a child, being a child who is fed, how does that relate to how they’re working with their child and feeding them now?

Paige: Yeah, that’s such an important point and a good way to tie in what we talked about in the beginning and what we were just talking about is you know, that idea of really being introspective in your own, in your own history and your story as a parent and then you know, also being open to the idea that you can change and you can learn new things and nothing’s ever set in stone, we’re always evolving.

Jill: Right.

Paige: And it’s ok to own up to that and take a different path cause I don’t care who you are, if you’re a parent, you’ve done that. You know, we’re constantly trying to grow and change and become better because that’s just what life is and so there’s no shame in that.

Jill: Right, right. And I oftentimes you know, just as a side note, a lot of time my families will say, well you tell my child how to eat right or you tell my child this and they need to hear it from you and I often step back and say, no you know what? I actually want to work with you the parent.

Paige: Yeahh.

Jill: I want to get you rockin’ your household and rockin’ that connection with your child and rockin’ dinners and all meals and you know, your child will completely, if you’ve got your stuff together, your child will just fall in line. It’s not your child’s problem and I’m not saying it’s the parent’s problem either cause I had a huge amount of compassion for parents. They enter the job of parenthood in terms of food and nutrition with no education, I mean we don’t do that to teenagers when they drive, they take the course, they get their license, and off they go. Well parents, we just, they get inserted…

Paige: Good luck!

Jill: Yeah! Inserted into the role of feeder and nourisher without any background, no information and they’re just winging it. So I have a lot of compassion for parents but what I often do is I focus and hone in on the parents because I know that if I can help them with their you know, food feeding and understanding development, that they’ll start rockin’ it and the child will just fall right in line. You don’t even have to focus on the child so much. You have to focus on the family.

Paige: Right and in fact, the more you focus on the child the more problematic it tends to become right?

Jill: Exactly.

Paige: It doesn’t really lead to good things to do that.

Jill: Exactly. Yup.

Paige: Ughh I know, parenting is intense! Haha

Jill: It is. Yeah, but you know, what do they say? Nothing easy is ever really all that worthwhile? Or something like that? I don’t know what they say.

Paige: Yeah, that’s true. But I know what you mean and it’s just like the highest highs and the lowest lows, it’s a trip but man, it’ll definitely outline and highlight what you need to work on. So this is just an example of that, you know? Of sort of amplify, that’s what I parenting is. It’s just this amplification of where are weak.

Jill: Mmhmm.

Paige: Of where you can improve and you know? Sometimes food and feeding and nutrition and body image can be one of those things and there’s no shame in that. That’s ok. So Jill, thank you so much for talking with me about this. Let’s just take a quick minute to tell everybody how they can keep in touch with you and be sure to mention your podcast and your blog and all of that.

Jill: Ok, well I am, everything is over on my website, and I do have a blog and a podcast called The Nourished Child. And I have a little facebook page too so you can connect with me over there and I have a newsletter that goes out every Monday if people want to jump on that. I talk about all kinds of topics in childhood nutrition from food topics to feeding topics to development to sports nutrition, all kinds of stuff. And I have a few courses for parents and…

Paige: Some books.

Jill: Books and guides, yup, on my website and yeah all good stuff, all geared towards helping parents be the best feeders and homefront nutrition experts that they can be for their children.

Paige: That’s great Jill, thank you so much again for being here and for all of your, your work in this area. It’s so important and I’m so glad that you can come on the podcast, I hope lots of people go over to yours. I know I do get a lot of bunch of questions about the whole parenting, feeding thing and I’m glad we took some time to talk about that today. And I hope everyone heads on over and checks out your stuff cause it’s a lot of really, really good stuff. So thanks again Jill for being here.

Jill: Oh, thank you.

Paige: I really appreciate it.

Jill: Thank you Paige.

Paige: Well I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation. If you haven’t already, please go ahead and leave a review on itunes. Thanks again so much for listening and we’ll see you soon for another episode.

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