74: Raising Intuitive Eaters Part II
Anna Lutz, MPH, RDN, LD, CEDRD specializes in eating disorders and pediatric/family nutrition. Anna received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Duke University and Master of Public Health in Nutrition from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) and an Approved Supervisor both through the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (iaedp).
I was so honored to have the chance to sit down with Anna for the second time to hash out some of the listener questions after we recorded part I. Parents, teachers and any other adults who have children in their life that they love: listen in! You're going to love this episode!
Links mentioned in this episode:
Anna's website: http://lutzandalexander.com/
Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
Join the Nutrition Matters Podcast Community on Facebook
Leave a review for the podcast here
Donate to the podcast
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Hey everyone, welcome back to an episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. My name is Paige, and this is Part 2 of my conversation with Anna Lutz about raising intuitive eaters. You guys, the feedback from the first episode we did about raising intuitive eaters was just phenomenal and I’m so glad that it’s been helpful for you. We got a lot of comments and a lot of questions as a follow up, and that is what Anna and I focus on today in this podcast is just talking about the listener questions and comments about that episode. So before we get into that, I just want to take a minute to remind you about a few resources available to you. So I have lots and lots of podcast listeners, lot of loyal people who have been following me for a long time, and I’m so grateful that you’ve let me be a part of your life, so thank you. I wanted to just take a moment to say that if you have just a minute to hop on iTunes and leave a review, that is really, really greatly appreciated. So just go ahead on your phone and if you have an iPhone you just hop in your podcast app, click on search, search for “nutrition matters podcast”, and click on the podcast art and click on “reviews” and write a review. That is so, SO appreciated and if you’ve ever gotten anything out of this podcast, just leaving a review gives back in so many ways to me. So I would really appreciate that and thank you to those who have already done it.
Another thing I wanted to talk about quickly is my online course, which is a 10 week online course all about healing your relationship with food. So if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, and you want to take it to the next level, this online course is 10 weeks long, but you can do it at your own pace. It’s perfect for anyone who’s working on healing your relationship with food but need a little more guidance and help going deeper and making it work individually. It’s perfect for anyone wanting to make it work long term to be able to apply nutrition into your life in a healthy way, both mentally and physically, and if you’re still feeling a little bit confused or curious about how to make this practical, this is also another reason that the course could be a great fit for you. So, if you’re interested, I have it up on my website: paigesmathersrd.com/course .
The last thing I want to say is that there’s an online Facebook group for the podcast. If you search “Nutrition Matters Study Group” on Facebook, you can find other likeminded individuals who are interested in these issues and I pop in there and talk to you guys a bunch too and I’m a part of the discussions. Okay, I think that’s all of the announcements.
Now let’s get on with talking to Anna Lutz, who is a registered dietician in private practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. We continue on this conversation about raising intuitive eaters, so enjoy!
Paige: Well Anna, welcome back to Nutrition Matters Podcast! It’s so fun to be able to do a Part 2 with you because Part 1 was such a hit!
Anna: I’m thrilled to be here! It was so fun to be here and get feedback from the first podcast and I love speaking with you so I’m so thrilled to be back.
Paige: Yay! Yeah this topic is really important, like I said last time, I think parents are, you know, listeners, are feeling like it makes sense for them and maybe they’re able to put these things into practice for themselves, but then the question becomes “how do I extend this into how i parent” and so it makes sense that there’s a lot of questions and sort of support that’s needed in this area because it can be kind of tricky. And again, it’s very counter culture, so it makes sense that we need a part two to add on to the conversation.
Anna: Absolutely. Don’t we parenting was simple enough that we could hear something or read something once and that would be that? But we certainly both know how complicated us parents are, but also our children are. So the more we can talk about it, the better.
Paige: Yeah, yeah. And it’s just such a fun topic and it’s so freeing and just a different way to look at things than you normally here, so it’s fun to be a part of it and I’m so glad that you’re here again. So let’s get into the topic for today. I put out a kind of let’s see, what’s the word, prompt, to some of the Facebook podcast-listening group, and just for anyone who wants to join that group, its “Nutrition Matters Podcast Study Group” and I just put out a little message and said “Hey, what did you guys think about this episode about intuitive eaters and what would you like us to talk about in part 2?” because we kind of planned to meet again. I got a lot of comments and a lot of questions, so we’re gonna work through those and weave them in because there’s a lot we didn’t get to last time. How does that sound?
Anna: That sounds great.
Paige: Okay, alright, so, let’s see… Where do you want to start? Do you want to start with the comments and then we can just weave things in?
Anna: That sounds great, I’m excited to hear from the listeners, and hear their questions.
Paige: One listener said, ‘This is great. A lot of what you covered is for younger kids, but what about a podcast that focuses on transitioning to older kids - kids that are becoming more independent, going out with friends, making their own breakfasts or lunches. Any guidelines for parents on letting go? Especially on helping them recognize that foods are too easy to eat too much of things … you started to touch on this at the end. How do we talk to them about this in a way that doesn’t turn into a conversation about limiting certain foods?’ Love that question.
Anna: Oh and it’s such an important question, something I feel like I’m asked so much. Many people will say well the way you approach feeding sounds great for younger kids, but what happens, you know, with a middle schooler who can, you know, be out with their friends, or who wants more autonomy um, so it’s certainly an important topic. And I think of it in kind of two ways. If in the beginning, a parent is really setting up that structure of set meal and snack times, that transition can be really natural and really important that the middle school or high schooler is starting, um, to take over some of those duties. You know, what can be hard sometimes... sometimes I’m approached by people who maybe want to shift their approach to feeding with older children, and sometimes doing a bit more of that structure might help first before, you know really thinking about where are we? in that kind of parenting style, and where is that structure, and making sure that structure is there.
Paige: Right, so the idea that, like, there’s a difference between if you were able to start with that structure, that division of responsibility in early childhood, it might seem like a natural transition to say okay, now that you’re in 9th grade, it makes sense that you’re packing your lunch or that you’re in charge of making your breakfast or whatever it might be, and there’s already that pattern set that this is already what we eat or when we eat and we trust that you’ll do what’s best for your body and we’ll give you some of that freedom. But I can definitely see how somebody who kind of didn’t catch onto this type of way of feeding early on, and now their kids are teenagers and they’re like okay, how do I start doing this with those kids? So there’s sort of a difference there.
Anna: Right. And I think the big thing, the commonality of it, is well what kind of structure can we put in place that would support a child to become a competent eater?
Paige: Right, there so can be structure, it doesn’t need to be just completely unstructured.
Anna: Exactly, I think that’s probably the biggest thing for parents to think on is okay, am I providing that structure? meaning the when and the what and the division of the parent deciding when it’s time to eat and what’s available. And we can get into more of, of course, when the child gets older, they have more access to food, and how to handle that. But I really, really, really believe that structure is important and what I find - and I know I may be the minority in thinking this way - is our society had started to give responsibility of food to children earlier and earlier, meaning having young, elementary school kids pack or prepare their lunch or breakfast. I think that as a trend, and I think that I’m a minority, but I think it’s important to remember what the parents’ jobs are so the child can do their jobs of becoming competent eaters.
Paige: I haven’t seen that trend - it’s so interesting, but I’m not really in that world yet. I have really young kids, so that’s interesting.
Anna: Okay. It’s funny, as I said before, my oldest is in 4th grade, and she begs me to pack her own lunch. She says all her friends pack their own lunch. And so, she’ll help me is kind of the compromise and I’ll say why don’t you make your sandwich? or grab me a piece of fruit so she’s involved but I feel pretty strongly that elementary school children or a child shouldn’t be worrying about those parent jobs, you know, they should be worrying about kid jobs.
Paige: That’s interesting that she want’s to do that so much. It might come in your favor later. She’s gung-ho she’s like, I got this mom! Something you said earlier I wanted to touch on really quickly is the idea that we can always provide structure and I might be the minority here, but I think that that’s typically a really good place to start for adults too, for ourselves, for feeding ourselves. A little bit of structure around, you know, when is it time to eat and when is it time to not eat? When is food available and when is it not available for you? Just because I find that when I personally graze all day and food is just out and available and whatever, it’s very difficult to have an appetite for a meal, and sit down and enjoy it - you’re kind of not very hungry but not very full and it’s not all that enjoyable. So I find that a touch of structure that’s not too rigid but not too strict and crazy, but just a little bit of structure like oh it’s dinnertime or dinner is at 6 so I want to make sure I’m not eating this giant snack at 5, you know, even as an adult, it can be sort of a helpful approach.
Anna: Absolutely. 100% I agree with you. I get excited when I’m working with adult clients and we’re kind of using the division of responsibility for themselves.
Paige: Ooooh, I want to hear what you have to say about that. Tell me about it.
Anna. Yes, really. Having someone or I’m working with someone who maybe has a history of either being ---
Paige: Wait, if anyone is just coming to this podcast and they’re like what are they talking about, this ‘division of responsibility’? Can you just reiterate? And then I want to hear what you have to say.
Anna: Absolutely. So the official title is “E.C.Satter Division of Responsibility” - So Ellyn Satter is a pioneer in childhood feeding research and so his division of responsibility is that parents have certain jobs and those are deciding the when, the what, and the where of eating- so it’s 6 o’clock for dinner and we’re having chicken, rice, and broccoli. And then once the parent has done their job to really allow the child to do their job, which is to decide if their gonna eat the certain items, and how much. And so it’s a structure - and you and i talk about structure - it’s a structure for a parent to approach eating in a home, and the research shows that it helps children become competent eaters, meaning that they grow up eating a variety of foods, regulate the amount they need, tolerate new foods, but most importantly, I love it because it decreases the anxiety for a parent so once that happens, the child has more space to grow as an eater.
Paige: Perfect, and I’ll link to Ellyn Satter’s website and her actual division of responsibility explanation, but as we’re referring to that, I don’t want someone who’s new to be totally lost. So thanks for that. And then just go ahead, and I would really love to hear how you know- we talk about the division of responsibility where the parents have certain jobs and the kids have certain jobs, and so, um, I kind of think I know where you’re going with this, but I’ve never heard anyone say it, so I want to hear your thoughts about how an adult can follow this too.
Anna: Yeah, when I’m working with an adult that maybe has a history of restrictive diets/dieting, or a history where maybe their parents didn’t model eating in a way that you and I are talking about, that sometimes we’ll get to a place where it feels like let’s think about what structure we need and how do you want to parent yourself, and so we even talk about it in those terms and so if they have a child or a niece or a nephew and you’re taking care of your niece for the day, what kind of structure would be in place? And they’ll say well I’ll have a breakfast for them, and then a morning snack and I’ll sit with them and talk about how we have to be our own parents when we’re adults and nobody will do that for us as much as we’d love that and so that structure doesn’t need to be strict like a diet, but it can be loving and caring like putting structure around bedtime or other things we do for children. But we do it for ourselves, and we put that structure in place for ourselves and we think, okay, it’s breakfast time and I know I feel better if i have some protein and carbs and some fruit, but once I’ve done that I can take a deep breathe and trust that my body knows how much - so that you’re both playing that parent and child role but taking care of yourself in a loving way. I feel like so many of our clients take such loving, wonderful care of others, and sometimes we’re working on them caring and loving themselves in that same way. So, I get really excited with that work. Usually work that’s done further along in someone’s recovery of further along in their eating, but oftentimes it’s really exciting.
Paige: It is exciting. And I loved everything you said and I would just add too that first of all, parenting yourself in a kind and loving way is a whole lot easier if you have that sort of track, meaning like, if your parents showed you that, it’s easier to know what that looks like. For instance, I had loving, great parents and I can come back to the idea that I remember, you know, my mom would say certain things all the time, and it pops up in my head certain things she would say and I’m like, yup, that’s what she said to me and so I had that model and I recognize that those of us who were able to have parents who helped set that precedent probably have an easier time recognizing what a kind and loving self-parenting might look like. But I also, I love the idea that you’re saying, and I’ve never thought about it in the exact same way like you’re doing the division of responsibility with yourself.
But how I have thought about it is, you know - similarly to what you’re saying, like if you’re a parent and you’re treating yourself like you would treat your child, there’s 2 really cool things about that. First of all, you’re going to be so loving and compassionate when you struggle with things. So if your child comes up and says mom I ate all of the halloween candy and my stomach hurts so bad, I don’t even know what to do and they're crying, the last thing in the world you’d do is scream at them and be so mad at them and you know, not let them eat the next day or something like that. But what you would do, is take that child, put them on your lap, stroke their hair, and look them in the eye and say everything's gonna be okay, i’m so sorry your stomach hurts, let;’s learn from this and when you’re ready let's talk about this and talk about how to make sure this doesn't happen again for you and so there’s this natural mechanism built in with lots of compassion and lots of learning and growth, and kindness, right?
So I love that idea in that regard but I also love the idea of parenting yourself does lead to that idea of structure where you’d never send your kid off to school without anything in their bellies so that they can learn, so why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we expect a piece of toast in the car to make ourselves have energy for the day until lunchtime, you know? Anyway, that’s where I come down on it is that I think it’s a really important visual exercise where I say okay, if I was a child, how would I treat myself And so, yeah, you said that well.
Anna: And that structure is okay, you know, you and I feel strongly about approaching things from a non-diet approach with intuitive eating, but that doesn’t mean not having structure or putting things into place that help you listen to your body -
Paige: Right, and things that help you feel great, and you know, and it’s a whole lot easier to eat an apple if you have one, you know? So shopping and planning and having things in your house can be part of that structure too. The last thing I want to do is go to the grocery store and plan more food things after I’ve spent my whole week talking, writing, and thinking about food, right? I mean, it’s a little exhausting when this is what you do for work. But it’s structured into my week because it’s the only way for me to be able to do it, you know? So
Anna: Right, and then for me, the way I kind of deal with that, is that I try to simplify and get help for the things I really need help with. So I order my groceries online because being in the grocery store for an hour with my children is taxing. So I pay a little extra so someone else is doing that - so I try to pass that onto my clients, you know? It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t have to be that you’re making gourmet meals, you know? Structure can be sometimes just getting food to the table at a certain time and that there’s somewhat of a balance on the table. It doesn’t have to be picture perfect or ready for Pinterest.
Paige. Right. Okay, so I’m looking back at this question and I want to make sure we’re hitting on the various questions -
Anna: We went on a tangent -
Paige: That’s okay, tangents are great - that’s totally fine, I love what we’ve been talking about. So one of her questions is any guidance for parents about letting go? Thats a good one. Especially on helping them recognize when foods are too easy to eat too much of, um, and how do we talk to them about this in a way that feels like you’re telling them to limit certain foods. So I think the structure idea is a really good idea, and I’ll admit I don’t have older kids so I’m not in this situation yet, but I would imagine that, you know, an afternoon snack, and you know, saying we have this and you can choose between this and this, or okay, you’re going to go out with your friends and you’re going to be home at 4 o’clock - I really want you to be hungry for dinner, so if you have some food, make sure you’re not eating too much so you can be hungry and we can sit down as a family tonight. I think those types of conversations are reasonable - what else would add to how structure could look with older kids?
Anna: Well, the way I think about it is that a parent can really remember that they’re modeling in what they do say after day is gonna speak much louder than anything they say or explain, even to middle school age and high school age children, so I think sometimes we want to be able to explain something through a child - maybe you went to your friend’s house and you had this, this, and this so I don’t think you should eat that tonight - and those words, while well-intended, are sometimes really hard for children to interpret them in the way that we intend them to and so instead of feeling like we have to explain things to children, knowing that our example and again, the way we approach food as home actually speaks louder. So the way I think about it is that thinking if a child was at a friend’s house in the afternoon and they say that they’re hungry, that I might ask have you had your afternoon snack yet? and if they say yes, say well we’re gonna have dinner in a little while and if they say no, I didn’t have an afternoon snack all day then say okay, well why don’t you sit down, I’m gonna cut you up some apple because we’re gonna have dinner really soon and so rather than a really hearty afternoon snack early on, just kind of thinking that the way you approach food in your home is the strongest language.
Paige: I’ve heard a lot from parents with older kids say stuff like, you know, every night we’re at a baseball game or we’re not even home until 9pm and it’s crazy I mean what do you do in that situation? I’d tell you what my husband would do. He’s the king of packing meals. He’s like, oh we’re gonna be gone and we’re missing lunchtime? Okay, let’s pack a lunch. He’s so on it, I swear he’s the reason why I’m a good dietician [laughs] just in terms of like why I’m able to like, keep these things afloat even though I hate doing food in real life sometimes. That’s what I meant by that.
Anna: Yeah I know what you meant.
Paige: Yeah so what can parents do when they’re in that crazy phase when they’re at volleyball games and dance recitals and we’re just doing a million things, and yeah, a home-cooked meal sounds good, but that just doesn’t happen unless it’s a Sunday night.
Anna: Yeah, well I think it’s worth really taking the time to think, well what can we do? So it may be that if someone has dance every night from, you know, 5-9pm, that their afternoon snack becomes more like a little meal that mom sits down, mom and the two children sit down for, or dad sits down, or whoever is home in the afternoon, the babysitter, that that’s when the kind of have what looks like a meal that’s a little bit heartier because it fuels that child until 9pm. It may be that they’re packing some heartier snacks for the breaks that happen during in between the classes that are in that time. There needs to be that little bit of thought, so it doesn’t have to be unpacking a 4 course meal to have during the break, but more, how can I make sure that my child is fueled enough for their activities and that we make some space for the food, you know? In an ideal world, there would be a way to sit down for dinner, and I love trying to work out with families how that can be done, but I realize that sometimes that’s just not gonna happen, but at the end of the day the child needs enough food to grow and have energy. So how can we have enough time and focus so that food is in it’s proper place?
Paige: Yeah that’s great, that’s a really great thought. I also wanted to just say that I’m really really drawn and influenced to the idea of minimalism. So, you know, I think that that’s something that could be said here and obviously this is not in any type of attempt to get people to stop doing their activities or something like that because those are really fun and an important part of life, but my thought here is that, you know - have you read book called “The Magic Art of Tidying Up” or something like that?
Paige: Okay, so I love that idea where you pick up every object you have and ask does this bring me joy or does it not? and then keep the ones that do. And I think that’s great on the physical level like with the stuff in your house. But then I also think it’s great on a figurative level like, pick up everything that you do during your week and take a look at it and say does this bring us joy? Does this bring our child joy? Is this good, is this functioning? and maybe keep the things that are, and leave the things that aren’t. And I think that sometimes parents feel like in order to be a good parent you have to pack up the schedule and get kids exposed to every activity and as a result you kind of lose your brain, you know? That’s not to say that everyone needs to do the exact same amount of activities or whatever, but just take a look and if your life is overly busy because you want to give you kids everything, but as a result you never can, and you just feel like you’re constantly falling short, that might be something to look at to see if you can make some changes and just help like feel a bit more functional and perhaps simple.
Anna: I 110% agree and I think it’s where our society is right now, um, but if you’re saying that if each little family could stop and think is this working for us? or how could this work for us? especially if it’s a family thinking that we could be approaching food in a different way - you know, I think food is obviously so important, you know it’s one of our 5 basic needs, so if so if other things are kind of preempting that, it may be worth it to stop and think do we need to do something different so that food can be in its place?
Paige: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it shouldn’t be just this annoying afterthought thing. It does require quite a bit of thought and planning and that’s okay. And that’s not something to be annoyed with. I think it’s just a - I’m just saying that to myself, I’m like, okay Paige, it’s okay - I know it’s kind of hard but we can do it [laughs]
Anna: We can do it and I again, I say this to myself - it doesn’t have to be that I cook for an hour, we just need dinner on the table and hopefully everyone there for a little bit - enjoying it. Because we do know the research shows how important family meals are. And that doesn’t mean it has to be 7 nights a week and it has to be dinner, but thinking through “do we have time that we’re all sitting together and eating” can really have a benefit.
Paige: Awesome. Okay, so do you think we’ve done a good job with that first question?
Anna: I hope so - again, I want to reiterate sometimes we don’t have to communicate with words. I say that to parents so much, you know, we don’t need to explain why the candy isn’t maybe the best choice or that it might make you feel this way or that way. Maybe you say hey honey, why don’t you bring that candy that your friend gave you and sit down with me with some peanut butter and crackers and let’s have our afternoon snack and that action can have a bigger impact that explaining the nutritional details of candy.
Paige: Awesome, I like that. And maybe - I’ve seen this in my own parenting experience is when a child comes to you with their own experience of their own questions about why does my stomach hurt and you can say, hey, let’s take a look, what do you think? Did you sleep enough last night or let’s see, do you have to go to the bathroom? Because sometimes you have to go to the bathroom. And sometimes you walk them through it and just trace it back and see “oh yeah, I did, you know, eat 7 cookies” or something like that and help them recognize what was going on. But not necessarily, be like, STOP EATING COOKIES! YOU’RE GONNA DIE or whatever.
Anna: Right. And it could be if they say oh yeah, I did eat 7 cookies at my friends house. Oh. huh. and that can speak really loud and make them think, oh, that’s what it was. You know, it was those cookies. I won’t ever do that again.
Paige: I like that. Actions are things to focus on, being that example, and then if they come to you with thoughts or questions maybe helping them come to their own conclusions by asking more questions and avoiding that tendency we have to just educate. Right?
Anna: Exactly, exactly. Yup. Until their much older.
Paige: Yeah, until they can handle the nuance.
Anna: Right, exactly. Exactly.
Paige: Okay, so the second question says “I’m a fellow registered dietician and I have been for the past 26 years. However, I’m never to the non-diet, intuitive eating perspective. Of course I wish I could go back to when my kids, now 11 and 13, were younger and do things differently but unfortunately, I can’t. I’d be curious to hear tips on neutralizing food and diet messages once the healthy message has been put out there. How can be help kids to rediscover their intuitive eating in situations such as this?” This is a really good question.
Anna: It’s such a good question, and something again I get asked a lot. Like “okay, Ellyn Satter’s great but my children are in middle school - what do I do?” And so, I think again thinking how can I put that structure in place in an appropriate way - so it may not be all the sudden I say “you never can have an afternoon snack unless I’ve given it to you” if you’ve always let your child open the pantry. And that’s not exactly what this person is saying, but that you start to model, you know, because if you’ve always said “do eat this” or “don’t eat that” or “you’re eating too much of this” that you think “okay, now in my home, I’m not going to approach things that way so I’m going to more model - I’m gonna prepare foods more that I want my children to be eating” And I think that’s really doable with older children. Now I think this happens to most people, because even if you’re not talking about dieting or “good food/bad foods” in your home, our children are exposed to it. You know, our children come home and say “my friend told me that I shouldn’t eat this” or “my friend’s mom told me that this’ll make her gain a lot of weight” or that they’re exposed to these messages regardless of what’s going on in your home. But again if you can be, just like we were talking about, like inquisitive, like huh, why do you think they’d say that? Or you know what, let’s think about how we approach that in our house? Do we have candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day long? Well no mommy, and modeling that for them and also talking through it.
Paige: Exactly, and also this is really tricky because I know that it’s definitely a parent pet peeve when people who aren’t parents are like this is how you do this tricky parenting thing, this is how you get your kid to sleep at night or something like that like AHHH I wish it was that easy, right? So I feel a little bit unqualified to talk about what it’s like to have older kids, you know? Because I don’t have that experience and so, that’s why I’m glad you’re here. Because I know you’re further down the parenting road than me. But the idea, I think that the core of what she’s getting to in this question is okay, I was just doing the best that I knew, which was saying, you know, perhaps - and I’m maybe putting words in her mouth here - you know, having really nutrient-focused conversations with my kids about what foods are good and what nutrients you need to get, and calories perhaps, and iron, and zinc and maybe just dipping a little bit too into the biochemistry of nutrients and nutrition.
And then now it’s like your eyes are open and you’re like woah, hold on, there’s this whole other way to approach it but I’ve spent the last 10 years teaching my kids that sugar is bad and that, you know, carbs are I mean whatever - I mean I’m just putting words in her mouth but I’m just trying to imagine some parents that I work with and talk with so if you’re listening I’m not calling you out on this, I’m just speaking from what I’ve heard. So, that transition can feel kind of scary because I think it can feel like, and I’ve heard people express this before and I’m sure you have too, which is really, really angry which is like Why have I been told lies my whole life? I thought I was doing the right thing and you know, in my own pursuit of health for me, I thought I was doing the right thing in my parenting, like how DARE these dumb people teach me the wrongs things? And so there can be a lot of frustration in that - just sort of making a paradigm shift with food, it can be really hard when you feel like there are some things you did with your kids who are your pride and joy and your absolute love, and so that can be really frustrating. And so how does a parent work through that? I don’t know.
Anna: It’s tough, because I’ll be honest with you, I’m struggling in my head with, I think if it was an older child or older children and I’m thinking 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade and up, you could say you know, you’ve heard mommy say these things and you know what? I was wrong and I’m gonna approach food differently now. In the right situation it may be worth if you’ve said a lot over the years to kind of acknowledge you know what, I’m gonna make a shift here. If you have an older child. You’ve had to decide.
Paige: If you have an older child or if you have a child that you feel that you feel that it’s appropriate to have that conversation with. Maturity-wise, can they understand that? And I think some could, you know?
Anna: Yeah, some could. And I think again though, if you feel like that could set up any kind of struggle like well mommy, remember you said blah blah blah to really think through will that help neutralize the situation or am I adding any kind of fuel to the fire. But again, that if you really work toward the structure we’re talking about even with middle school and up, it might take a longer time for kids to return to being intuitive eaters, but it does happen. And you can read more in Ellyn Satter’s books, both “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” and “Your Child’s Weight: Helping WIthout Harming.” She talks about this, that a child does move towards being a competent eater even if maybe early on things were done differently. It just takes a little bit longer the older they are.
Paige: And I think, I’m kind of thinking out loud here, which is always dangerous on the podcast - that if a child calls you out and says hey mom, why are you buying ice cream? Ice cream is bad - let’s just say that that’s the situation. I think there’s room to gently, and very gently address that and say that’s not true anymore or i’ve changed my mind about that or all foods can fit in a happy, healthy lifestyle. Or just keep it light or easy, but sort of say out loud with a few words, that’s sort of what I’m thinking.
Anna: That makes a lot of sense. And I was even kind of thinking that, you know if someone sat down their child and say we’re gonna approach things differently, you know I’ve said that your body is smart and we can trust it, mommy’s gonna help with buying a variety of foods that I could see some children, and I’m again thinking of my oldest, that that would come back at some point - but mommy, you said this! But mommy you said that ‘any foods are fine’ so why are you telling me this? But again, we all know our children and thinking about how that conversation could be helpful and I think for a lot of people it could be.
Paige: And you could even say You know grown ups are just doing the best they can and they’re learning too and when I learn something new I like to share it with you or something like that. And I thought I was doing the right thing but man, I learned new things that make me feel so much healthier and happier and I want you to be that way or I don’t know - I think there’s space for hey, I’m figuring this out too and I think it’s cool for kids to know that and see that little level of like oh, so my parents don’t know everything and they’re learning to, you know?
Anna: Exactly. And you know, more for the person writing this question, I just want to reassure them that it’s not too late - that you can really bring these principles into your home and with 11 or 13 year old children that you still have a long time and they’re still gonna be in your house a long time and you still have time to talk about bodies and food can really have a huge impact. And that when you ever hear them say something to you that you said early on, again, what a great time to talk about that. Like yeah I did say that but I don’t think I thought about that the right way and why don’t we look at it this way instead?
Paige: That’s great, that’s really great. I like that, you know. Okay, should we move on to the next one?
Anna: Sounds great.
Paige: Okay, so this one says I loved the episode so much. I’ve been so focused on trying to encourage my daughter to listen to her body and not provide any negative messages about food but I’m realizing that having more structure around food would probably be a positive thing. That’s more of a comment. Sorry, I didn’t read that ahead of time. [laughs]
Anna: Well I do love that. Something I hear a lot is people saying, well I need to teach my child to listen to their body, and so often I want to say, they already know how! You know we don’t have to teach them but the structure helps them listen to their body. And so that’s kind of a different. It’s nuanced, but to think we don’t have to say how to listen to your body - we set up the structure and they will listen to their body. You know they may eat a lot at lunch because they LOVE what you served and they may feel really, really, full but their body is really smart and will self-regulate over the next day.
Paige: Right, and I think that with that structure there’s space to say no sometimes. If they’re asking for food that you’re not serving and they’re trying to throw a fit because you made food that they don’t like, it’s okay to say no and some of that structure I think revolves around you say yes as often as you can as a parent but sometimes you say no because that’s just what you gotta do. And sometimes how I hear people interpret intuitive eating with kids is a free for all and you never say no because you don’t want them to develop a complex about a certain food- it can be taken to this level that’s too far. I know I might’ve mentioned this in the last episode but for me it was helpful when I would ask to have a treat in my house growing up. My parents are divorced so I had one parent that did things one way and another that did it another way and at one of my houses there was a lot more boundaries and structure around food than the other and so I kind of have two different perspectives and experiences with this. And looking back I appreciate the boundaries and structure with treats specifically, because I remember I sort of set this precedent - there’s a certain amount that is fun and tasty and feels good and there’s a certain amount that really hurts me. And so I never actually put that together just now speaking out loud that I really did have 2 different experiences with this and I ate differently at both houses. It’s interesting.
Anna: Yeah, that’s interesting to think about. I do really believe children are comforted by structure. You know, that it feels safe to them. That doesn’t mean it has to be rigid, rigid, rigid rules -
Paige: Right, there’s a difference -
Anna: Right, when things are too permissive for some children it can not feel as good as some structure, whatever it is, food or anything.
Paige: You know that’s so funny that you’re saying that because what’s popping into my mind is that my 5 yr old really does sometimes ask questions that she knows the answer to and it’s like a test. It’s not a manipulation, but I think it;s just like a checking in with me kind of thing. Like is this still my mom, is she crazy? Is she gonna say something totally out there? Or is she gonna give me the answer I think I’m gonna get? So I there is that testing that goes on with questions and with some of the structure and that consistency around it can be helpful.
Anna: I think that makes so much sense. I think so many people interpret this feeding children as kind of a free-for-all and so I love what you said that structure is saying no this is what we’re having for dinner and I deal with that, honestly, daily. My middle child, he’ll say there’s nothing for dinner I like. And I’ll say well this is what we’re having and you need to sit with us. And he’ll make do. And it’s over time, and it’s not at a meal or over a week’s time. But it’s because of that line that we hold, and it’s hard and pulls at your heartstrings, but he’s started to eat different foods. I really believe it’s because of saying no. So I’m so glad you highlighted that it’s not all about permission.
Paige: Yeah and I can’t tell you how many times my 3 year old now will, she does this weird thing where you put the food on her plate and put it in front of her and she flips the switch about something on the plate, like FLIPS out. And she takes, let’s say, the broccoli, and puts it on the table instead of on the plate and sometimes it’s worth it to kind of have that battle of like, no put it back on your plate, like you’re fine, it’s just broccoli, you don’t need to eat it - just sit there and look at it. But, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m like whatever, just put it on the table, who cares. Depending on my mood, right? And what’s so interesting is literally 9/10 she’ll end up eating the broccoli - it’s just like something she almost had to do. Like I just have to freak out right now because I’m 2. And now she’s 3, she just turned 3. Like mom, this is just what I have to do, so buckle up because the next 5 minutes I’m gonna be crazy and then I’ll be fine.
Anna: Right, and I’m testing you. Are you really gonna make me eat the broccoli? Are you gonna make me have it on my plate? And for some of the listeners, you know, you’ll hear different things, but for some children it’s helpful to do it family style if they can.
Paige: Oh yeah. Our house is not structured for that and anyway, we’re moving, actually to a new house where we’re gonna have lots more space but the house we’re currently is the type of house where you cook the food in the kitchen and serve it in the other room and bring it into the other room because there just wasn’t enough space.
Anna: And every family is different. And I think it also depends on the age of the child.
Paige: That’s a good thing to bring up. There’s a difference between having a child put food on their plate and you putting food on a plate for a child. And I’ll think we’ll be transitioning to that in the new house so I’m excited.
Anna: That’s really exciting. Moving can be really exhausting but exciting.
Paige: Yeah I know, buckle up. This weekend is gonna be crazy. So here’s the last question. Actually, there was one more question here that I didn’t get to write down. So maybe two more questions if you have time for it.
Paige: Okay, so this one says, Do you have any tips for raising intuitive eaters when your spouse is not 100% on board? They’re more of the ‘first eat 3 bites of veggies, then you can have more chips’ type of parent?
Anna: Ugh, that’s such a hard one. I’ll be so honest with you, it’s just tough. I think in an ideal world the two parents would get on somewhat of a same page because if one parent does one thing and another parent does another, then I think it can be confusing for the child. So if I was working with this family I would be having conversations with the parents of what could be the structure of your home and that both parents are doing it. So it may not be by the book division of responsibility but at least both parents have kind of agreed on this is how we’re gonna approach it. If that’s just not gonna happen, then what I would say is again with modeling and to not say well you don’t have to do that with me so as not to highlight the difference between mom and dad. But then to just model through your own eating but also when you’re feeding the child, if they say ‘do i really have to do this to do that?’ just say ‘oh no, just eat the amount that you’d like’ and then just kind of move on. That’s a tough one. What do you think?
Paige: I think this is really important. You know, sometimes this might be due to some other marital things going on and I don’t want to accuse, but I’m a child of divorced parents and I know that even though they meant well and did such a great job with that difficult situation, well there was a situation of well dad doesn’t let you do this but I do or mom doesn’t let you do this but I do and so there’s this competition with who’s the coolest parent and you know ideally this wouldn’t be there. So if you can look at your marital situation honestly and see what’s going on there, I think that’s step one because I just think that that’s crucial for the child to get a similar - you know, you can’t be the same person - but a similar type of response from both parents in all aspects of childhood, don’t you think? You know can I go to my friend’s house - well mom says no but if I go ask dad he’ll say yes. And I mean that’s a problem. So, and then here’s the other thought I had, Anna, is I often have people in my office who are super excited about what we’re talking about and it really resonates and it’s really freeing and all of these great things, and then they leave and try to explain to their spouse and then their spouse is like well what did you talk with Paige about? And they’re like uhhh, i don’t know how to explain it but it’s really cool and it’s this non-dieting thing and it sounds woo-woo and crazy because it makes sense but they’re not at a place where they can put it in their own words of what it means to them or why it’s important or the benefits. So if you and I can take a minute and just model a conversation a spouse could have with another spouse about why we approach it this way - potentially someone could fast forward to this part of the podcast and be like okay, this is why I want to approach it this way, so can we get on the same page?
Anna: Sounds great.
Paige: So here’s what I’m thinking then, I want you to add on. You know it’s reasonable to approach food the way we try to traditionally do. You know, you gotta finish your broccoli before you finish your bread. Or you gotta finish your whole plate so you can get some dessert. But that’s not crazy - if you’ve come to that or that’s your approach to that, you’re not a weirdo. Like of course.
Anna: Or you were raised that way.
Paige: Exactly. But research, and lots of practical experience shows us that that only leads to more pressure, that leads to more manipulation potentially in the feeding relationship, and it doesn’t really get you to your end goal. You know most parents can get together and agree that the goal is to have happy, healthy eaters who eat a wide variety of food and know when it’s time to stop and know when it’s time to eat and enjoy food. Right? And that’s pretty much what we want. And although it seems a little bit counterintuitive to approach the feeding relationship with this idea of I’m in charge of what’s served and when it’s served and the child is in charge of if they eat and how much. And this seems a little scary, but it’s a great model to be able to have the highest likelihood of having these goals happen in real life. So it’s reasonable to approach it one way but actually that tendency tends to lead to a lot of the consequences that we’re really not looking for. And so this is what the research but also practical experience has shown this actually leads to what we’re aiming for. And so having this conversation around what are our goals for our kids with their eating and how do we get there, and really talking that through. I don’t know, what are your thoughts and what would you like to add?
Anna: Well I think what you just said hits the nail on the head, which is what are our goals? You know, is our goal for our child to eat the broccoli at dinner right now, or is the goal for our child over time to learn to eat the broccoli? And to talk through with your spouse, what is our goal? I think that really hits the nail on the head. And what structure do we want to put in place to reach those goals? Because maybe some of the things that we’re doing actually does the opposite. And so sometimes people ask me that who might have a pickier eater, they might say is this gonna work? And one, I say it depends on how we define work. You know if they want them to eat a million foods next week, probably not. But I will tell you that this - what is traditionally done doesn’t “work”. You know forcing children doesn’t “work” in the long term. Or saying they have to eat this before they eat this doesn’t “work” in the long run. So I just think you’ve hit it. What are our goals, and let’s figure out what would actually help us reach our goals for what we want our children to eat.
Paige: Right, and the big issue for me with gotta finish this before you can have that - I remember wanting dessert so much but having to finish this big plate of food, more than my body felt like I could eat, and if my parents are listening I love you, love you, but I really feel like that made me sort of say okay, it doesn’t matter what my body is communicating is that i’m full right now, what matters is that I’m pleasing my parents. And that started a disconnection with that feeling of fullness for me. And so I think that that’s really important thing to honor that the child does know and is connected to what fullness is and it’s our job to honor that.
Anna: And when we say you have to eat a certain amount of food in order to get dessert, sometimes we’re saying, I want you to eat more than your body needs to then eat more than your body needs.
Paige: And it’s also saying, I know more about your body than you do, which it’s just like no, no you don’t. Like you don’t know how much I need to eat and when I need to go to the bathroom - I know those things, you know?
Anna: And I think, I’ll speak for myself, I don’t even know how much my children need and I’ve studied nutrition, you know what I mean? You know more even so it’s not even something any of us really know at any given moment. And the other flipside of that is you’re the parent so you get to decide if you’re offering dessert tonight. And that can be done in your head. You don’t have to say well we’re not eating dessert tonight because you didn’t eat your broccoli but you don’t have to always offer dessert - there’s the what, you get to decide the what. There is both sides of that.
Paige: Yeah great point, great point. Okay, last comment that I’ve gotten that I wanted to bring up is this, I’m just gonna be paraphrasing because she sent me an email - this person that I’m thinking of is actually in a situation where they’re living with the grandparents, meaning living with her in-laws, I believe, and the grandparents’ feeding style is very much the coochie coochie coo, eat this food so you can get the other fun food and just tons and tons of attention and pressure. But it’s all like fun, so they don’t really associate it with pressure. But that’s another really tricky situation parents can find themselves in is when they’ve established some really great structure and guidelines around food and expectations around food, but then maybe you’re living with someone else who does it differently - or maybe you just go over to their house for a weekend or a vacation or a meal. And that’s one of those, I believe, conversations about boundaries but man, that’s tricky.
Anna: Oh it’s so tough, it is so tough. Because you know, the reality is a lot more people than ourselves are gonna be feeding our children. [laughs] And you know, when it’s grandparents that you’re visiting for a weekend or a week, again what you do day in and day out are gonna speak way more. But if it’s someone you’re living with, that’s tough. It sounded like with this question, they’re living with the grandparents, is that right?
Paige: They’re living with the grandparents of their children.
Anna: And so in that situation it may be worth a conversation because it’s people that are helping to raise their children. So just like it would be a conversation with a spouse or with a nanny that you know really explaining your approach to eating, and you know acknowledging that this isn’t how you raised me, mom, but can I talk through this with you?
Paige: Oh yeah, that’s another element, because it can feel like you’re saying oh, you did a terrible job at this so I’m…. yeah I didn’t even think of that, but that’s so true.
Anna: It’s so true. I feel like that comes up a lot.. A lot. A lot with grandparents.
Paige: Yeah, that’s an extra tricky grandparent dynamic. Yeah, yeah. So maybe a conversation and a similar thing that we talked about earlier is these are our goals for our children with food, and this is how we believe that we’ll get there. And I’ve heard feedback that people think that this is kind of like that some people in people’s lives who listen are saying that’s just like hippie stuff, that’s weird stuff you know, just kind of like brushing it off and writing it off as weird, new-aged parenting tactics or whatever. But I think truly it’s actually just getting back to the way that humans naturally can be.
Anna: I’m with you, and I hear that a lot too. Exactly what you’re saying. But I really think of it as almost the opposite. Like this is common sense parenting that all this focus on food and weight is getting us further and further away from common sense parenting. And let’s go back to what kind of makes sense. Yeah, so the appropriate structure.
Paige: And you said something just a few minutes ago that I wanted to just speak up on really quickly because I’m a working mom and you are too. We have obviously people helping us with our children while we work and that is another dynamic and element to this approach with food is setting some expectations with people who watch your children whether it’s your nanny or a daycare. And you know, if you do it in a gentle, diplomatic way there’s actually potential for some education and for that other person to do, you know, perhaps better in their own lives with food too. But I think it’s reasonable to have those conversations with people who are around your children. And just say this is how we approach food and this is what I would like you do to when you feed my children.
Anna: Absolutely. This is something that has just come up in my house very recently with the summer, that I have a fabulous nanny helping with us for the summer, and after a week or two, she would tell me every day what she fed the children and she said it’s really intimidating feeding the children of a dietician [laughs] and I said I care more about how you feed my children that what. Because I had really talked to her about Ellyn Satter and not talking about calories and weight, but I hadn’t focused so much on what.
Paige: Oh so she was intimidated like what does this mean, what am I supposed to do?
Anna: Yeah like what am I supposed to be feeding them, what do I do? So it’s all interesting because I think usually people worry about okay I need to make sure they eat these foods but this is a different approach to that conversation and it’s so great and important.
Paige: Yes, yes. Oh, this has been so awesome. Is there anything else you want to say with this? I know we kind of just went off the cuff and talked about these comments we’ve gotten, which, by the way, those were really, really awesome questions. That was so- that helped us dive into some other areas within this topic that I think are really important. And obviously we always have blind spots when we have our own experiences and we tend to talk about those so it’s really awesome to hear these questions, they were great.
Anna: Yeah, they’re real questions. And like I said at the end of the last one, I never wanna come off the answer to this, because it’s not true. We have this structure but then in each little family it’s gonna be approached differently. And so thinking about how this is gonna work in your own family is so important. And I wish there was one answer for everyone because it would be much easier. So I loved these questions because we need to be thinking about it in all different ways.
Paige: Yeah, yeah. And the way I would summarize today’s themes were: show rather than tell whenever possible, ask lots of questions to help your kids come to their own conclusions and answers, it’s never too late to make a change, and structure is typically kind of where you wanna start at least and just see can I apply more structure? Maybe that means simplifying some activities, maybe that means rescheduling some of your day. And it’s okay to say no. And conversations about goals with your partners in parenting, whether that’s your parents helping you with your children, or a nanny, or a spouse, or a partner or whatever it is, having those conversations about goals and how we accomplish them and really trying to get everyone consistent in this approach and in this supportive environment. I think those are the things that came up for me. Anything you’d like to add?
Anna: Oh, I think you hit them all. I like that summary. I think you hit every one.
Paige: Oh great. Well, Anna, this has been awesome. I’ve loved this. Just take a minute to talk about how people can keep in touch with you if they want. I know you already mentioned it on our last one but just take a second to do it again if you don’t mind.
Anna: Great. Well anyone is welcome to email me if they’d like and I’ll make sure you attach my email in the show notes, Paige, is that right?
Paige: Yeah, of course. Mhmm.
Anna: We also has, my practice has a Facebook page which is called “Lutz, Alexander, and Associates Nutrition Therapy” and we love to post interesting information about childhood feeding and eating disorders on there if someone's interested in getting information that way. And you can also check out our website which is http://lutzandalexander.com/
Paige: Great, and I’ll link to all of that and I’m also planning on linking to the division of responsibility kind of explanation from Ellyn Satter because we did refer to that quite a bit today.
Anna: That sounds great. I’ve really loved talking to you today Paige, thank you so much.
Paige: Oh, thank you for being here, this was awesome, I loved it.
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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.