Parent of an Overweight Child? *Sensible* advice, for a change

{As a follow up to yesterday’s dieting Tiger Mom, sensible advice from Ellyn Satter, registered dietician and counselor specializing in eating competency.}

Children come in all sizes – some are big, some are small, some are sturdy or even chubby, others are slender. If your child’s weight is relatively high, even if it plots above the 95th or even the 97th percentile, it is likely to be normal if it follows along a particular percentile curve on the growth chart.

On the other hand, if your child’s weight percentiles are going up, there could be a problem. Some children carry the genes for fatness, and those genes let them get too fat – they don’t make them too fat.

Errors in feeding can make vulnerable children too fat. What are those errors?

1) Too much interference

2) Too little structure

3) Both together

Instead of trying to get your child to eat less and slim him down, support his normal pattern of development by doing an excellent job of feeding, parenting reliably and well, and letting your child grow up to get the body that is right for him:

  • Get started with family meals, if you aren’t having them already. Give sit-down snacks between times, but don’t let him have free access to food or beverages, except for water.
  • To provide support without interfering with feeding, maintain a division of responsibility in feeding. You manage the what, when and where of feeding and trust your child to do the how much and whether of eating from what you put on the table.
  • Throughout your child’s growing-up years, feed in a developmentally appropriate fashion.
  • To provide structure without interfering with activity, maintain a division of responsibility in activity:
  • You provide structure, safety and opportunities. Your child chooses how much and whether to move and the manner of moving

For more about raising children who eat as much as they need and get bodies that are right for them (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter’s Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming, Kelcy Press, 2005.

Also see www.EllynSatter.com to purchase books and to review other resources.

Copyright © 2012 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com.

Guest Post: Ellyn Satter on Emotional Eating

~it’s NORMAL, it DOESN’T CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN, and RESTRICTING makes it worse…but it can be abused~

{I’m delighted to welcome dietician Ellyn Satter to the blog today with a re-print of her article on emotional eating! Thanks, Ellyn!}

In my review of the January through June issues of the journal Appetite, I found that a high number of articles addressed emotional eating. As with earlier articles on the topic, the underlying assumption of authors was that emotional eating is to blame for overeating and weight gain and that getting rid of emotional eating is key to weight loss.

Emotional eating doesn’t cause weight gain. That assumption is oversimplified and physiologically naive. Let’s assume that emotional eating leads you to eat a lot at any one time. That eating-a-lot only makes you gain weight if your body ”forgets” those calories, which it doesn’t. In reality, your body remembers: You are less hungry the next meal, the next day or even the next week. The body corrects long term for short-term errors in food regulation. To overwhelm your body’s natural regulatory abilities, you would have to overeat day after day without stopping. Few do.1

Emotional eating is normal; abusing emotional eating is not. From the perspective of the Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter), it is natural to eat for emotional reasons. Eating can raise your spirits when you are low, soothe you when you are tense, and distract you when you are upset. We cook special meals to celebrate and we use food to help us connect with other people.
Emotional eating is a problem only when you abuse it: You have no idea what you feel, other than generally upset or stressed. You eat to feel better or to push down or to blot out your feelings. You eat fast and don’t pay attention and end up feeling guilty, unsatisfied, and out of control. Certainly, such eating makes you feel bad. However, the biggest problem is not weight gain, but rather having feelings go straight to eating. To make good choices in life, you have to know how you feel. Knowing how you feel helps you cope. Eating is one of several solutions, including talking about your feelings and dealing with the problem.



Restrained eating increases abuse of emotional eating.
In my clinical experience corroborated by the research, restrained eating exacerbates the tendency to abuse emotional eating.2 People who are not restrained eaters consume less, not more, under stressful conditions.3 Restrained eaters try to eat less and less-appealing food than they need and want and are chronically hungry. Trying not to eat in the face of hunger and food-preoccupation takes a lot of energy. Stress undermines the energy to sustain food deprivation, and the person overeats. Thus, rather than overeating in response to stress, the restrained eater disinhibits. The restrained eater still eats a lot, but the root cause is undereating rather than emotional arousal. The cycle continues: The remorseful fallen-away restrained eater redoubles her efforts to restrict and again falls prey to stress induced disinhibition.

Here is how to stop abusing emotional eating:

  • Feed yourself regularly and reliably. Have meals and snacks at predictable times, and include the food you like.
  • Set aside restrained eating. Trust yourself to go to the table hungry and eat until you feel satisfied. Then stop, knowing another meal or snack is coming soon and you can do it again.
  • Become more comfortable with your feelings. Know what you feel, including that knowing in choosing how to act. Learn to productively use food for emotional reasons.

Be clear about what eating can do for you. Eating in a focused fashion is likely to soothe or calm you and even raise your spirits a bit. It won’t resolve the problem-unless the problem is being hungry! When you feel like eating because you are bored, depressed, happy, or sociable, say to yourself, ”It is all right to eat. But first I will find out what I am feeling.”

Then eat positively, deliberately, soothingly, and cheeringly.

{I introduced some of Ellyn Satter’s books a few weeks ago on Weekend Eating Reading. Check them out here and in my bookshop!}

References

1. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook. 2008 , Kelcy Press: Madison, WI. p. 243-246.

2. Van Strien, T. and M.A. Ouwens, Counterregulation in female obese emotional eaters: Schachter, Goldman, and Gordon’s (1968) test of psychosomatic theory revisited. Eat Behav, 2003. 3(4): p. 329-340.

3. Herman, C.P., J. Polivy, and V.M. Esses, The illusion of counter-regulation. Appetite, 1987. 9: p. 161-169.

Copyright © 2011 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com.

{All images added by me, Rachel Stone}