By: Tara Alley.
In today’s day and age, there’s more pressure than ever to instill good eating habits in our daughters. How do we keep them happy and content with how they eat and how they look? How do we spare them the danger of an eating disorder? How early is too early to start instilling good eating habits? First of all, I firmly believe it is never early. In fact, the earlier the better, starting from birth on, you should be thinking about how and why you’re teaching the eating habits and patterns that you are. The rest, I believe, lies in training our daughters to eat “well.”
So often the pressure simply revolves around teaching them “quantity,” as in: we don’t want them to under-eat, but nor do we want them to over-eat. There are so many problems with this method. The first is that a quantity-focused eating style is one that can easily and quickly become an obsession. Your daughters, at some point, will start to monitor your eating habits, and more often than not, attempt to mimic them. Did mom eat the whole potato, or half the potato? Did she finish her main dish or did she leave some?
Not only is this problematic in the sense that amounts for you are not necessarily the right amounts for her, and amounts for one day will not necessarily even be the right amounts for tomorrow (especially for girls involved in athletics) it’s simply the wrong focus. You will tend to notice, most often in competitive girls and generally in teens, that they will begin to try to outdo you. They will eat just a little less. If you had one slice of bread, they’ll likely have half.
So, if quantity isn’t the answer, what do I mean by “well”? Eating well takes the approach that food is our body’s medicine. It’s designed to help us live, and to help us live well. With this mindset, things like cheesecake become less about “high-calorie, high-fat” and more about the fact that they are relatively useless in terms of helping our body to thrive and perform at its peak.
Have you ever walked through a health food store and noticed that generally, all the customers are at healthy body weights? You will seldom find anyone highly underweight or overweight in a health food store because the goal of eating healthy is to care for the body. Instead of training your daughter to avoid foods for their kcal levels, train your daughter to eat high fiber foods that give her energy. Train her to eat protein that will build up her muscles. You will find that food quantities balance out more naturally this way. Cutting back on wasted energy foods like candy or white/sugary carbs will reduce over-eating because the food that is being eaten is filling and satisfying. You won’t need to think about portion control nearly as much if your diet is high in fruits and vegetables.
Tips for Eating Well:
Fresh is best. Try to encourage local eating whenever you can. A connection to food creates a healthier mindset. There’s a joy in eating an apple grown at a local farm that is missing from store items (better still if she picked it herself), and when you cherish and enjoy food, it’s more satisfying. Plus, you’ll notice that fresh often tastes much, much better. Fresh is better than frozen or canned almost any day, and if it’s grown locally, chances are even greater that it will taste that much more delicious. Why eat a cherry pie when fresh, juicy cherries taste are even more delectable? Your daughter will begin to crave and desire the foods that are naturally better for her.
Balanced meals matter. Your daughter may think a bowl of cereal is a perfectly acceptable meal, but you need to fight against that. Eating improper meals leads to improper eating overall. With nothing but some easily used carbs, she’s going to get hungry soon, she’s going to get tired quickly, and she’s going to establish a pattern of eating at odd times and simply eating what sounds good at the moment – which will probably be a carb/sugar craving to give her a boost. Instill, as early as possible: meals, with snacks if needed. The more you make this a pattern, the easier you will make her life for years and years. Encourage protein to satisfy for the long hours, carbs for energy, fruits and vegetables to meet the body’s demands for vitamins and minerals. Reinforce that food always has a purpose.
A Splurge is okay. While I do advocate foods geared to help our bodies perform, I want to emphasize that this does not mean that an occasional splurge is a bad thing. Building up fears of foods is one of the most detrimental things you can do, and it’s not helpful for her mind or body. This means you need to show your daughter that all foods are okay, in moderation. If you’re at a birthday party and there’s cake, it’s okay. If you have a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, it’s okay. Moderation is the key. Avoiding food fear is what’s important.
Remember, you are being watched. And it’s not about how much you eat, it’s so much more about what you eat and how you eat it. Train your daughters to savor food, to appreciate food, and you’ll help to avoid inhaling and overeating. Train her to eat well. Both of you will benefit, and you can know that each meal, each snack, each talk you have, has the potential to help her lead a safe, happier, more fulfilled life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Author Tara Alley is a freelance writer who writes often about living a healthier, more fulfilled life and doing so in the most eco-friendly way possible. When not working on her own projects, she also promotes organic, fair-trade green coffee for Coffee Home Direct. You can follow her on Twitter @hopesiempre.
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