For a variety of reasons, many people have an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating disorders are serious health conditions related to eating behaviours that negatively impact your health. There are certain ways parents can unintentionally encourage an unhealthy relationship with food. Here are some ways you may unintentionally be giving your child an eating disorder or setting them down this dangerous path.
Forcing them to eat certain foods
Most people have foods that they don’t like, children included. Resist the parental impulse of using threats, punishment, and even bribery to get them to eat. Try and find interesting ways of incorporating such food into their diet or even make a game out of it or go grocery shopping with them and let them pick fruits and vegetables that they want to eat. Forcing them to eat certain foods has many negative consequences including eating disorders and leading to aversion to those foods later.
Forcing them to finish meals
Doubtless, you know more than your child about almost everything, but you don’t know how hungry they actually are. You can’t know. If you’ve been feeding your baby and they refuse to eat anymore, maybe they’re satisfied. It may just be childhood rebellion or rejection of the food before them, still, there’s something to be said for letting them have a modicum of control over the situation and feeding them later when the hunger strikes.
Forcing them to finish their meals also has the negative effect of never allowing them to develop internal mechanisms about stopping when they’re full. This can lead to an eating disorder like binge eating in which one regularly eats too much food and feels like they have no control over their eating.
Using fat as an insult
The word fat already has a negative connotation with heavier people being viewed in a negative light. Many people use the word fat like it’s synonymous with having a poor work ethic or lacking discipline. Using fat as a pejorative can make children conscious about their appearance enough that they begin to obsess about their own bodies and weight. This can lead to restricting their food intake in ways that develop into a full-blown eating disorder like anorexia nervosa. It also teaches them to judge others strictly based on their size and weight which is terrible.
Restricting food as punishment or using it to pacify
Using food as a mode of punishment or reward establishes an unhealthy relationship with food. Sending them to bed without food as punishment can lead to a habit of secret eating which they may carry into adulthood.
Using food as a way to pacify an upset child is a surefire way of teaching them emotional eating. They’ll begin to associate pain and sadness or frustration with eating. When you use it as a reward they may reach for food as a response to positive emotions as well. Yes, you can give them treats but don’t use food as a way of instilling discipline or pacifying them. There are so many other healthy ways of instilling discipline.
Talking about your weight and diet
If you are concerned about your size and are actively trying to lose weight, keep that to yourself. Children hear how you talk about yourself; they see how you look at yourself and can internalize such negative self-talk. If complaining about your body and being on a diet is a normal way of life for you, they will adopt that outlook, putting them at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.
You should certainly not warn children about weight gain or do things like restrict their diet and say it’s because of their weight. Don’t complain about their food intake or do things like hiding food from them. It can lead to fear of eating and feelings of guilt when they do eat. Focus on instilling body positivity and an awareness that people come in different shapes and sizes and that that’s normal. Try to be a good parent and focus your parenting efforts on the kids’ development.
Weight gain is normal and expected during puberty so it’s best to set a proper foundation earlier especially in a society that prioritizes smaller sizes. A significant part of instilling a healthy relationship with food includes addressing your own hangups about weight so that you don’t inadvertently pass them on.
Parenting: negative effects of forcing your child to eat