Tag Archives: kids

Anorexia Recovery: How food changed for my kids

The best intuitive eaters on the planet are kids. My job as a mom is to protect my children’s innate ability to feed themselves well. I wasn’t very good at this until the last year and a half while going through eating disorder recovery. It turns out that anorexia not only affected me, but also my children because I was super controlling of their food and portions. I watched their sugar, fat, and carb intakes; was hyper aware of fruit and veggie consumption; had strict rules about treats; managed snacks; and controlled how much/little food went on to their plates.

That was a lot of work, and really, in the scheme of culture totally normal for a parent wanting their kids to eat healthy. However, it caused stress at meal times. My kids weren’t good eaters–picky, whiny, and adverse to trying new things; everyone seemed hungry all the time;

When I went into eating disorder recovery, I had to relearn how to feed my family and reteach my kids what it really means to eat well. We follow the Ellen Satter Institute principles, which center on getting kids back to their intuitive ability to eat. Do kids need structure? Yes. Do they need to be hyper controlled? No. The nutshell of how this works:

~ Parents choose what and when kids eat

~ Kids choose if and how much/little they’ll eat.

As a mom I had to learn how to:

  1. Give my kids lots of choices of all the nutrients (including sugar, fat and carbs)
  2. Pull back on controlling what my kids put on their plates
  3. Teach my kids how to tune in with their bodies

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What this looks like in our house

We have zero food rules. All nutrients are treated equal, which means ice cream, cookies, and treats have equal value as fruit, veggies, and whole grains. When we don’t put food on a pedestal to be earned or treated as the holy grail of all things yummy, the interest and desire to eat the treats becomes more even keel.

There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food nor “healthy” and “unhealthy.” We have play food and serious food–all of it good and healthy if our bodies are hungry and asking for them.

We have a zero-pressure environment at meal times. All the choices are put on the table  and then we tune in with our bodies. “What sounds good? Maybe start with a little and see how you feel–if you want more, have more. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. Maybe try a different choice on the table.”

No one has to eat everything on their plate. You don’t have to  try anything if you don’t want to; you can try everything if you want to. Decide what sounds good to you and eat that. If a plate of cookies sounds good… go for it. If your body doesn’t feel good later, we’ll talk about it and see if maybe next time we try less cookies in combo with another choice like chicken or fruit. Maybe our body would like that better.

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What mealtimes look like

Breakfast:

Eat whatever sounds good. Sean typically eats toaster waffles w/syrup or peanut butter; sometimes he’ll have an egg too, if he’s in the mood.

Haley usually eats one or more of the following with a bowl of chocolate ice cream on the side:

  • 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Leftovers from dinner
  • Bagel and cream cheese
  • Bacon if it’s freshly cooked

Yeah. That’s right. Sometimes her breakfast is a bowl of ice cream with bacon on the side. Crazy? From a cultural perspective, yes. Biologically speaking, though, her body is reading and absorbing fat, calcium, Vitamin D, sugar and protein–all necessary nutrients to get her metabolism and brain up and running in the morning.

Lunch

Both kidlets get an apportioned amount of dollars  per month in their hot-lunch account. Each day they pick what sounds good–either the hot lunch choice, as per the monthly menu hanging in our kitchen, or whatever sounds good for home lunch. Home lunch will range from dinner leftovers to mac and cheese to a bologna sandwich. They make their own lunches with minor assistance from me. Once in a great while, depending on what’s happening, I will make lunch for them and they are over the moon.

Since ditching the food rules, the kids choose home lunch more often than hot lunch (averaging hot lunch about twice per week).

Snacks

We have a snack shelf in our pantry. They pack their home lunches from that shelf and have free access to the shelf whenever their bodies say “I’m hungry.” After school, they do have to have their snack eaten by 4:15 so they have appetites for dinner later.

I try to keep a bowl of “easy fruit” on the table at all times– grapes, cherries, blueberries–which I refresh every couple of days. Sometimes I switch to carrots, olives, cherry tomatoes. The whole family will graze on these as we’re coming and going through out the week.

Every night we have an optional “last snack of the day” between 8 and 9pm. Sometimes this is something as simple as string cheese or something off the snack shelf or it could be  more involved, like a hot dog or quesadilla. It just depends on the activity we had during the evening. No one needs to go to bed hungry, and, in fact, we find we sleep better when our bodies have fuel for the work it does while we sleep.

Dinner

Dinnertime is where intuitive eating really takes charge. Lots of choices and no pressure. Here’s a visual of what last week’s dinners looked like:

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Monday: Pizza Chicken; arugula salad with the toppings (mandarin oranges, strawberries) separate in case someone wanted fruit but no lettuce; whipped cream (for the strawberries if you want); Go-gurt, Jello, and chocolate pudding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday: My husband cooked Steak & Veggie Kabobs; rice; arugula salad with tomatoes; sliced strawberries. Not much else for choices that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday: Broccoli Chicken; rice; baked beans, leftover popcorn from snack time; applesauce; cheese and crackers. This night was a total jackpot on the choices! Haley sampled a little of everything; Sean loaded up on cheese and crackers, baked beans, and a little broccoli chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thursday: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup; grilled cheese sandwiches; grapes; cherries; pickles. There was also ice cream, but I kept that in the freezer with expressed permission to grab some if desired. Sean’s baseball game had been cancelled due to rain, so we had a rare night at home! I took full advantage of the time by making something a little more time consuming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday: Sloppy Joes; ABC Salad (arugula, bacon, and cheddar cheese); grapes ‘n’ strawberry salad; Spongebob Squarepants fruit snacks; Chips Ahoy. Need I say more here?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday: Pizza night! Forgot to take a picture.

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Sunday: Spaghetti Mac w/cheese; chocolate pudding; Jello; grapes and cherries; Go-gurt. I was running low on groceries that day and kind of made up the pasta dish. It was essentially elbow macaroni with meat sauce and shredded cheddar.

It took several months to find a new rhythm and sometimes we run into hiccups if our routine is thrown off, but removing the rigidity and rules (yet still keeping structure) has changed my kids for the better! They eat a variety of foods, including trying more new things; meal times are fun and relaxed; there’s no more begging for treats and snacks; they’re learning how to listen and respond to their own bodies. Now that they’ve reconnected to their intuition, food is fun, nourishing, and enjoyable as it was meant to be!

I beg you, please stop doing this

Healthy food or unhealthy food?

Please, please, stop using food as reward and punishment for your kidlets. I am guilty of this in the past with my own children–promises of treats if they’re good while I’m on the phone; bribery of yummy things to come for patience while we’re in the store; threatening no dessert if they don’t eat their veggies; warnings of no goodies if they don’t behave.

I hear it all around me from fellow frustrated parents: “No snack for you if you don’t listen.” “Uh-oh, I guess everyone else gets a treat except for you because you made a bad choice.”

Food, especially “treats,” seem like a handy piece of leverage when our nerves frayed. Food is an easy tool for parenting control, but it’s dangerous. The problems with using food as reward and punishment is it sends messages that can cause dangerous eating habits later.

  • Message: Food is a privilege and it must be earned, whether we’re hungry or not. Food is not a right; it’s a basic human need, especially for kiddos whose little bodies are constantly burning physical, mental, and emotional energy. They need constant refueling, and if that need is attached to strings, it causes dissonance between internal body cues and external rules. It’s confusing: “Do I eat when I’m hungry or do I have to wait until I’m good enough–meet all the requirements such that I’ve earned my ability to satisfy my need?”
  • Message:  Food says if I’m bad or good. First of all, placing foods on pedestals as “treats” or “special” makes them that much more desirable. Who doesn’t want a little piece of something super special? And if we earn it, then we must be special too. We’re so good! But what happens if we don’t eat the veggies and don’t earn the special reward? Over time, food starts becoming associated with shame and self-esteem. “I didn’t get ice cream with daddy because I was bad today.” Food becomes less about feeding the body and more of a tool to cope with feelings of value–whether overeating because “I deserve it” or restricting it because “I need more control.”

There’s another angle to consider when putting food itself into “good” and “bad” categories. To a child who doesn’t like peas, peas are bad; dessert is good. Yet, as parents we tend to send the message that peas are “good” for you; the dessert is special because it’s actually “bad” for you. Treats should only be eaten at certain times and under certain conditions. In our house, we used to call dessert foods “sometimes” foods. Food rules regarding what’s good and what’s bad is confusing and interrupts a child’s ability and confidence to read h/her body cues regarding hunger and what sounds good: “I’m hungry and a cookie sounds good. Mom says cookies aren’t good for me and that celery with peanut butter is healthier. I don’t like celery and not in the mood for peanut butter. I guess I’m not hungry.”

  • Message: Eating means following rules and ignoring your body. As an adult do you typically eat food you don’t like? When’s the last time you forced yourself to eat tomatoes, even though tomatoes make you gag, simply because they’re “good” for you? I hate Lima beans and I won’t eat them if you paid me. Lima beans are chock full of amazing nutrients and I couldn’t care less. If my dinner order comes with Lima beans, I will substitute them out for something else, probably french fries.

Forcing your kiddo–using dessert as leverage–to eat everything on h/her plate or certain items because it’s “healthy” sets faulty internal rules: a) if I’m full, I still have to keep eating because there’s food on my plate; b) I have to eat things I don’t like in order to be healthy; c) certain food rules apply to certain people. Grown ups can/cannot eat foods as they choose; Tommy is allowed to pick off his tomatoes, but I’m not; in order to eat foods l love, I must endure foods I hate.

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Kids are intuitive eaters by nature. However, when we use food as reward and punishment for control, nature takes a back seat and food habits are formed based on rules and emotional feelings instead. This is so dangerous and can lead to disordered eating habits that will have health implications. Good eating habits start when kids are kids. If you’d like information on  about developing healthy eating habits for your family, I highly recommend the Ellyn Satter Institute. When I went into recovery for anorexia, I was introduced to Ellyn Satter to help incorporate new habits for my whole family. Anorexia didn’t just harm me, it was harming my sweet kidlets too.

How to parent my daughter who's just like me

Haley Beach

Her emotions wear a cape, soaring her high out of reach where I can’t bring her back close to me. From far away she looks at me with helplessness, “Mom, help me. I don’t know what to do! I feel out of control! I am losing my mind!” We both wait for the wind of exhaustion to gently bring her down into sleep.  Rest restores her body and mind back into control.

She’s just like me. Except she’s only six-years-old and hasn’t figured out how to control her HaleyandMeemotional power. I’ve had 34 years of experience and seven years of therapy to help me reign in my emotional squalls, and even still it’s hard work to maneuver the stormy winds of anxiety, panic, and fear. My daughter, Haley, and I are two highly-anxious, perfectionist-peas in a pod.

Lately I’ve been at a complete loss as to how to parent a child like me. I spend a lot of energy either trying to soothe Haley’s emotional tirades or reacting with my own rants out of sheer frustration. I’ve taken her to the doctor to rule out physical ailments and am currently researching behavioral health support. Nothing feels right. I have been praying for guidance as to how to get my daughter the coping tools she needs now so she doesn’t end up like me later–feeling out of control and coping through disorder.

My friend Andee recently wrote a post called Just Like You–A Post for Mother’s Day, and she describes the curse-turned-to-blessing of having a daughter just like her. It was Andee’s insight into her daughter that has given me insight into mine. She describes her daughter, Annika, as one who “not only wears her emotions on her sleeve, but all the way down her maxi dress. She has no poker face and tells you exactly what she’s thinking. Early on, Annika’s tranquil mood turned to tantrum within seconds and rage would strike out of the blue.”

I can literally insert Haley’s name in for Annika’s. But rather than trying to “fix” her daughter’s emotional outbursts to avoid future demise, Andee offers a listening ear and reassuring love.

I realized I have spent so much energy on trying to fix Haley to avoid future angst, that I have lost a grip on who Haley is and what she needs right now. My daughter doesn’t need fixing. She needs love, understanding, and reassurance (just like I do). That’s how to parent a child like me. Hello, answer to prayer.

Yesterday, Haley was depressed, unfocused and exhausted. She was getting sassy in her tone with me and tipping into the rage-red zone. Taking my cue from Andee’s insight, I asked, “Did something happen at school today? What’s wrong?” Turns out she got stuck on top of the jungle gym at recess. She was scared to fall; her classmates were encouraging her, but it was embarrassing; she was worried she wouldn’t get down before the bell rang for class; and she was confused because she’d never been scared up there before.

Well, no wonder she was upset! For a six-year-old, getting stuck on top of the jungle gym makes for a rough day. I hugged her and affirmed her feelings and told her I loved her. What a scary and stressful experience! I wish I could say she magically felt better and we lived happily ever after the rest of the night. Her mood didn’t improve, and actually it got worse, but I kept my cool and just let her be how she needed to be. IN accepting her emotions toward her situation, I was better able to love on her despite her coldness toward me. I trust in time she’ll learn to trust me as I parent in love rather than “fixing.”

HaleyMath

I see, now, Haley is just like me– creative, generous, compassionate, funny, intelligent, and intuitive. She’s a thinker and a creator and an achiever. This week she’s written two books, crafted three songs, made me multiple presents and cards for Mother’s Day, encouraged her older brother, and has given her best in everything she’s done. Her future looks much brighter from this angle!

HaleySilly

You were six today

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I woke up and you were six years old today. Thinking back to the day you were born, I knew I was getting a gift, but I could never have imagined exactly how special you would be.

You are sweet and sassy and smart– clever with your words and emotions according to your audience and your need for expression.

You are intellectual, imaginative, and inquisitive–indulgent in your desires to learn; reading, writing, and reflecting back upon what you need to know.

You have an artist’s spirit– creative and spiritual and intuitive. Singing and dancing, creating and writing–through music and paint (and lots of glitter), pencil and paper you discover and express and wonder about life and all the lovely (and not so lovely) things it has to offer.

You have a heart for the Lord, a flowering relationship with Jesus, a trusting instinct for the Holy Spirit. You have sincere prayers, thoughtful insight to our loved ones lost, and a child-like understanding of God’s love I wish I had.

You are an observer, soaking in the thoughts and actions happening around you. (A ruminator like your mother.) Thinking, learning, contemplating, and threading life into the depths of your spirit, letting it simmer and rest until parts of it bubble up–ready for exploration and explanation.

You are bold and outspoken when you need to be–expressing injustice, advocacy, and love (oh, how much you love to love!), for the sake of others’ hearts.

Like any young girl, you desire to be older and more mature–taking pride in the moments you handle things on your own; acknowledging and indulging your growing independence.

Yet, you  are six years old. My heart swells because you still seek mommy. You desire the comfort and snuggles that comes with crawling into my lap; peace of mind that you are loved and adored; validation of who you are when I tell you my favorite things about you are your heart and your mind.

You’re my little girl, my Haleybugger–my love bug–my gift whom I love and honor and admire. Happy birthday to you!

 

Getting to know my kids–through their eyes

In the midst of the heaviness of the past week, my kids and I had a spontaneous moment of creative explosion. I am not what you would call a “craft mom.” The extent of my craftiness doesn’t shoot far beyond markers and tape. If I am feeling particularly adventurous, I might get out some glue and possibly glitter. My daughter, who is an artist at heart, has become quite clever and independent with the few and random supplies that fill her art drawers.

The other night in an attempt to busy my hands and mind with something that didn’t require too much cerebral investment, I decided to create a vision board for myself. This vision board was actually supposed to be a “support activity” for the holistic health cleanse I had completed a week prior. I just hadn’t ever gotten around to doing it.  I sat down in the middle of my living room floor with two Sunset Magazines and a pair of scissors. I took my time paging through and finding images and words that I found soothing and inspiring.

IMG_20140521_203052It wasn’t long before my kidlets came bounding in wondering what the heck mama was doing–making a mess with scissors and paper!? In the middle of the living room to boot! They wanted in on the action. So I gave them each a pair of scissors and a magazine. Away they went for nearly two hours … flipping and snipping pages, holding up images with “Mom! Look at this one!” “Oooo, I like this one. Look, Mama!” They eagerly shared with each other the images they found, giggling at an advertisement with giant buffaloes, cooing at another with a soft, grey kitten.

IMG_20140521_202632Of course, true to their natures, they had completely different collections of pictures. Sean was drawn to more open fields and oceans; modern and symmetrical interior environments. Haley trended toward forests and wildflowers; cozy and eclectic living spaces– and also pretty food. They both, however, an affinity for nature scenes. 🙂

Sean chose not to have any words for his vision board while Haley got discouraged not being able to find the words she wanted for hers. When I suggested to Haley she just find the letters to spell the words she wanted, it was like I had introduced a whole new IMG_20140521_202634creative experience. She was delighted hunting for the perfect letters to spell what was on her mind!

It was inspiring for me to watch them share what they found to be inspiring for them. This activity helped me peek into their minds a bit and get to know each of my kids just a little better in a different way.  Haley is detailed and thoughtful and  deliberate. Sean is quick yet certain; he finds humor in almost everything yet is breath-taken by nature’s beauty and loves the family/group dynamics of wild animals.

True to my “crafy” nature we got out the tape and plastered the images all over our walls. You certainly won’t find our decor idea in a Pottery Barn magazine; however, I do hope you might experience a story or painting sparked from one of these boards. In fact, the next morning, Sean woke up in a near panic “Mom! I need to write a story! I need paper–lots of it!”

Sure enough, the kiddo wrote a flash fiction story about a mama bear and her two cubs, one of which got lost– and eventually found again for a wonderful reuniting and a happily ever after.

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Sean’s vision wall: lower left is the buffalo ad; bottom right is mama bear with two cubs.

Haley's vision board: lower left; blue-eyed, grey-haired kitty. Lower right; cozy 'eksulent' outdoor space. ;)

Haley’s vision board: lower left; blue-eyed, grey-haired kitty. Lower right; cozy ‘eksulent’ outdoor space. 😉

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My vision board filled with sunset colors, tropical zeal, romantic settings, and action words.