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Dr. Katja Rowell: Rethinking our own bad patterns

Love Me, Feed Me!This is the third entry of a 5-part interview series with Dr. Katja Rowell whose consulting service, The Feeding Doctor, focuses on helping families learn about healthy, happy eating. Finding non-alarmist nutrition information for kids is a challenge and her commonsense, respectful approach has been a huge boon to me. Be sure to become a The Feeding Doctor fan on facebook and check out her new book, Love Me, Feed Me! now available at Amazon.

For parents struggling with their own disordered eating, what’s the first step to stopping this cycle before it’s passed on to their kids?

There are some great resources out there. I think the best is Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter. Other pieces of the puzzle might be in intuitive eating books, or Gina Kolata’s book Rethinking Thin. Read Secrets and learn to provide for and love yourself. The beauty of working with kids’ feeding issues is that parents are highly motivated to do well by their children. I know I have been much kinder to myself since having a daughter. I would be upset if she wasted her time and energy hating herself if she weighed five pounds more than she wanted. I have to extend that same love to myself. Fake it in the beginning if you have to. Change those neural pathways. I have found that about half the moms I work with have histories of an eating disorder. What is so lovely is that watching the children eat and trust themselves can be an eye opener for the parent. Kids have the potential to be a part of the healing process, but the trust model of feeding is essential to that in my opinion. The current control model with its emphasis on restriction and worry about weight for even very small children is I think, very damaging and triggering for moms with a history of an eating disorder. I’d really love to see this model taught to more moms who are struggling or who have struggled with food or weight. There is also an adult model called Eating Competence that I can do with clients that really walks through the process of learning to tune in to hungry and full for adults. Find someone trained in that model that can work with you, or find a therapist who has worked in this area with mindfulness etc.

How can we tell if our kids ARE too heavy or too thin?

This is so important, and something that even many health care providers mess up. The focus now is on using BMI to “diagnose” a child as being overweight or obese. The problem is, it is inaccurate and was never intended to diagnose based on a single point. A child can be at the 90th% and be very healthy while that is officially “obese.” A child at the 50% may be sedentary and have a very poor diet. What is important is looking at the rate of growth. Is your child holding steady at roughly the same percentile? Is he falling off the growth chart, or is there rapid acceleration? Unfortunately right now a whole lot of healthy larger kids are being mislabeled as having a problem and this then starts the unnecessary and sometimes harmful interventions. Simply by labeling a kid as “overweight or obese” means they will feel flawed in every way, be less likely to be physically active and more likely to diet and thus gain weight. Words really matter. Also, small children who are growing steadily need to be fed with the Division of Responsibility. Too often these kids are labeled as having a problem, and docs say things like, “Do whatever you have to to get food into that kid.” I literally have clients who chase their kids around with sausage and Ensure in Sippy cups. Those kids grow less well. Life then revolves around getting more food into, or taking food away from children. It can be pretty miserable. And my heart really goes out to families who have a small and a large child who are being advised to feed one kid one way, and the sibling another. It’s hell and it doesn’t work. Imagine how two sisters will feel as one is getting food slapped out of her hands and the other one is getting milk shakes pushed on her? The trust model works for every body-big or small.

(Stay Tuned for Part 4 next week!)

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