In a world concerned with childhood obesity, you may be wondering exactly how you’re supposed to prevent or control your child’s weight or weight gain. Well, if you are thinking about putting your child on a diet, limiting second helpings, purchasing fat-free or low calorie snack foods or removing all sweets and “junk” foods from the house, this installment of the Parent Feeding Practices series is the one for you!
Restricting your child’s eating involves limiting food types, amounts, and the manner of eating, in obvious or subtle ways. Commonly, restrictive feeding can be seen in limiting portion sizes, types of food (no sugary foods or only fruits and vegetables), amounts of servings (no seconds), and/or adjusting the energy content of foods (fat-free, sugar-free, or low cal).
I am sure you’ve seen the child who eats more than one 100-calorie snack pack (maybe even 3 or 4). Or the child who goes crazy at a party when presented with an array of sweet and salty foods. How about the pantry raider, when you’re not looking? These are potential results of restrictive feeding. What leads to restrictive feeding? It may be more complicated than you would think.
Are you worried about your child’s weight?
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (March 2010), found that mothers who were concerned that their child was overweight, were more likely to use restriction when feeding their child. Restriction wasn’t the cause of weight gain, but a concern about weight produced restrictive practices.
Does your child have a large appetite or do you feel he/she is out of control with eating?
This aspect of feeding children was investigated by Webber et al in 2010, and they found that children with large appetites or aggressive eating tendencies elicited more restrictive feeding practices from their mothers.
Does restriction cause weight gain?
This is a good question. Earlier studies indicated that children who experienced restrictive feeding tended to have a higher body mass index (BMI). When researchers look at cause and effect, it seems the waters get murky.
Researchers have found that parental concern about weight and parental perception of their child’s eating style leads to restriction. And there is an association between restrictive practices and overweight/obesity.
So what happens now?
Practically, and from experience, I still believe that children who are closely monitored and controlled (restricted) in their eating perceive the meal table as a battleground. Wanting, and not getting, can be wearing on a child, and end up backing them into a corner , producing efforts to get the things they want outside of the home or when parents aren’t looking.
Tune in here to tone down any adverse effects related to restrictive feeding practices:
If you’re not sure you are restricting your child’s eating, it’s helpful to ask yourself, “what are my intention here?” Discovering your underlying intentions or your worries will help you determine if you are simply trying to make sure everyone at the meal table gets a fair shake at each item on the table, or if you are ultimately trying to prevent over-eating, control your child’s weight or get them to eat what you want: the spinach.
Your Child’s Perception
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. How would you feel if your boss told you that one piece of chicken was enough? Or your spouse told you that you should watch how much dessert you are eating (I think we all know how that would go over!)?
It’s important for children to leave the meal table satisfied, physically and emotionally. Reassuring children that they can fill their bellies with the variety of foods at the table can quell some of their worry, and ultimately their actions.
Sure, parents have the job of teaching children how to eat well and that can be best accomplished by setting a good example and a great table. And you can model positive behaviors you would like to see from your child.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to pick out the food and prepare it, and your child to regulate how much and which foods they eat.
Do you have a story to share about restrictive feeding practices?
1. Webber et al. Associations between child weight and maternal feeding styles are mediated by maternal perceptions and concerns. EJCN 2010: 64; 259-265.
2. Webber et al. Associations between children’s appetitive traits and maternal feeding practices. JADA 2010: 110; 1718-1722.