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Food Restriction: What it Really Does to Kids

Food Restriction: What it Really Does to Kids

Restrictive Feeding Practices

Over the years, I have encountered families who believe they need to control, tightly limit, or restrict the food their child eats. They label forbidden foods like candy or chips and make them scarce.

Especially if their child is a big eater or carries extra weight.

This what I (and others) refer to as food restriction. It is also called restrictive feeding practices. Although it is well-intentioned, it may cause more problems for your child and your family down the road. 

The Trap of Food Police

No doubt, feeding kids is one of the greatest responsibilities you have, and perhaps one of your most repetitive, challenging, and mundane chores.  

Our society’s obsession to be fit and trim is increasingly imposed upon our children. As a parent, you are faced with confusing and conflicting messages about proper feeding, healthful foods, and optimal levels of nutrition.  

You may respond to this evolving standard of perfect nutrition with the only thing you can think of doing: Food restriction, or tightly controlling the food your child eats. 

Eventually, you fall into the role of the food police, controlling food portions, your child’s eating, and more. 

You make sure you avoid forbidden foods, control how much your child eats and his exposure to indulgent foods.

As a result, you focus on giving your child the healthiest foods and in the right amounts, so she gets every nutrient she could possibly need.

You think: If I can do this, my child will be just the right size and shape, well-nourished, and feeding him will be struggle-free. 

Sound familiar?


What Does it Mean to Restrict Food?  

In a nutshell, food restriction, or restrictive feeding practices, involve controlling every little bite that goes into your child’s mouth.

Controlling food portions by pre-portioning your child’s dinner plate or offering “snack packs,” is one way parents show food control over their children.

Purchasing diet, low-calorie, or fat-free foods in order to control the amount of calories, sugar or fat your child eats is another way.

Limiting second helpings at the dinner table, or even forbidding certain foods from entering the home or the family diet is yet another common way parents control food.

These are all signs of restrictive feeding practices.

Using food restriction on a regular basis can foster children who lose their sense of hunger and fullness.

They may overeat, often away from the watchful eye of mom and dad, when they are unrestricted.

They may become “obsessed” with the foods that are limited or forbidden from their eating pattern. 

What Food Restriction Really Does to Kids 

Over time, feelings of deprivation may set in. Kids may feel deprived when they don’t have the freedom to choose how much they want (or need) to eat.

Depending on their age, they also want to be in charge of what they eat.

I’ve also encountered kids who were restricted in their eating and were truly hungry– hungrier than their parents thought they were. 

Research indicates that restrictive feeding may promote overeating.

Most interestingly, these studies not only link food restriction to weight gain, they also link a parent’s perception of their child’s weight to restrictive feeding. 

In other words, if you think your child is “big,” eating too much, or gaining weight, you are more likely to be more controlling — and restrictive — with every little bite she eats. 

Yes, you’re more apt to become a food cop.

Like adults, kids want what they can’t or don’t have. It’s human nature.

Take away the candy, and kids can’t stop thinking about it. However, unlike adults, kids have less control over their biological drive to eat. 

Food Restriction: What it Really Does to Kids

Is Your Child Experiencing Food Restriction?

As I mentioned, food restriction and restrictive feeding practices may be a set-up for “overeating on the sly.”

For example, if your child slips into the pantry when you go change out the laundry, this may be a sign of sneaking. If you find hidden wrappers under the bed, this too, may be food sneaking in full force. 

Or, your child may be unable to control his eating when forbidden foods are allowed or available.

For instance, when your child goes to a party and he hovers around the food table, eating as much as he can. Or, when she seems overly excited by sweets and treats.

Ultimately, restrictive feeding practices can undermine your child’s sense of appetite and the ability to regulate his eating. 

In a nutshell, food restriction can cause all sorts of problems with eating. 

Choosing what you feed your children will always be important to his ultimate health. What we feed really matters.

But, I think you need to pay more attention to how you feed your child.

How to Tame Your Inner Food Cop

Remember, your child’s perception is real.

Provide an abundant table of healthy food for mealtime. Your child will feel like there is plenty to eat and she can have her fill.

Use all the food groups to make a balanced meal that is both satisfying to the eye and to the tummy.

Feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that hunger is more than a full belly–it’s emotional fullness, too. 

Maybe feeling emotionally and physically full is what it will take to stop your child from overeating. You have to lose food restriction to achieve that.

Be an authoritative feeder so that your child experiences a predictable feeding schedule, food boundaries that aren’t too controlling or restrictive but allow reasonable choice.

Don’t be afraid to legitimize forbidden foods. Bring them to the table as part of a meal. Plan them into your child’s daily eating to neutralize them.

What’s your experience with food restriction (yourself or your child)? How did it play out?

I’ve discussed this on The Nourished Child podcast in episode #29. 

P.S. If you want to put your hands on the book that will take you through the HOW of feeding and other feeding practices that undermine your child’s eating abilities, you can nab Fearless Feeding in my Nutrition Store or check out my program, The Nourished Child Project.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase something in the Nutrition Store, I will receive a small percentage of the sale, which will help cover the costs to operate this blog. Thank you!

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  1. I’ve never blogged before and this looks like a good place to start! Thanks, I look forward to reading more in my “spare” time.

  2. I love your holistic approach and last line. I believe that to get to the root of many of our eating problems, we need to address the emotional component. Many of us are emotional eaters! It is just as important to be nourished emotional as physically. Parents need to be just as aware of their children’s emotional state as physical. Excellent point you make!