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.
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, you are considering what is called restrictive feeding practices.
What are Restrictive Feeding Practices?
Restrictive feeding practices can play out in many ways. For example, you may limit the food types your child is allowed to eat (for example, no sugary foods or only fruits and vegetables).
Or, you may control the portion, or amount, your child eats (no seconds or only extras of vegetables).
Perhaps there is a certain manner in which your child must eat certain foods, or you adjust the energy content of foods (fat-free, sugar-free, or low calorie).
You may be overt in these restrictions or you may be subtle.
What prompts restrictive feeding practices?
Often, restrictive feeding practices come out when a parent is worried about their child’s eating or weight.
As a result, the parent may start to limit portion sizes, types of food, or adjust the energy content of foods. All in order to change their child’s eating or halt weight gain.
The irony of restrictive feeding practices is that they are largely ineffective.
Take the 100-calorie snack packs. Some kids can’t eat just one. I’ve seen plenty of kids plow through 3 or 4 of them as an after-school snack.
What about the child who overeats at parties or the neighbors house when candy is available?
Or the sneaky little pantry raider who digs in when you’re not looking?
Sneaking and overeating may be side effects of using restrictive feeding practices.
What leads to restrictive feeding?
It may be more complicated than you think. Research highlights two main areas that are tied to restrictive feeding practices: worry about a child’s weight and worry about the child who is a big eater.
Are you worried about your child’s weight?
A 2010 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that mothers who were concerned 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 more food restriction and restrictive feeding practices.
Does your child have a large appetite or is he/she out of control with eating (too fast, or enjoys eating too much)?
This aspect of feeding children was investigated by Webber and colleagues in 2010. They found that children with large appetites or aggressive eating tendencies elicited more restrictive feeding practices from their mothers.
Outcomes of Restrictive Feeding Practices
Practically, and from experience, I believe that children who are tightly controlled (restricted) in their eating may perceive the meal table as a battleground. Wanting food and not getting it can be hard on a child over time and can lead to the development of unhealthy eating habits.
What You Can Do
Check Your Intentions
If you’re not sure you are restricting your child’s eating, it’s helpful to ask yourself, “What are my intentions?”
Understanding 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 your child from over-eating, control your child’s weight, or get him to eat what you want: the spinach.
What is 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 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.