The barista at my favorite coffee shop has a sixteen year old daughter. The girl is super active – swimming and horse riding seven days a week, and her mom is worried that she is not getting enough nutrients. “All she seems to eat is bread! I think she ate nine slices yesterday”, she exclaims, looking at me for advice.
I am not worried.
“Does she eat anything else?”, I inquire. “Yes. She loves fruit. I make protein smoothies for her. She loves yogurt, and scrambled eggs”.
Ok. So far so good.
“Is she losing weight?” “No”.
“Is she gaining weight?” “No”.
My clients often wonder if I coach kids and/or teenagers.
Except that I do. I coach the parents.
So, here are three bits of parenting advice. Yes, from a non-parent. Get over it.
1. Stay away from numbers.
The barista mom is still worried.
“Should I be telling her to eat more? I know they constructed a health chart at school, and she was 800 calories under what she should be eating!”. She furrows her brow.
Most of us (women, especially) will have numbers shoved down our throats one way or another. No need to speed up that process. Relying on numbers also externalizes something very internal – our sense of hunger.
Thankfully, weighing (both self and food), and measuring (waist circumference and calories) is rarely necessary if you stick to the next two suggestions.
2. Encourage to eat to hunger.
Eating to hunger is the most basic ability that we seem to lose as we get older. Observe your toddler take a bite out of his cookie and lose interest. He just wanted to try it. Or he just wanted a bite. Now, he’s done.
Adults seem to insist on using external measures (see numbers above) to assess things that are very internal – like our sense of hunger.
I ask my clients to visualize their stomach as a gas tank – is it full? half full? empty? Are you at 10% – in the red, and dangerously low – can run out of gas at any moment? Or is your gas tank so full, that it’s spilling over?
Teach this metaphor to your kids. Leave a bit of space in the tank – it’s easier to move, easier to live.
One of the challenges clients often run into is that they are USED TO eating to full or overfull, so when they start eating less, it FEELS strange – “this is less than I am used to eating, so there is this weird space in my stomach and I do not know what to do with it” feeling.
3. Try not to be weird about food.
A former yoga student and a competitive cyclist tells his daughter that sugar is “bad”.
“Why?”, I shrug. “When you put in 100k on your bike, what do you eat during that ride? A kale salad?”
Don’t be that parent who serves cucumber slices to trick-or-treating children. That’s weird. As a society, we are already plenty weird about food.
Be weird in other ways. Listen to weird music. Wear weird clothing. Participate in weird sports.