My friend Alex and I were discussing our sugar addiction last night. Each day I buy/eat one of the following: red licorice, Gummy Bears and Swedish Fish. If I am really desperate and only the corner bodega is open: Mike and Ikes. I started acupuncture and self-will 5 days ago. I can say I have been sugar free for that long now. Next: to get my husband off his. Papa Tree and I know that what and how we are eating our sugar is a result of long-standing habits and desires. We don’t want Birch and Willow to start down that path of sugar addiction. But, how do we do this realistically and sanely without becoming autocratic about the sugar? Our new Blog Expert, Donna Fish, has some ideas. Donna is well-known in the arena of eating issues for both children and adults. With a popular book, Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, numerous media appearances and consulting at some of NYC’s best schools-she has a good grasp on how to tackle this problem. (By the way, Donna has her own Expert Page too as do all our Experts.)

Eat Like a Kid

by Donna Fish

Come on, confess; you love candy. You want to eat chocolate. Cookies, ice cream. And then there is the way you dialogue in your own head, that either allows you to do it some of the time, all of the time, none of the time.

Everyone has their own inner dialogue. I call it ‘tape loops’. No, not fruit loops, although you might want that as well! I call them ‘tape loops’, because they are the voices in our head that are usually on automatic pilot. They criticize, congratulate, or simply tell us what, when, and how much we should or shouldn’t eat. I call this: eating from the head, and not the stomach.

My ‘tape loops’, after spending years dieting when I was a dancer were: “I shouldn’t eat that”. Of course, there was the rebellion from that by eating as much of it after a show was over, and I didn’t have an audition!

When I changed careers and became a therapist, I attempted to solve this rut and stop dieting. (I figured no one ever fired their shrink for gaining a few pounds!) Thus ended the tyranny of criticizing myself anytime that I wanted or ate foods that I thought wouldn’t ‘fit’ the dancer’s body I was always aspiring to have.

Doing this helped me to connect to my stomach; I call it ‘Eating Like a Kid’. A particularly young kid, because even as early as age 2, kids can begin to eat for reasons that have little to do with what their tummies tell them. They might eat to please mommy, or demand sugar because it provokes a fun fight where they get to feel strong and powerful. As early as age 2, kids can eat for reasons other than what their bodies tell them; even to help them soothe anxious or sad feelings.

Figuring out what you bring to the table when you serve dinner, (and I am not talking about the food here!) is a part of how you shape your kids eating habits. After spending hundreds of hours interviewing parents on their behaviors with their kids’ food, stemming from their own food legacy, or even tape loops, I have loosely grouped our behaviors into roughly 3 categories: (From my tape loops and rebellious nature, I find that I tend to fall closer to the under-involved category). You can see if you fit in anywhere:

1) Over-involved: You have a hard time relaxing and not worrying about how your child is eating. You may hover and feel the urge to tell your child when they are hungry, full and what to eat and have trouble when they eat in ways you aren’t comfortable with.

2) Under-involved: You tend to ignore your child’s eating behavior and you might be uncomfortable structuring your child more if they need the help. You may feel paralyzed to say anything about your child’s food or being comfortable with authoritative parenting when it comes to your kids’ eating habits.

3) Unrealistic standards: You have set high standards for your child’s eating habits either because these work for you and your diet, or you feel you have failed at having good eating habits and are determined that your child will only ‘eat healthy’.

So this is where we start. Figuring out our own attitudes and how this shapes our behavior around feeding is a part of giving our kids a healthy relationship with food. We want to keep our kids’ connected to their tummies, and preserve their ability to be moderate. So, depending on where you fall in the categories, you may find that you need to do more backing off, or be less rigid. Some kids may need help structuring, and you may need to help them transition from eating, so that they learn to wait while their brain sends the signal to their tummy that they are done, or full.

Food is the last thing you want to have to struggle with. My goal is to take the worry and fret out of feeding, and to help mealtime be a time for connecting and enjoyment. So see if, while you are trying to help your child eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, you too, can turn off your head, and try, like them, to ‘Eat Like a Kid’!

Donna Fish is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and three daughters, writes her own blog and blogs for The Huffington Post. With the publication of her book: Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, she has appeared on and in NPR, Parenting Magazine, Weekend Today Show, Fox News, USA Today and MSNBC and has lectured at Early Childhood Centers of Sarah Lawrence College, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and trained the Head Start Staff of NYC. She lectures to private schools in NYC: Bank street, Village Community School, Dalton, Chapin and more.