Take the Fight Out of Food – Identifying Your Child’s Eating Style

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“Every family has a kid that won’t eat,” writes Jean Shepherd, author of A Christmas Story. For the Parker family, it was Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy. While best known for her “You’ll shoot your eye out” line, it’s Mrs. Parker’s drastic attempt to get her son to eat by imitating the “little piggie” that often comes to my mind when it’s dinner time at our house. Why is getting my kids to eat such a project?

In an effort to make meals more enjoyable, I picked up a copy of Take the Fight Out of Food by Donna Fish. Like so many of the parenting books I’ve read, the book begins by asking parents to take a look at their “food legacy.” Fish argues that the first thing parents need to do is separate their food attitudes from their children’s eating behaviors, listing questions to consider the rules, tone, and values that pertained to eating in your family. Then, the author asks you to evaluate what type of parent you are – Overinvolved, Underinvolved, or Unrealistic Standards – and finally Fish challenges you to take the next step: give up some control and give children some freedom to make their own decisions. (I know. That’s the hard part.)

Take the Fight Out of Food identifies six basic eating styles.

1. “The Food Demander makes incessant demands for certain foods (usually sweet) or keeps demanding more food. He tends to be strong-willed and can end up using food for emotional purposes.”

2. “The Trouble Transitioner has trouble either moving from a previous activity to the dinner table or has trouble stopping once he begins. This type of child is highly reactive to change and needs a bit more help adapting to new situations.”

3. “The Picky Eater finds very little he likes and keeps changing his mind about the foods he will consent to eat. The kids in this category may love peanut butter one week and loathe it the next or eat only favorite foods.” (I have one of these. Lily eats peanut butter on crackers every day for lunch.)

4. “The Binge Food Eater insists on eating foods that are white or beige colored because these foods also tend to be bland in taste. Again, this child can be temperamentally sensitive to his environment and will therefore try to manage this sensitivity by controlling his food choices.”

5. “The Spurt Eater barely eats for days and then chows down. He will show less interest in food than the more adventurous eater, and it may appear he subsists on air, only to eat voraciously several days later.”

6. “The Grazer loves to nibble throughout the day and avoids sitting down to a complete meal. This type of eater might be more than usually distracted by outside stimuli and easily engaged in activities other than eating.”

What Fish then establishes quite persuasively is that children’s eating “problems” are usually not so much problems “as they are side effects of their interaction with the world around them: their developmental stage, their temperament, and their eating style.” So if you are interested in “rebooting the connection between the belly and the head” then I highly recommend this book.

Take the Fight Out of Food encourages parents to start by keeping a food journal. Fish writes, “When parents become more aware of exactly what their children have eaten, they often worry less about their eating enough.” The author suggests recording the amount and the frequency of what your child eats – from meals to number of drinks to snacks. And my pediatrician suggested I look at what my “picky eater” consumes over the course of a week in an effort to focus on the big picture and lower pressures surrounding food.

Feel free to keep a food journal for your kids; I’d love to hear how it goes. Then, meet back here next Friday and we’ll see if we can’t set the “Four Steps of Eating for Life” into motion. After all, when you consider that “81 percent of ten-year-American children are afraid of being fat – half are already dieting – and twelve million American children are obese,” it seems only wise to put a stop to unhealthy eating habits before they begin.