So many parents worry about getting more food into their kids, but what if you have the opposite problem: your child is food obsessed?

On one hand, there isn’t much you can do. Just like you can’t make your child eat more, you really can’t make your child eat less.  Oh sure, you can lock up the food, or lock up your kid, but neither approach is a really practical.

On the other hand, doing nothing is not an option. The problem won’t somehow work itself out.

Ask yourself, “What would Weight Watchers do?” and then do it now.

So maybe Weight Watchers isn’t the plan you would pick.  But the point is to assume food – or more accurately appetite – will be a life-long obsession for your child.  She’ll need a host of skills to cope, both now and forever.  Identifying the approach any sane weight loss plan teaches is a good place to figure out what skills your kid needs to learn.

Your child isn’t too young.  And she won’t learn these skills by chance, by modeling, or by osmosis.  Don’t be subtle.  Your child needs to be taught explicitly.

Let your child eat.

If you constantly monitor and harass your child about eating, she’ll end up shutting you out.  Plus, research shows that restriction creates desire.  It also leads to hoarding and other undesirable behaviors.

Instead of focusing on what your child eats, teach her how to make eating decisions.  See It Doesn’t Matter WHAT Your Kids Eat, Lollypops Whenever They Want?, and Zippers. Buttons. Peas: How Teaching Your Kids to Dress Will Help Them Eat Right.

Give your child permission to eat for any reason.

It’s counterintuitive to let your child eat if she’s not hungry.  However, kids have to say they’re hungry or we don’t let them eat. That’s how they learn to lie.  People (and yes, that includes kids) eat for all sorts of reasons – physical or emotional hunger, something looks particularly tasty – and encouraging the hunger delusion can only mean trouble.

Instead, help your child identify what she craves and why.  The only way to do this is to reassure your child that her food is safe.  So you have to let her eat.

Give your child as much control as possible.

Set a structure of rules that your child can navigate solo.  For instance, you decide…

  • How much and how often she can consume cookies, candy, ice cream, soda, juice, etc.
  • What the choices for meals will be.
  • The maximum portion size for everything but fruits and vegetables.

Then teach your child to …

  • Eat unlimited fruits and vegetables if she’s “hungry” in-between meals
  • Sample a small slice if she finds herself full at a party, a buffet, or a bake sale where the desserts look delicious.
  • Prepare for “junky” moments by eating healthier in advance.
  • Decide when to eat the candy you’ve approved.
  • Choose between junky alternatives.

Don’t spend time playing the blame game.  Sure it’s possible that some parenting snafu created your little cookie monster but it’s just as likely that she came to you this way.  It doesn’t matter why your child is as she is.  What matters is helping her cope.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~