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How to foster healthy eating habits in children

  • Article by: Jen Weigel
  • Chicago Tribune
  • September 19, 2013 - 10:24 AM

Counting calories is common for many, especially when trying to lose weight. But can there be emotional consequences from being put on a diet too early in life?

“My mom was obsessed with my food intake for as long as I can remember,” said Karen Kataline, author of “Fatlash: Food Police & the Fear of Thin.” “She put me on the stage at the age of 3 and wanted to live out her dreams and disappointments through me. She had unresolved issues about weight and appearance and she wasn’t happy with her own body.”

Kataline, who was restricted to a 500-calorie-a-day diet, won the title of Little Miss Denver County at age 9, but the early dieting took a toll.

“I still struggle with food to this day,” she said, “but it’s much better now.” Now a social worker and public speaker, Kataline is raising awareness on the damaging effects of pushing unresolved food issues onto children.

Here are tips for helping a child develop a healthy body image:

Put your children in the driver’s seat

“We need to put the personal responsibility in children so they can feel like they are in charge of their own bodies,” said Kataline. “Few things are as personal and primitive as what we choose to feed ourselves. We need to encourage children to get in touch with what they’re craving and listen to their own bodies. Help them understand that healthy food feels good. Make healthy food abundant, inform them and respect their choices to eat as they see fit.”

One size doesn’t fit all

“Weight and body image issues are extremely complex and very individual to each person. Everyone’s metabolism is unique. Some people have too much salt. Some don’t have enough. To think that you could make blanket rules is so ludicrous to me.”

Don’t become the food police

“People think that if you have a child with a weight problem, the thing to do is to bug them even more and restrict them even more. I spent much of my childhood stealing food to get back at my mother, so I was trying to find my own way and set a boundary. When I was 16 I weighed 285 pounds. I made sure there would be no more beauty pageants.”

Don’t feed the hype

“This obesity hysteria is creating weight problems and eating disorders in kids [who] never would have had them. … If you nurture boundaries and say no to all that hysteria, you will find your child has a much better chance of having a healthy relationship with food.”

What you resist persists

“When I was really young, I stuttered very briefly. I overheard my mother saying she thought I would outgrow it if she didn’t make a big deal out of it. That way I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about it. And it did go away on its own. Well, if she had brought that kind of sense to weight and body image I believe strongly that I wouldn’t have weighed 285 pounds.” □

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