raising children with a healthy relationship with food
  • December 12, 2022

Episode 17: Raising children with a healthy relationship with food – Geordy Pearce

Today Kiah will be chatting to Accredited Practicing Dietitian Geordy Pearce about raising children with a healthy relationship with food. […]

Today Kiah will be chatting to Accredited Practicing Dietitian Geordy Pearce about raising children with a healthy relationship with food.

 

 

Q1: Firstly, if you could tell us how we met and became friends.

Geordy: Me and Kiah met 9 years ago at uni orientation week and have been friends since.

Kiah: We are both dietitians who have kids and today we wanted to chat about how to raise children in a way that reduces their risk of developing disordered eating or body image issues.

 

 

Q2: If you could start by telling us a bit about your journey becoming a dietitian. What got you into the pregnancy, postpartum and childhood nutrition space.

Geordy: It’s a bit of a windy journey.

  • Throughout uni I was really passionate about community nutrition and always had an interest in working with kids.
  • Straight out of uni I then got a community nutrition job and got to work in the area of introducing solids and fussy eating plus a bit of pregnancy nutrition. I loved the role, but it meant I had to move away from my partner so it only lasted 6 months.
  • I then moved back to the Gold Coast and worked a few different private practice jobs which made me realise I didn’t really want to work in the space of general chronic disease management and weight centric practice which didn’t align with me.
  • I left without a clear idea of what I wanted to get into and couldn’t see any jobs advertised to work in the pregnancy or kid’s nutrition space specifically. Because of this I ended up leaving dietetics for a little bit. In this time, I worked in reception, had a baby, and just focused on this for a while.
  • But in this time, Kiah also really encouraged me to think about starting my own dietetics business. I also started following a lot of other dietitians who were getting into the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach which I found really aligned with my values and started to re-spark my passion for dietetics.
  • Eventually a role came up (which I am still in now) in an eating disorder clinic which has been an amazing experience and further ignited a passion to work with younger kids and their families to prevent developing eating disorders later on.
  • Alongside this, going through my own pregnancy/postpartum journey and watching my friends do so too, I witnessed a lot of them struggling with feeding themselves well whilst also looking after a baby. So, this is an area I’ve also developed a big interest in.

Kiah: What got you into the HAES area?

Geordy: I remember at uni we had one tutorial on it with Fiona Willer so it was a bit in the back of my mind. And then following the moment on Instagram and watching more and more dietitians start incorporating it and calling out diet culture was what really got me interested in it. I was also following quite a few non-dietitians who were just sharing their own personal stories about how they started to reject diet culture and find food freedom which was really inspiring.   

 

Q3: You mentioned before about having a few friends who struggled with the changes to their body during and after pregnancy. Do you have any advice for others on this? Because as we both know, your body goes through immense changes and often doesn’t go back to looking the same at the end of it at all.  

Geordy: I first want to say that everyone’s journey is really different – some people find the changes to their body really liberating while others really struggle with it, and this seems to be the majority.

  • Often this is fuelled by expectations to ‘bounce back’ or even just to lose a bit of weight while breastfeeding.
  • This is partially because we often go into pregnancy not feeling fully liberated by body to begin with. Any issues with self-esteem or poor body image can then be exacerbated in the pregnancy journey.
  • As a foundation – we need to find body acceptance wherever you are along this journey. This often requires support. Particularly as most of the messages thrown at us in this world is about us not being good enough.
  • Counteracting this on own can be really challenging. That’s why support of a psychologist or dietitian who works in the food freedom or body image space can be really helpful.

Kiah: And it’s important that you touched on working towards body acceptance or body neutrality as body love (which is often thrown at us on social media) can be a daunting concept to reach and seem really unattainable if we are coming from a place where we hate our body.

Geordy: I just want to add to that – having to try and love our body can feel like an extra layer of judgement on top and make you feel even worse.

 

Q4: Moving past the pregnancy/postpartum area and into childhood nutrition, where kids are having to learn to eat from their parents. How can we help our children develop a good relationship with food from the get go.

Geordy: The first thing I teach parents when they are introducing solids to their kids to reduce early fussy eating, is to trust that their kids have the innate wisdom inside them to know when they are hungry/full.

  • This is something that a majority of us lose as we become adults which is influenced by so many external factors such as busy lives and diet culture. This can make it really had for parents to learn to trust their children.
  • But, if we can trust that our kids know when they are hungry/full, when we serve them food (NOTE: we as parents are responsible for what, where and when we serve them), it’s not up to us how much they eat. This is the child’s job. We should give them the responsibility to chose how much or how little they want to eat. This will set them up to keep that connection to their body as they grow up.
  • This can be really tough as it can be very different to what it was like for you growing up e.g. messages like ‘you need to finish everything on your plate’.
  • But research has found that having kids ignore when they are full, not giving them the choice of whether they eat or not, or encouraging them to take ‘one more mouthful’, overtime starts to distance kids from this innate connection to their bodies. This can lead to stress at the table, food aversions and fussy eating. Further down the track, this is a risk factor for developing disordered eating.

Kiah: So essentially reducing the ideas of having to eat everything on your plate or using food as a reward (e.g. if you eat all your broccoli, you can have dessert). But this can lead to the question – but what if I want my child to eat broccoli?

Geordy: This is a very common question that I help coach families through, and it requires a lot of patience.

  • Essentially, as parents, it is our job to expose kids to a variety of foods. All foods fit in this equation so we don’t want to just fixate on just vegetables.
  • Building up exposure can look like:
    • Them watching us shopping at the supermarket
    • Watching as we cook/prepare food
    • Serving it at the table
    • Role modelling – them watching us eat the food
  • The more exposure the child has to a food – the more inclined they will be to give it a try. When they do try it, we want to make it fun to reduce any stress/pressure. For example, sometimes I recommend parents pick the food up and give it a kiss or a lick and ask them if they want to do them same. They may not eat the food initially, but if you just keep providing it, research has shown that repeated exposure is really beneficial.
  • Food play can also be really helpful when you have the time and space to. Encourage them to touch and feel the food and engage all their senses to make them more familiar with it.

 

Q4: Could you let us know a bit more about the importance of mealtimes for families and reducing fussy eating and raising children with a healthy relationship with food?

Geordy: Firstly, what underpins my philosophy is not make parents feel guilty about anything. I want them to feel more relaxed and at ease about raising their children with relationship with food so, with anything that I suggest – pick it up if it works for your family but leave it if it doesn’t as all family dynamics are so different.

When you can, I recommend eating together at the table as a family. This allows the kid to be entertained by the social interactions as meals are also about socialising.

  • However, reduce any other distractions such as the TV, stimulating toys or loud music. Too many distractions can stop kids from using all their senses when eating to familiarise themselves with the food and can cause food aversions later on. It also stops them listening to their fullness cues.
  • We also want to lower our expectations of their behaviour at the dinner table initially. We often expect kids to be able to sit there for 30-45 minutes like an adult would, but this isn’t always realistic. They can only often stand sitting in one place for a certain amount of time before it gets too hard. Making them sit there for too long can cause unnecessary stress for both them and you.

 

Q5: How do all these things help reduce the risk of disordered eating and eating issues as kids move into adolescence and adulthood?

Geordy:

  • The first thing to think about is nurturing their own relationship with food/eating so they feel confident to listen to their own bodies and respect it. This means that when they start to have so many other external influences come in like social media and their peers, they know that they can come back to listening to their own body and trust that it knows what it needs.
  • We also know through research that the way that we as parents speak about own bodies, can have a huge impact on how children perceive their own bodies. So if we can come to a place of body acceptance and speak about our bodies in a neutral way and avoid talking about our body in a negative way, this can help our kids to respect their own bodies as they grow up.

Kiah: It is so important because we know that kids essentially copy everything we do/say. If we are jumping on the scales each day or picking at body parts or saying we are ugly/fat, this can have a huge impact.

Geordy: Another one I commonly hear is – “I shouldn’t eat that, it has too much sugar/fat” or “I’ve had plenty to eat so I shouldn’t have dessert”. There is a difference between not eating something because you are judging yourself for it and not eating something because you are actually full. If want to start to communicate messages such as “I’m actually really full so I’m not going to have x food” rather than “I’m not going to eat that because it’s too sugary or I don’t want to gain weight or I want to be good”.

Kiah: This helps reduce development of black and white thinking about food like seeing food as or bad and creating other diet rules. Creating these diet rules from a young age and putting moral value and guilt on food is definitely something we want to avoid. We know that diet rules are commonly started in childhood and impact you even as an adult. So as parents, you have the power to stop or change these messages to help with raising children with a healthy relationship with food.

Geordy: By identifying that you might not have the best relationship with food or that these thoughts are often coming up for you, it’s a great opportunity to delve into that and get the support you need to overcome that. And it is never too late.

 

Q5: If parents are worried that their kids might be starting to show eating issues or are concerned they are concerned about their relationship with food, what are some red flags to look out for?

Geordy: It is important to know that this can come up at any age, not just teenagers. A few things to look out for are:

  • Any significant weight changes
  • Starting to avoid social situations around eating
  • Cutting out certain foods
  • Secret eating
  • Changes in their relationship with exercise – is there a change in a pressure to need to exercise x amount of times per week or for a certain duration

Kiah: There’s definitely a big difference between going vegan/vegetarian for ethical reasons where the rest of your diet doesn’t change too much versus doing it from a ‘health’ side of things –especially as a child. Especially if it’s a very restrictive diet such as going oil free or not including and vegan ‘junk foods’ such as vegan ice cream.

Another thing to look out for is obsessively looking at nutrition labels or tracking their food.

 

Q6: If parents are concerned that their child has any of these red flags, what would you suggest they do?

Geordy: It depends on where you live and what services you have available to you, but luckily there is a lot of telehealth services now.

  • First stop is the GP however not all GPs will be well versed in eating issues so if the GP clears them, but you are still concerned, then I’d continue to investigate with other health professionals such as a dietitian.
  • Dietitians are a great place to start also as we are experts in eating and good at picking up disordered eating.

But the earlier the better. It could be something as simple as your child following a diet someone at school is doing. Although this might not develop into an eating disorder, the earlier you can get some other help outside of mainstream/social media, they may just course correct back to a healthy relationship with their body.

Kiah: Whilst you’re on the topic of social media, another important point to make I is that social media (especially TikTok) can be so toxic and glorify disordered eating. What would you say to anyone who is concerned that their child is watching this media?

Geordy: This is a really tricky area. Instagram has got slightly better at censoring these messages like super restrictive eating patterns, but TikTok doesn’t have this level of censorship yet. I wouldn’t say to restrict social media altogether as this is impossible. Instead work on what you can do in the home – having family meals, talk about food in a neutral way (all foods fit mentality) and role model this as parents.  

Kiah: The only other thing I would add is actually talking about it with them. Letting them know that there is stuff out there which isn’t actually real. There is editing software that can even edit bodies on videos, not just photos. So much content is fake and just a highlight real.

Geordy: There are also so many accounts out there now that are showing real bodies and healthy relationships with food that you can encourage them to follow.

 

Finally, where can we find you:

IG: @geordythedietitian

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