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I’m Lovin’ It: Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming

I'm Lovin' It: Your Child's Weight: Helping Without HarmingEllyn Satter’s book Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming, provides clear directions to make mealtimes pleasant and healthy -something I definitely needed as my infant daughter forayed into solid foods.

As I was looking at my own baby book recently, I noticed several frightening parallels between myself and my daughter, specifically regarding weight and eating habits.

Like me, Ashley was born petite. At 6 lbs. 4 oz., she was just over the limit to be classified “low birth weight.” She was 5 lbs. 14 oz. when I took her home from the hospital, and didn’t begin to gain weight again until she was almost 2 weeks old.

I was born at 6 lbs. 2 oz. and dropped to just over 5 lbs. when I came home from the hospital. It was funny to read that my mom had trouble finding clothes to fit me; even newborn size were too big on Ashley at first!

I cringed when I read that the familiar label “Failure to Thrive”, was almost tossed on me as an infant, as well. (I should note that I was formula-fed, while Ashley was exclusively breastfed, so I think genetics play a bigger role in this situation than anything else).

I started getting what my mom lovingly called “chubby” by my third birthday, and the doctor recommended giving me skim milk. I remember by my sixth birthday, the pediatrician would make disparaging remarks about my weight. He often said, “I told you to feed her and feed her. You can stop now!”

I’d like to think those type of comments – particularly from a doctor who had quite the pot belly himself – wouldn’t be tolerated today. But that, along with other factors, led to a life of chronic yo-yo dieting. While I’m what many would call “thin” now, and my BMI is in the healthy range, I still struggle with weight issues.

I do not want my daughter to grow up with the same relationship to food that I have.

When I happened across Ellyn Satter’s Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming, Birth through Adolescence while Web surfing, I didn’t waste any time in requesting a copy to review. (Thank you, again, Ellyn).

If you are wondering about the best way to introduce solid foods and want to make sure your infant or toddler grows up with a healthy relationship to food, this book qualifies as a “must-read.”

The beginning of the book explains why diets don’t work – for adults or children – and how early eating patterns can turn into lifelong habits. Then it gives parents the information they need to help their children develop healthy eating habits which will permit children to:

  • regulate their own weight from infancy through adulthood;
  • learn to recognize their body’s signals of full-ness and hunger;
  • learn to appreciate a broad range of healthy foods to create a balanced diet.

At the heart of Ellyn Satter’s philosophy is her Division of Responsibility in Feeding. It states:

  • For infants, the parent is responsible for what the baby eats, and the child is responsible for when and how much.
  • After infancy, the parent takes on responsibility for what, when and where, while the child is responsible for how much and whether.

This sounds simple, but the philosophy forms the basis for a lifetime of healthy eating, where a child feels in control of food. A child should not view food as reward and should never, ever feel deprived. Children need to know a generous selection of food will be available at a given time and that they are free to eat as much – or as little – as they want.

Satter’s Division of Responsibility should not be confused with Gary Ezzo’s Parent-directed Feeding. Satter believes infants should be fed on demand and no schedule is necessary until they begin solid foods.

For toddlers and adolescents – really, any baby who has started eating solid foods -Satter does stress the importance of a regular schedule. She also emphasizes the significance of family mealtimes to bond with your children. Family meals also permits children to learn table manners by modeling their parents and older siblings’ behavior at the family table.

Before I read Your Child’s Weight, my husband and I would sit down to dinner anytime between 5 PM and 11 PM. Lunch was whatever I could grab quickly and (pre-baby) eat at my desk or (post-baby) eat one-handed and on the go. Breakfast? Yeah. I ate breakfast. Usually.

First, I instituted a set dinnertime – somewhere between 6:30 and 8 PM at the absolute latest, but usually right around 7 PM or 7:30. Then I determined that Ashley and I would sit down for breakfast together in the morning. Lunch, with rare exceptions, takes place at 1 PM everyday.

Another tenet in Satter’s philosophy is to keep emotions out of eating. Don’t reward your child for cleaning her plate, or punish her for failing to do so. Children’s tummies know how much they need to eat to sustain themselves; when parents force-feed or associate rewards with eating large amounts, it eventually shuts off these indicators in a child’s brain, which can lead to a life of overeating.

Of course, it’s impossible to explain and defend a 470-page book in a blog post, but Satter’s philosophies and arguments make sense when she explains them in the text.

Just as What to expect the first year helped me figure out a lot of things about parenting in the first year, Ellyn Satter’s Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming is a road map to healthy eating from birth and beyond.


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