This is the last part of my interview with Dr. Katja Rowell, M.D., a feeding specialist and author of the must-read book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parents’ Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More. (I highly recommend it for all parents!)
Below, Dr. Rowell reveals the practical and effective ways parents can help their children build a healthy relationship with food. Specifically, she follows Ellyn Satter’s evidence-based feeding models: The Trust Model and Division of Responsibility. I wish these models were standard practice in every pediatrician and dietitian’s office.
Q: You follow Ellyn Satter’s models for feeding. Can you describe these models?
A: The Trust Model is about trust: the child trusts she will be fed, and the parent trusts the child can learn to eat the right amount and learn to eat the foods the family eats. It involves:
- Feeding the child reliably on a schedule (with some flexibility), balanced, tasty meals and snacks.
- Allowing the child to decide at meals and snacks how much to eat from what you provide. This is know as the Division of Responsibility in feeding, and it is that balance of parents providing structure and limits and nurturing, and the child having some control and autonomy as is appropriate. It fits together nicely with Deborah Gray’s “high nurture, high structure” model. (Deborah Gray is the author of Attaching in Adoption.) The Division of Responsibility says parents decide the what, when and where, and children decide how much and if from what is provided.
- Offering, not forcing.
- Connecting, not fighting.
It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. Feeding well is a lot of work under the best of circumstances, add on emotional or developmental delays, and it’s even harder.
I think the Trust Model is even more important for children who have experienced trauma or may be seeking out control and conflict. This model gives children appropriate control and lessens power struggles.
Q: What are some tips that parents can try to help their kids have a healthy relationship with food?
- Work on your own relationship with food. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, get help. I explore how a parent’s history around food plays a role in the feeding relationship. There are lots of great resources, this blog, for example, or Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family (by Ellyn Satter). One lovely outcome for many parents is that they are often inspired by their children to be healthier and take better care of themselves.
- Feed with the Division of Responsibility.
- Always have something at the table your child can eat.
- Allow children to spit food out into a napkin.
- Reassure (and mean it), “You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to,” or “There will always be enough.”
- Be responsive to your child. Some children will feel pressure from a “no-thank-you” bite, others won’t.
- Sit down regularly with your family to eat. Start with the foods you are eating now and enjoy them together.
- Watch how you talk about foods, and your own body. Try to always be positive and joyful and model how you want your child to treat herself. If you’d be sad if your child said she “hated her thighs,” then extend that same kindness and unconditional love to yourself.
- Expect it to take time, sometimes a lot of time. Continue serving the foods you want your child to learn to like, over and over again.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: I’d like parents to know that feeding their children doesn’t have to be this hard or this scary. I’d like parents to trust their feelings. If they are anxious, stressed and dreading family meals, it probably means something is off, and is a clue that you might need to learn more.
If we feed from a place of fear, anxiety and dread, that energy pervades the experience and fuels counterproductive feeding practices. If we can address our concerns, and learn to take that leap of faith and trust our children and the process, and feed from a place of calm, our children will sense that and it will help them learn to feel good about food and their bodies.
I’d also like readers to know that while my book is a welcome to adopting and fostering parents to the Trust Model of feeding, the information is largely the same that I share with all of my clients.
I tend to tell the same stories, ask the same questions, cite the same research, and give similar support during the transition to the Trust Model. This is a healthy model of feeding, and it works for the child who is small, large, selective, adopted, fostered, or born into a family.
I walk parents through what the transition looks like, how things may seem to get worse before they get better, all with lots of stories and quotes from other parents who have been there.
Mostly I want parents to know that you can bring peace and joy back to the family table!
Don’t forget about the giveaway! Dr. Rowell is generously giving away one copy of her book to a US reader. See part one for details.
More About Dr. Katja Rowell
Family doctor turned childhood feeding specialist, Katja Rowell, MD, graduated from a top-ten medical school and noted in her practice how many of the problems she saw stemmed from an unhealthy relationship with food.
Rowell believes how children are fed is the key to what they eat, and helping kids have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies is the best preventive medicine there is.
Described as “academic but down to earth,” Dr. Rowell is also the family cook, blogger, and mother of a grade-schooler. She helps parents struggling with feeding or weight worries via house-call in the Twin Cities or by phone nationwide. She has developed a passion for supporting adoptive and fostering families.
Her book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parents’ Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More distills the support she offers families as they heal difficult feeding relationships.
I’m so grateful to Dr. Rowell for sharing her insights, advice and techniques for healthy feeding and eating.