Eating Intuitively. ~ Heather Grimes

Via on Sep 4, 2013

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For mom and daughter, alike.

“The best parents are not those who know all the answers, are convinced of the rightness of their way, and never swerve from it. They are the ones who are sufficiently tuned in to their child so they know when something they are doing isn’t working.” ~ Ellyn Satter, Child of Mine

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulty I had been having with my daughter around mealtimes—how she was refusing to eat and then collapsing into fits of unbearable crankiness.

The breaking point came at a café in Manitou Springs. We ordered Opal a grilled cheese and fruit—two of her favorite things—and she refused to have a single bite, in spite of having very little for breakfast. Her dad and I were entangled in a dance of rattled cajoling, and we were both exhausted and irritable. We were begging her to eat.

How did it get to this? I thought. If I saw another mom behaving this way, I’d have thought, Lordy, Mama, lighten up.

I caught Jesse’s eye across the table and mouthed, “We are done with this.” And we were. Just in the declaration, I could feel my lungs expand as if they’d been unzipped.

A few years back, I read a copied chapter from a book called How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter. Our pediatric nurse gave it to me when I had questions about Opal suddenly turning up her nose at food she’d historically loved. The title didn’t wow me, but I found the article to be riveting.

What I remembered most was how she stressed the importance of clarifying what we have control of and what we don’t with regards to food (and beyond).

So, like an old friend, I looked her up again. I am about halfway into her book Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense (better title) and my perspective has done an about-face since those tense days before the lunch at Manitou Springs. I started with a copy from the library, but felt so limited in my inability to underline and make notes in the margins that I ordered a copy from Amazon for $0.16 (plus $3.99 shipping).

Until it arrived, I littered the library pages with post-it notes.

Essentially, Satter’s book speaks to trust, relaxation and letting go of control. You fix a lovely meal, you set it in front of your child and you eat alongside her, no persuading, no negotiating. If she says, no thank you, you oblige and try again at the next designated meal/snack time. No if…thens. No one-bite rules.

Satter says it takes an average of 15-20 times of a child seeing a food on her plate before she’ll take a bite of something new on her own accord! Child of Mine is essentially a guide on how to support your child as they learn to be an intuitive eater.

As I read, I cannot help but to reflect on my own experience.

I also underwent a slow and patient process to learn how to eat intuitively, though I was not a child. For me, it was 2007—I was 30.

I have chosen to offer the following because I feel it is so important to acknowledge that where we came from, what we’ve been through, affects us so much as parents now. And I feel it’s equally important to share. From the age of 15 to 30, I engaged in one form or another of an eating disorder.

For many years, it was bulimia, but during the later years, it was a vacillating cycle of compulsive overeating and restricting my food. I had been hospitalized, gone through extensive therapy, attended Overeaters Anonymous (the eating disorders version of Alcoholics Anonymous) and nothing helped. If anything, all the effort trying to fix this problem became the unwelcome focus of my life.

Food—and anything that was related to food—was a battle I needed to conquer. The cycle went like this: I tried so hard to be good for just one day and inevitably failed, collapsing into the arms of my addiction and then feeling horrible, weak and out-of-control the next morning. It was such a deeply imbedded groove that I couldn’t imagine anything else.

Until.

February, 2007. I stumbled upon a review for a book called, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I knew then and there that the jig was up. A tiny voice in my head said, Go get that book. Nothing will be the same. And I can tell you now, with nearly seven years of hindsight—and six years of imperfect but sane eating under my belt—that indeed, everything has changed. I won’t get into too much detail here; that is a story for a different day.

But I can report 2007 to be a year that was simultaneously a practice ground, a science lab, a loving-kindness meditation, a terrifying trip through unknown tunnels and chasms. I carried that book with me everywhere, read and re-read the passages like scripture. I stared at the words that were printed above the title, Make Peace With Food, until my eyes were dry.

As it turned out, I was horrified to not be in the clutches of a controlling food regime.

I felt, for weeks—months—at a time, like a cat dropped from a cliff into the water, arms and legs flailing, thinking, I sure as hell hope there’s something down there to break the fall. With permission to eat without restriction, I gained 15 pounds in a handful of months, but lost it again once the novelty of eating without a strict set of rules wore off. Luckily, I have a husband who didn’t bat an eyelash and somehow—somehow—I didn’t give up.

So back to Opal.

My fixation with feeding her well—enough, the right amount of good things—is surely a common experience for all mothers. When my child doesn’t eat, I feel the need to try harder, exert more control/technique/praise/discipline in order to nourish her properly. My history with food certainly makes things more intense.

But it also offers the insight that if I don’t ease up now, I may be loaning her my copy of Intuitive Eating ten years into the future, when she has colossally more baggage to sift through.

I didn’t realize how much of my energy was wrapped up in getting Opal to eat—I was getting headaches before most meals—until I spent a few days, then a few weeks, without controlling. Now, meals feel joyful. We take it easy. We talk about our days.

It’s the mother-daughter version of 2007, the year I learned freedom for myself. Sure, I’d love her to gobble up the delicious stir-fry that’s on her plate. To eat more, in general. I am holding out hope that that’s just what she’ll do, once the newness of eating without a monitoring squad wears off.

So there you have it, my friends. Yet another example of how parenting oneself is not so different from being a parent—there are constant opportunities for refresher courses.

“Your attitude about your child is reflected in the way you feed him. If you are overly responsible or controlling, you will not be able to be trusting. If you have an attitude of curiosity, relaxation and trust, you will watch for his cues and respond to them.” ~ Ellyn Satter, Child of Mine

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

About Heather Grimes

Heather is a full-time mama to her four-year-old daughter, Opal. She's also a part-time massage therapist to a variety of lovely folks, with a focus on old ladies. In the gaps, she writes, sews, reads, roller skates, falls, writes more, walks and relaxes with her awesome friends and husband. You can find her at hcgrimes.org. You can also check out her—now, inactive—blog at: thegrimesfamilychronicles.blogspot.com.

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10 Responses to “Eating Intuitively. ~ Heather Grimes”

  1. Leah says:

    I really do agree as I have had to learn to back off and let my daughter eat without creating a huge amount of stress. Trying to be less controlling took me years (shes now 15) and I still find myself saying postivie afirmations in my head while I cook and place the food in front of her, biting my lip to stop myself commenting on how much shes eating and still sometimes it slips out 'eat your veg up'. I've noticed something interesting, as she has food allergies, and the other two children I know who also do have very controlling mothers (one I know had an eating disorder and the other grew up in care). My father was very controlling over food, I wass very fussy and food=fear to me until I was an adult and able to eat what I liked away from judgement. I don't have junk in the house so then me and my daughter don't argue about that. I really do believe its best to relax as much as you can over food. Mothers and food are nurturing forces for their kids but many women don't have a healthy relationship with food. I will look up those books and I'm sure I will be passing them on to friends too. Thanks

  2. Heather Grimes says:

    Thanks so much for the honesty, Leah.

  3. AmandaR says:

    I share such a similar history with you, and yes, that book changed me for the better ~ thank you for your story. I often wonder, when the day comes that I will have a child, that I don't want to bring my eating past into their eating patterns. I appreciate this honest article very much ~~

  4. Kiri says:

    What a beautifully honest account Heather! Thank you. I think the biggest secret about parenting, why it is sooo much harder than I ever thought it would be, is that 10% of the time we parent and 90% of the time we model. If we want our kids to be outgoing and social, we have to be outgoing and social. If we want them to eat their veggies, we have to eat ours (usually with a fat serving of humble pie on the side!). The best part? Opal's inherent wisdom will eventually shine through and, without the battlefield to contend with, she will eat what feels good to her, when it feels good to her. You can trust that.
    It is brave and strong to share your struggles with the world and I admire you for it! Keep it up!!!

  5. Aprille says:

    What is it about moms and wanting to see our kids eat a lot? And eat a lot of healthy food too? Is it an innate desire to nourish our children so they will grow and be healthy? Something that is just a part of our natural fibres? Is it a concern for how it affects our children's performance or mood when they don't eat?

    I feel I have always had a healthy relationship to food yet I feel a strong, undeniable deep satisfaction when my kids eat plenty of good healthy food. Is there a mom out there that is truly ambivalent? I can see the definite need to allow children to make their own choices about food as a way of understanding their own bodies. I have no idea how to pretend I don't care about food. That takes practice :)

  6. Heather Grimes heather grimes says:

    These are such great comments, Kiri and Aprille—I totally appreciate the conversation they inspire.
    YES to Kiri, it is absolutely true that we are teaching our wee ones constantly by how we are modeling. HOLY MACKEREL.
    And YES to Aprille, though I feel such relief from removing myself from a dictator-like approach to feeding my daughter, I still cringe with she scoots her chair away after having a bite or two at best, on a preschool day. (Will she be able to FUNCTION?) YES to both of you dears, every square inch of the whole cotton-picking thing is a total practice!
    Love you so. xoxo.

  7. ashoka says:

    nice article. hope yall are well!

  8. Brittni says:

    Thank you! I don't have kids but I relate to a lot to what you wrote. I can't imagine having to feed another human being! I have always struggled with some form of eating disorder and trying to control food and my weight. It has been truly exhausting… therapy, OA, books. I am curious about Intuitive Eating!

  9. Heather Grimes Heather Grimes says:

    Lots of love to you, Brittni. xo.

  10. Olenka says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I myself have been struggling with one form or another of eating disorders for nearly a decade, but in the past year or so I have made a lot of progress and have started to see the end at the light of the tunnel. After reading your article I purchased Intuitive Eating and am making a big effort to internalize this mentality. I was hoping you could recommend some further reading to help me along the way!

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