Food is about nutrition and enjoyment. It should not be about stress, fear, reward, punishment or rules.
What is eating competence?
Eating competence is about having a positive relationship with food. It is about being able to listen to our bodies and to eat what we need. When we eat we should aim to feel joy, not guilt, shame or any other negative emotions.
Why is eating competence important?
People who are competent eaters are physically healthier – they have healthier body weights, higher HDLs (the "good" cholesterol) and lower blood pressure. But they also tend to be healthier emotionally and socially, as they are more self-aware, trusting and comfortable with themselves and others.
How can we help children become more competent eaters?
- Eat together. In our busy world, we need to show children the importance of sitting down and taking time to eat. Children learn from watching adults – what you eat, how you eat, how you have your own positive relationship with food.
- Understand the feeding relationship and division of responsibility. Children cannot learn to self-regulate their eating if others are always telling them what to do. It is your role as a parent/caregiver to decide what, when and where your child eats, but let them listen to their bodies to decide whether they will eat or how much.
- Support children to have a healthy body image. An unhealthy body image can lead to disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy relationship with food. We should be careful about making comments about a child’s weight, appearance or body shape. Our off-the-cuff remarks can have harmful, long-lasting effects on children’s self-esteem.
- Don’t use food as a reward. Providing children a “treat” for good behaviour teaches them to no longer associate food with hunger and their body needs, but rather to associate it with emotions and an object to be earned by acting a certain way.
- Encourage your child to become a mindful eater. Are you eating because you are hungry, sad or bored? Mindful eating is about deliberately paying attention to our bodies and environment to be better aware of why we are eating what we eat.