Pregnancy, Children and Food Choices
I remember receiving a card at my baby shower celebrating the “eating for two” shared belief in our culture. It was all about nine months of indulgence with the message: “If you’re going to be gaining weight, you might as well have some chocolate cake and ice cream to show for it.”
There has been a wide range of studies showing that kids are more likely to be overweight or “sugar-holics” if their parents, particularly their mothers, are. Many of these studies have based their conclusions on the role mothers play in selecting foods for the household and in building awareness of good nutrition within the family.
Born with a sweet tooth?
I was fascinated to discover a new study that discovered the food women eat while pregnant and breastfeeding helps to determine specific neural pathways in the developing brain, and later, lifetime eating habits for their precious children. For example, once the neural pathway is connected to “sweet = soothing,” it can take some committed practice to break that association.
As the child grows, we have a variety of opportunities to further influence their taste preferences. When we reward or bribe children with food, we set up a pattern in the brain that wires it to believe food makes everything better … a cure-all. If you reward children with sweets, snacks and desserts, they quickly learn to associate these foods with feeling better. Food can distract an unhappy child, in the moment, offering instant gratification. As adults, we have learned that our lives are not that simple and we cannot find instant gratification in food.
When you get right down to the driving force, overeating is a search for security – a need to recreate the secure feelings we experience as children when we were held and fed, when life felt easy. By eating foods similar to the foods we ate as children, we are looking to find the feeling in food but it’s a search that often ends in excess weight linked to a whole list of health-comprising ailments.
At the dinner table, keeping lines of communication open to let your children know you are there for them when they want to talk. Some families choose to use sharing dinner together as a time to open up about what you feel most grateful for that day. This can be a wonderful way to focus on the positive and bring in great feelings around sharing food together. Encouraging children to help with dinner preparation puts them in closer contact with making food taste delicious.
Modeling a healthy relationship with food is an excellent way to encourage healthy eating choices in your children. Children certainly take note of parents’ eating habits! Notice what you are saying about food choices, preparation and especially about your body. One of my clients was deeply concerned when she noticed her 4-year-old’s preoccupation with weighing herself, repeating what she’s heard her mommy say too many times – “I’m so fat” – as she stepped off the scale.
Mothers may influence children’s brains during all developmental stages, but as a hypnotherapist, I am very happy to let you know we can still positively influence the brain structure any time we choose. New research in neuroscience shows that, while some brains may have developed in a less than ideal manner, applying neuroplasticity and hypnotic principles to help redevelop our brains is powerful and effective. (Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections and change its structure in response to experience.)
Johanna Lynn, a hypnotherapist, offers an inside out approach to truly love your body. Born with a natural curiosity about why people do what they do, Johanna now finds the entire field of mind/body medicine fascinating, with a clinical hypnosis practice focusing on healing with the intention to return to health and vitality.
Photo credit: Manuel