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Recovering from eating disorders and kids

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    I’d like to hear from people who have recovered/are recovering from eating disorders about how they approach feeding their kids. I’m struggling with this a bit. I hear people say “My kids have a pretty good diet”, but I don’t know what that means anymore. I’ve been pretty careful not to take the kids too far along my own disordered eating road but have been stressed that I’m not feeding them the best possible diet. Is providing them with a range of food and allowing them to choose which foods to eat and how much they want the way to go? I find this approach sensible but difficult when trying to plan and prepare meals as everyone has such different likes and dislikes. Any thought?

    Matt Stone

    The biggest trick with kids is getting them to eat enough. I find the palatability of the food is by far the biggest determinant of how much they will eat. With kids it is really important to keep very palatable things around – cheesy pastas, ice cream, pizza, cheeseburgers, juice, and so on. The better the food in my household, the more my girlfriend’s daughter eats, and the more she eats the more energy she has, the better she sleeps, the better her mood, the better her bowel movements, the better her immune system, and on and on to infinity.

    When you realize that ice cream has about the same nutrient profile as breast milk, you realize that you don’t have to be all that particular about feeding them uber-nutritious fare. Really, you want them to be neutral with food. The ultimate food Jedi in today’s modern food environment is the person who can stop halfway through a slice of pizza or cookie and put the thing down. Because they reached the point of fullness. No other factors going into their eating decisions other than that one.


    My kids have that, thank god because I lost it years ago. It still staggers me to see a half eaten slice of pizza or a bowl with two spoons full of ice cream left. I figured out early on that my parents habit of making me clean my plate when I was a kid (I have memories of sitting at the table long after everyone else had left because I hadn’t finished) ruined my in-built sense of satiety, so I never did that with my kids and it seems to have worked.


    I agree with you all and my daughter almost always leaves half eaten pizza, cake, ice cream, candy, etc. I think offering a wide variety of food and not stressing the importance of any is the way to go. I try never to comment on my daughter’s eating and let her eat however much or little she wants.

    I’ve read a few books on how to raise children with a good relationship to food and one mentioned just letting them eat whatever they want any time they want. Have all food be equal. For example, if they wanted ice cream for dinner than that’s okay.

    For breakfast we’ll often ask her what she wants and we rotate a few breakfasts such as pancakes (weekend usually), oatmeal, cereal, eggs with cheese and toast, and always a huge pile of fruit. Lunch we ask her what she wants and that is often more snacky such as pretzels, fruit, cheese, maybe quesidilla, peanut butter and jelly, hot dog, etc. Dinner I make one thing and try and keep it friendly for all and i’ll often just adjust the spices if it’s a one pot dish. I don’t make an elaborate other dinner if my daughter doesn’t like what we’re having but she knows that she can choose to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or left overs or something else. It’s been very rare that she wants something else though and she can usually find something that I make that she likes. The idea is that kids will eat a variety of food and get all the nutrients they need when they have a bunch of yummy food available and no stress around it.

    My daughter is 6 and we just rearranged the cabinets so most everything is within reach and now she’ll just go in and get what she wants to eat. I used to throw out candy that she’d get at b-day parties or Halloween but now we just put it in the cupboard and she’ll often choose a piece after dinner. She’ll often choose some chocolate after school along with a pretzel but most of the time she grabs fruit as we keep a huge bowl full of fruit. She eats 5-10 pieces of fruit (apricots are her favorite now) a day. We eat regular breakfasts, lunch and dinner and she eats a pretty good amount of everything regardless of her snacks. Other things she likes to eat/snack on include cottage cheese with jam, yogurt with jam, tomato, basil and mozzarrela, feta cheese… sometimes she wants to eat butter and I put a nice piece of grass-fed butter on her plate (my dad is really grossed out by that). I like her to freely choose what she wants for snacks but sometimes she doesn’t know what she wants and likes me to help her so I ask if she wants something crunchy, salty, sweet, smooth, cold, etc and then she’ll say yes to one of those and I’ll list her those food options. She also shops with me and so she knows what we have.

    My daughter is adventurous and loves cooking and watching cooking shows and I think that coupled with having gardens at home and school has made her a fan of veggies and other foods. She’ll eat salads, fish, etc but also loves pizza, ice cream and candy like all kids.

    Sorry for such a long post but I used to be SO stressed about my daughter’s diet and never wanted to raise her with food issues but the paleo books really freaked me out and I would just freak out inside when she’d eat pizza at school or crackers at church. Now life is much easier and I know that she’s the picture of health.


    Thanks for your replies. My Mum was of that generation where you would always feed visitors something if they dropped in for tea, even if unexpectedly, and the food always had to be homemade. So, she would make the most outrageously sweet, delicious creations for visitors. We were not allowed to touch them. There were 7 kids, so if we each had a couple, there’d be none left. We could have shredded wheat biscuits or fruit if we were hungry between meals. I always raided the visitor tin & felt terrible. Mum started taping it up. I’d untape it, take some, tape it back up, hope she wouldn’t notice, feel terrible, and when I was older, promise to bake some more! We didn’t have much money so I don’t think she was restricting us for dietary reasons, just practical ones but as I continued to raid the tin, I got the “You’ll get fat/You are too fat” admonishmenta. With 7 kids & a limited budget (no cheap fast foods in our house) you just bloody well ate as much as you could when the food was around because if you didn’t someone else would. We didn’t have the luxury of eating it later if we didn’t feel like it now because it wouldn’t be there, so appetite had nothing to do with food in a way. Chocolate is the hardest thing for me to be neutral about. If a block of chocolate is open, I am hell bent on eating it all before the day is through so I can “start over” being good and not eating any the next day. Repeat scenario ad infinitum.
    My kids’ lives are very different. I understand something now that I didn’t eaover the last few years which Matt points out, that kids just need to eat enough. It sounds obvious, but if our kids’ likes & dislikes are different to ours or we’re on some kind of healtby eating plan & the house is stocked with food we like or are “allowed” on any given program, they can go hungry. I think I have been careful enough to not override my kids appetites so none of them have been forced to eat or told they’ve had enough. It’s just this constant, niggling voice in my head, imagining judgements from others if I have icecream & biscuits and pizza and all that “bad food” in the house. The fear also is that they, like me, will not be able to control themselves and eat sweets all day. I think, though, that my littlest one particularly has suffered from my not having palatable foods in the house. While the others would just go ok & make the best of what was on offer (in the vegetarian, then GAPS days), he would just go without. He had bad teeth when he was only 2 which I was so ashamed about because I was so careful about what we ate (ie no junk food, all homemade, no sugar etc) except for a chocolate treat after his bath. Maybe it wasn’t the little bit of chocolate but not enough icecream! As in, maybe he just wasn’t getting enough calories to make him robust and healthy. Despite all this, they are in pretty good shape in terms of their body size and image and attitude to food. The challenge for me is to not go off on some health-seeking mission that involves limiting the types of food I offer them because there is a lot of noise out in the world about that and in my past and it’s hard to block it out.
    Thanks again.


    I would like to learn more about feeding kids also, so thanks for this post!

    Your story sounds similar to mine, I used to be so paranoid about what the kids ate. I would not buy any junk at the store, I would always make home cooked super healthy foods, and the kids just would not eat them. Everyone would tell me, your kids wont starve themselves, but mine did, they would literally not eat until the weekend when we went to visit their grandparents who had all the ‘junk food’. And they would pig out. I truly believe this is what caused my oldest (10) to be overweight.

    When my kids diets were like this they were very unhealthy, and I just could not figure it out. They were sick NON STOP. They would start to get a cold and we would go visit the grandparents and they would get better when we were there and it just totally blew my mind because I thought I was doing everything right.

    My youngest (who was just a baby when I started going food crazy) is the unhealthiest of them all, and I now believe this is why.

    I still have trouble with him though, which is why I want to learn more about feeding kids. He is extremely picky. And not just about ‘healthy’ foods. But kid friendly foods he is picky with too. He wont eat pizza most of the time, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, mac n cheese. He doesnt like any of that. He likes fries, he could live on fries, and fruit, and icecream, but that is honestly almost all I can get him to eat!

    I mean, is fries, icecream, and fruit really enough for a growing 3 yr old to eat??


    I’m not an expert of kids and food at all but I think that offering a bunch of yummy homemade fries along with ice cream with real ingredients, and a bunch of fruit is perfectly fine. I imagine that your 3 year old’s tastes will change eventually and he’ll probably add in a few more foods in the next year or so and won’t only be eating those 3 things when he’s 5.

    As far as fries, if it’s a staple of his diet why not make a version at home? We often bake our own fries and I alternate sweet potatoes, red potatoes, purple potatoes, etc and melt some butter and toss them in it along with salt before putting them in the oven. You could also do coconut oil if he likes the taste. They’re very tasty! Do you cook with him? Maybe get him involved in pouring the butter on the fries and tossing them with salt. My daughter loves to cook with me. Maybe if you always make him what you know he likes to eat but continue to make regular meals for the rest of your family, he’ll eventually branch out and try other things? It may not happen overnight but I think it will over time.

    You could try and make it as fun as it can be and be as curious as you can be about his dislikes. For example, if he says he doesn’t like a certain thing you can inquire more about it. Does he not like the gooeyness of the grilled cheese or mac n’cheese, is it the taste, the texture? You could have him draw about it. What does he love so much about fries, ice cream and fruit? The texture, taste, etc… Maybe you can write it all down and figure out what it is about the things he likes and then experiment with other things that have a similar taste and texture. You can bring him in it and maybe even put up pictures of what he tries and then circle it or put a big X over what he doesn’t like.


    This is a really good post, as I was thinking about this recently. I have a 9 and 3 year old. I’ve always let them eat what they want more or less, I have mostly cooked separate for them as I have been consent lay dieting and I suspect because of my disordered eating I am more concious of my Daughter developing an eating disorder.
    At around the age of 10 my mum completely changed our diet, she changed to skimmed milk, no sugar or salt added to our food and butter swaped to low fat spread. It just happened and I guess this is when my problems with food started, I remember craving foods like porridge and custard, probably because the my calorie intake had dasticly been reduced and its only now I understand this!
    Even with my crazy eating during both pregnancies I just ate what I liked and cut the sweeteners etc and had 2 big healthy babies, but instead of loosing weight after their birth, put weight on due to going back to my reduced calorie intake and crazy eating.
    We have sweets and treats in the house, and they get them when they want them.
    I have always told them to drink more, but now let them drink what and when they want and cut the low cal drinks.
    My daughter shows no signs of eating disorder problems, she is the tallest in her class and has a beautiful full figure, I am quite short, maybe a should have been taller, but my poor eating my have hindered it. So I say let them eat what they like, when they like just like I’m trying to do :)


    I’m taking notes on this thread. My 6 year old is off the growth chart for weight – however, she is very muscular (little bit of baby fat too, but she has HUGE thigh muscles), she is very active, tons of energy, doesn’t get sick often, and when she does, it’s a cold or short-lived stomach bug. She is a happy child. She loves sports and wants to do them all. She does really well at school, she is so calm compared to her classmates, she really cares about doing a good job. She loves all kinds of foods – from ice cream to cucumbers. She will grow up to be a stocky and strong girl who will be formidable at any sport she chooses.

    Like her mother before her, her weight will not be an indicator of her health. She will always weigh more than her peers, because she has such huge muscles!


    Thanks for the replies! I will definitely try some of those things! I do make home made fries for him, I make them a lot because I know he will eat them!

    Eating disorders are the last thing I want to cause for my kids! My mom was a great mom, but I do think her constant dieting gave me a bad body image at a very young age, so I try to make an effort to not say those types of things around my kids. Getting the rest of the world to shut up about it is another story tho!


    I was just about the post a question about feeding kids. I’ll ask here first. My daughter is almost 6 and hardly eats anything. I’m coming from a Gaps/Wapf background so a few years ago sugar was the devil, including fruit! Anyway, all she really wants is fruit and candy. She will eat ice cream and pizza but hardly ever eats a lot of it. She’s super skinny and is having some behavior issues lately. I notice if she doesn’t eat enough she gets extremely cranky and makes everyone around her miserable by throwing tantrums. We’ve been visiting family out of state the last week and I’ve actually been making her eat so she doesn’t act out like this. I hate making her eat! When we get home I would like to try a completely different approach. I will definitely try some of the things already mentioned but what do you think about just letting her eat fruit and candy? Will she eventually want other things?

    I also am going to start letting them make a sandwich if they don’t like what I made for dinner. I have a feeling they will be making lots of sandwiches. But I’m starting to see that they just need food in their bellies and I need to stop worrying so much about nutrients and whatnot. Hopefully it will all smooth out as they grow.


    Christy, I think allowing your daughter to eat fruit and candy for a bit is perfectly fine. I imagine that she will want something different in the first day so I’d make a lot of other yummy things that she may like- pizza, waffles, etc… I think I wrote this before but look at it as an experiment and let her take control and find what she likes. Maybe make a list with her of all kinds of foods and tell her that she can eat them at any time of day. For example, if she loves pizza she can have it for breakfast along with her fruit, or if she loves banana bread than she can even have that for dinner. I’d get her involved in the cooking as much as possible. Make your own pizzas and add funny toppings, try a calzone. Maybe she’d like jello mold with fruit in it.

    I understand your dislike of making her eat but I think you can teach her to realize other signs of hunger rather than a grumbling tummy. You can point out to her in a gentle way that when people get hungry they often get cranky, etc and this may be a sign that the body wants some food. You can always carry around things she likes such as fruit, dried fruit, candy etc. and then you can make it a fun kind of game and give the cranky behavior a name. For example, if you called it cranky pants (not good name I know), you could work with her to outsmart cranky pants and make sure cranky pants doesn’t come out and mess up everyone’s day. You can look for ways that cranky pants is sneaky such as telling her she’s not hungry, telling her certain food is yucky, etc. Not sure if this makes sense so please feel free to ask more questions or totally disregard if this sounds weird.


    Other ideas, if she likes fruit maybe you could make a bunch of things with fruit such as fruit pies, cobblers, etc… then she could have some of those anytime and they might make a good breakfast. Add a good dollap of home made whipped cream. Yum.


    My 5 year old son is similar. My older kids will eat a range of food. The eldest won’t touch food when she’s not hungry or eat beyond satiety and I think has a pretty healthy attitude to food. I see myself in my middle son – he loves all kinds of food, he says he’s hungry right after big meals and eats and eats and eats. He admits sometimes he’s not hungry – just wants ” something yummy”. He’s probably my most robust, healthy, energetic child and he isn’t overweight.
    Unlike your 6 year old, my 5 year old wont touch fruit in any form whatsoever. He doesn’t like cake or dairy desserts except icecream. He hates meat, picks the cheese off pizza & just eats the base. If we are eating fruit or yogurt near him, he makes us move away and can’t look at it. He eats loads of raw vegetables (even cauliflower) and cooked vegetables including soups. It was soon after I stopped breast feeding him (when he was 3) that I started GAPS/WAPF and wonder if that has affected him, though I always let the kids have a much more watered down version of the diet. He is pretty small for his age, pasty, has bad teeth and just not as robust as I’d like him to be but all the usual calorie dense enticements don’t seem to appeal to him and I don’t want to make him eat but he seems to live on air. He doesn’t get sick a lot and he has energy but he doesn’t look well! He has a lot of serious (as in anaphylactic reactions) allergies to foods, so I wonder if that makes food scarey for him. I think I need to honour his choices in food even though they may be very different to what I like, if he’s left to choose, maybe he’s making the right choices for his body even if his diet looks nothing like it’s “supposed” to. He also has tantrums and I think it’s due possibly to low blood sugar from not recognising he has to stop what he’s doing and eat!while I want to teach him self care I don’t want to over-ride his own mechanisms but its hard not to when it looks like they’re not working too well for him!

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