Eating Intuitively While at Summer Camp

Kids eating watermelonI work with both adults and children in my private practice. Most of my posts are geared towards adults, but today’s post will be focused on kids.


Obesity in kids is on the rise. This, I know, is not news to you. During the school year kids spend an awful lot of time in front of the screen such as the television, computer or smartphone screen. This takes away from the time they can and should be active and running around. Add to this the high fat school lunches, fast food dinners and processed food snacks and we have a problem.


Years ago when a parent would call me in tears that their child is overweight or obese and needs to lose weight, they would beg me to put together a meal plan for their child. I would reluctantly create this eating plan, keeping it fun and including the child in the planning as much as possible. And for many kids, this worked well. They changed their food choices, began to exercise and would lose an appropriate amount of weight. When working with kids, I stress the importance of the first goal being to stop the weight gain, and if needed, then encourage some weight loss. But oftentimes if we can stop the weight gain and change food choices, the child will “grow into their weight” and settle in at a healthy BMI.


But not unlike the adult chronic dieters that I work with, this was often not the answer for many children. There were underlying reasons why they would overeat and we needed to get to the root of the problem. So, what do you think happened when I would create this eating plan for these kids?


They would not follow through, they would sneak eat and hide the wrappers from their parents and would ultimately continue to gain weight.


This scenario sets this child up for a life of dieting and a poor relationship with food.


I decided no more. I will no longer create meal plans for these kids. I will teach them about mindful eating and intuitive eating just like I do with my adult clients.


And they are thriving!


It’s still important to teach nutrition but I do so in a non-rule based manner. I teach them to listen for hunger and fullness, and how to respond. I teach them how to figure out if they want to eat because they are hungry or because they are upset at someone or something.


A number of my “kid” clients are now heading off to sleep away camp for the summer. While they and their parents worried in the past about the food at camp, they are no longer worried. These kids will take with them what they have learned and will have a fun time focused on friends, laughter and good times.


If your child is heading off to summer camp, here are 3 tips to help him make healthy mindful choices and feel good doing it:


1) Take 3!

Encourage your child to have 3 food groups present at each meal. This will prevent an overlarge portion of one food item that might be a less healthy option. For example if the main lunch option is mac and cheese, suggest that your child pair that with the vegetable option (say green beans) and a salad, and finish off with a fruit. This is much better than saying “don’t eat the mac and cheese”. You and I both know that’s not going to happen.

2) Tune in!

It’s very easy to be distracted when eating at a table with a bunch of other kids in a noisy dining hall. Remind your child to put his fork down mid-meal and check in to see if he is still hungry. If he isn’t, then let him know its okay to stop eating and not finish what is on his plate.


3) Drink up!

Water, water, water. Need I say more? Send water bottles to camp with your child (if the camp allows). And, encourage your child to hydrate throughout the day with pure water. Remind him that juice drinks, bottled teas and sodas are full of sugar and don’t do a body good!


Here’s to a fantastic time to all the kids heading off to summer camp. Enjoy and take it all in!


Your turn to take action: What will you do to help your child have a healthy mindful summer?




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