It has been about two months since I started implementing the Ellyn Satter Institute feeding program (see my previous posts on the subject), and I’d like to provide an update on our progress.
The first step in the program was to provide regular meals and snacks throughout the day. I continued to feed him on a tray (in his room or the living room), and the trays would always come back empty. Although I worried about the amount of food he was packing away, I did feel a lot better about what he was eating. I made sure to include one of the four food categories with each snack or meal (fruit or vegetable, dairy, protein, carbs) and realized that despite his limited tastes, he was eating a well-balanced diet in terms of nutrition.
The first result I noticed was that his attitude around food and eating underwent a dramatic change. He used to frequently complain about being hungry, and would appear either hesitant and apologetic or whiny and grumpy when he asked for food. Food had become an emotionally charged issue which, according to the program, could alone account for his overeating and obsession with “treats”. I noticed the whole atmosphere around eating changed: he became more relaxed, and I rarely ever hear “Mama, I’m hungry” anymore. Now when I provide him with food I feel good, instead of feeling worried about his weight, and I believe he has picked up on my own change in attitude. It’s easy to see how our path could have led to an eating disorder one day, or even just the constant battle of weight and dieting that so many adults are locked into. Seeing him relaxed and positive about eating is really rewarding.
I’ve also noticed an end to talking about or asking for treats. And no more bingeing, no piles of wrappers hidden under the bed. I make sure to provide him with treats on a regular, though infrequent, basis. For example, one of our meal nights includes potato chips, sometimes I’ll bake cookies and serve them with a snack, or I’ll provide a dessert with dinner. Nothing is forbidden or off-limits now, and it seems that his obsession with such foods has disappeared. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy treats, he just doesn’t seem to think much about them anymore, trusting that he will be provided with the good stuff every now and then. I can keep treats around and know that he won’t be raiding them.
As predicted, after beginning the program my son began to gain weight. It was hard not to be alarmed given he was already obese, and I tried to remind myself that this was a normal part of the process. Eventually, I succumbed to my fears and began tracking his caloric intake in secret, although by then things were already starting to look up. I sort of broke the rules in that regard, but since he didn’t know I was doing it and I wasn’t changing anything about how or what I was feeding him, I decided it was a relatively harmless way for me to feel less anxious.
The tracking showed what I had already begun to suspect – he was reducing his food intake. Trays began coming back with food left uneaten, and it wasn’t always just the good stuff that was gone. I watched with growing amazement as this pattern continued, and my tracking confirmed it. As the book predicted, once he lost his anxiety and emotional issues around eating, once it became something he didn’t need to think about anymore, he was able to pay attention to his body’s signals and just eat until he was satiated. At his next weigh-in he had lost 2 lbs and I was quietly elated.
Soon after introducing regular meal and snack times, I moved on to the next step in the program – having family dinners at the table. It has gone better than I had even imagined. I was pleasantly surprised by how much interaction there is. My son is positively chatty and funny at mealtimes, and he seems to really enjoy it. Miss Em was not too happy about the arrangement, mostly because she has sensory issues around foods such as ketchup and salad dressings, but when she does come to eat with us it’s very nice to have her there. My son actually looks forward to eating with us all now, and is disappointed on the odd day when we don’t eat together for dinner.
It became immediately apparent that my son eats significantly less food when he eats at the table. Even on “hot dogs and potato chips night” he eats far less chips than he would otherwise. I have received no complaints about the food I serve him, and he eagerly comes to the table to eat. He doesn’t stay long at the table, but that’s fine because he is eating only what he needs.
The one area where I’m struggling is getting more meals and snacks to the table. Our situation is pretty desperate in terms of space. I got busy with my consulting work before the holidays, and the table was covered in my papers and other things that needed some form of organization. Moving all of that each day, pulling the table out from the wall, and bringing chairs over from various places around the house – and then putting it all back again after – is a real pain. It’s all I can do to make it happen once a day, let alone several times a day.
However, since the program is already showing signs of success in terms of the amount of food he is eating, and since construction on the new house is about to begin, I’m probably going to let that part slide for now. In a few months we’ll have a proper dining table and breakfast bar, and all our meals and snacks will take place there. I’m looking forward to it!
In my next post, I’ll talk about my journey through this process and how it has affected my own feeding and eating. Thanks for stopping by!