Can I help?: You select, but she chooses to be a slimmer child

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The Independent Online
I was over the moon when I heard the Duchess of York speak out about Princess Beatrice's diet. Sarah knows you can't sweep food under the carpet. I have been telling her as much ever since Beatrice was born. Indeed, our discussions led me to write my best-selling Problem Eating: Towards a Thinner Child.

We decided it was a question of prioritising: meals are usually more important than sweets and can be more important than videos, depending what's on. But how to convince the kids? We concluded that the most important factors in "problem eating" are (1) interest; (2) enjoyment.

Stage One (Interest). Try to make meal-times more interesting with active participation. Offer a selection of foods and let the kids choose. Got that, mums? You select - they choose.

Mum (holding a selection of cereal packets - however many you can manage - for visual stimulus): "Esme, would you care for Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix or Shreddies?"

Esme: "Coco Pops."

Mum (shaking the selection for aural stimulus): "Coco Pops were not included in the selection because of their calorific content. As I explained yesterday, we're going for high fibre and low calories."

Esme: "Coco Pops."

Don't press it, mums. Just move on: toast, bread (brown or white) or waffles; eggs - poached, scrambled, baked, boiled; and why not some fried or mashed potatoes for extra fibre? With visual and aural stimuli this can prove fun for all the family. But for God's sake, don't worry if they won't eat anything. I never see Timon eat anything but I can tell he's not a "problem eater", or why would there be so many Big Mac cartons and cake-wrappers in the bottom drawer of his room?

Stage Two (Enjoyment). Don't forget to tell the kids how fantastic low- fat sausages and low-calorie cakes can be. I'm careful to remind Esme she's on a low-fat diet, never forgetting to explain why.

Mum: "This is fully skimmed milk to help you with your weight advantage. [Remember: three positives for one negative.] Esme (1) you are a successful eater; (2) you are in tune with your physical pleasures; (3) you are not suffering from anorexia nervosa."

Esme: "I hate you, Mum."

Mum: "I love you very much, Esme." (Correct response.)

Personally, I'm careful not to wear my own helmet with locked jaw-plates - for acute eating disorders - until after midnight when I know Esme is asleep. For God's sake, mums, don't give the kids hang-ups about eating.

Last Sunday my partner, Chris, came home. Actually, for organisational reasons we were married 10 years ago, but I prefer to call him my partner. Thanks to my professional skills the Sinclair family remains 100 per cent undysfunctional. We find the optimum time for a Spontaneous Chatting Programme is a Sunday lunch, preferably in a Neutral Environment.

We decided to go outside London as there's no restaurant within a 10- mile radius that caters for kids. It's been the same every time. "And don't come back," shouts the manager, slamming the door.

"You need to sort out your hang-up about kids," I shout back through the letter-box, posting my business card in case he should want professional advice.

We settled on The Dog And Duck in Kingston which promised facilities for children. We got off to a negative start - the usual arguments with management - before being told that low-fat sausages weren't available. Chris thought Esme should settle for high-calorie sausages. He couldn't pull the wool over my eyes. "You just want to enjoy your own relationship with food," I said.

"I want to eat," he snapped, in a bid for male dominance through aggression.

The waiter then revealed an aggressive male attitude by accusing Timon of stealing burgers from the kitchen. "You need help," I told him. "Too much exposure to meat has made you prey to delusions and fantasies."

As he accompanied me into the kitchen to show me the empty meat compartment we bumped into Esme manhandling an eclair.

"I was only fantasy-playing," she insisted. I could see cream on her face, hands and upper torso. I was delighted that her imagination had become so vivid that she was now seeking to incorporate real-life objects into her fantasy-play.

"Remember, Esme, the Duchess of York says 'The way to happiness is through a slim body'," I purred in a soothing voice. "If you follow her advice, you too might divorce a Prince, just like in the fairytales."