None of us lives in a vacuum and our choices are influenced by others and effect others, whether we think that is true or not. When we are parents, things get even more complicated because we are completely responsible for the life and health of another human being. Making decisions for ourselves is hard enough, but then… it multiples! With so many kids struggling with their weight, just as many parents are probably at their wit’s ends and maybe even feeling guilty about playing a role in the situation. Now, I’m not a parent; our only “babies” are dogs, plants and websites. So I commend everyone who has taken on this responsibility and know it’s by far the hardest job in the world just from babysitting! We really hope to be a resource for all you parents out there!
We also want to be a source of information and support for everyone who may have grown up with parents who were well-intentioned but left them with food or body-image issues, not to mention anyone who lives with the mental and physical scars of their parent’s words and behaviors! Here are some interesting points for parents to consider, and good information for everyone to ponder about the cues they were given and the types and amounts foods they were provided as a child.
How We Learn What to Eat, When to Eat and When To Stop
As expert Ellyn Satter, (whose website is full of free information on how to create and model a healthy relationship with food) explains “most of us are born with the ability to regulate our eating based on the cues of hunger and satiety. However, as children grow and begin to learn the habits and culture of food in their family, they often listen less to biological cues and more to social and cultural cues for eating.” This is really important to note, because it helps us understand that children may stop eating according to their own instincts, but can also become attuned to signals outside of themselves, and possibly set up an unhealthy relationship with food early on. This can translate to overeating, undereating, emotional eating, food addiction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive disorder, and obesity.
One of the best things we can do is to form a healthy relationship with food ourselves so that we can honestly model good behavior for our kids. It’s obvious that kids catch on to the “do as I say and not as I do” bit pretty quickly, and the fact that what they are forced to do and what they see being chosen by the same authority figure- it doesn’t work well.
…Parents who are overweight, who have problems controlling their own food intake, or who are concerned about their children’s risk for overweight may adopt controlling child-feeding practices in an attempt to prevent overweight in their children. Unfortunately, research reveals that these parental control attempts may interact with genetic predispositions to promote the development of problematic eating styles and childhood overweight.
Of course, we all want to create healthy relationships and parents do their best to raise healthy kids, but some of the things parents do with the best of intentions can actually cause a lot of issues for their kids down the road. Here are some quick guidelines that I’ve condensed from this page from the University of Florida where you can read more about how certain parental efforts can have an adverse effect as kids grow up, and even continue undiscovered into adulthood. Some parents even keep trying to control their adult children through food, or comments about eating or weight. Many eating disorders and much of compulsive behavior can be linked to trauma, abuse, manipulation or overbearing parents. As adults, people might start to recognize this and resent the fact that some of their difficulties in life have come from the way they were controlled earlier in life. They also may become tired of interacting with their parents because conversations about food, health or weight and sharing meals can make them feel anxious, irritated, pressured, or self-conscious.
Don’t use food as a way to exert control over yourself or anyone else, especially children. And now that you’re old enough to choose for yourself the foods you eat, don’t let anyone take your power away when it comes to food, or anything else. Parents, siblings, spouses, friends and colleagues should all know that no matter what they say, you believe in yourself and you make your own decisions when it comes to your health and your life. Work toward accepting yourself unconditionally and feeling love for who you are and the body you have, no matter what negative messages you feel from others in your life.
Again, this is the quick-reference list, but I encourage you, if any of this has struck a chord, to go to the page linked above where every recommendation is explained in detail.
- Don’t Reward Children With Food
- Don’t Restrict Access to Food
- Don’t Prompt or Pressure Kids to Eat
- Don’t Withhold Affection
- Don’t Be Overly Permissive
- Do Model Good Behavior
- Do Involve Children in the Decision-Making and Meal Prep
- Do Monitor Emotions and Stresses
- Do Encourage and Foster Healthy Communication
- Do Strike a Balance Between “Setting Limits and Being Warm and Supportive”
“Yes, there is an obesity crisis, and you should be concerned about what your kids are eating, but being too absolute about it will backfire,” says psychologist Edward Abramson, a professor and childhood eating expert at California State University, Chico. “When parents become too intrusive, especially as children get older, there is a battle of wills. The more the parent says, ‘You can’t eat that,’ the more the kid says, ‘Just watch me.’”
I have to admit I think it will be really hard to resist forbidding junk food when our [future] kids encounter it outside of home (they sure as heck won’t encounter it at home!) I want to teach them to love and seek out healthy foods for themselves and arm them with the information that healthy food makes you happy. Even after reading these articles and knowing that I’ll walk a fine line, I wouldn’t feed anyone poison, let alone my own kids. I will do everything I can to restrict their exposure to the marketing lies that will tell them that junk food makes you happy. I know I won’t be able to protect them completely from this, but kids are smarter than we give them credit for, in my opinion. I’ll explain the truth about the media, food and everything else because they won’t learn it in school. But then, they won’t be served healthy food, but offered pizza, soda and candy. And they won’t be taught true information about health and nutrition, but forced to fill out worksheets about how milk and meat are part of a healthy diet. So it looks like Joel and I should be saving for a Montessori school or plan on homeschooling. Yikes.