Friday, November 4, 2011

How Do You Talk To Your Kids About Food Without Making Them Crazy?

I appreciate all of my readers comments. That isn't just lip service. A 'way to go' does alot to brighten my day. And I rarely counter a negative comment because if someone is motivated to tell me off then they probably had a pretty good reason. As a blogger (and intelligent human being), it is my responsibility to be open to listen. We can all grow and learn from constructive criticism.

Last week I posted about a conversation I had had with Thing 1 on junk food. The conversation was precious because he freely shared information with me, which I always love. And because he was in such a sharing mood, I asked a few questions that I thought were harmless. And Thing 1 answered them happily. I received several interesting comments which gave me some perspective on our family's struggle with the omnipresent junk food monster. And then, I received this comment:

"Honestly, anything that is preceded: "Because it's OK if you can tell me" is a TRAP! This is true in marriage, parenting, etc- not that it isn't OK for them to tell you, but obviously there will be consequences if the asker does not receive the answer they want.

I mean, he's what- three? Four? How many times a day, for how many days of his life, are you going to make what he eats an issue? If it were me, I would learn to lie just to avoid another barrage of questions. He may end up feeling paranoid with how insistent you are to know what he's putting in his mouth 24-7- and hey, it's your prerogative as a parent.

But since you're asking for feedback, I will tell you that I think you are setting your kid up to hide candy bar wrappers in old shoe boxes in his closet because he doesn't want to disappoint you.

Lay off a little bit...You can be an advocate for your children to eat healthy food, but sometimes when you try too hard to push them into a mold (even for good, solid reasons- like health) you end up getting the opposite reaction because, well, you'll end up coming off as obnoxious. I don't think I'd want to be asked about ANYTHING when I come home from a long day as much you've asked him about his food in the above conversation. By saying "It's OK if you did" and then asking 20 follow-up questions about what he ate suggests to him that his initial answer wasn't satisfactory to you and he's obviously trying to avoid the subject by "looking off into space"- this is learned behavior that is supposed to signal, "Jeez lady, drop the darn food thing already..." "

Well then. Okay. I kept the comment in my inbox for several days. I reread it a few times to soak in the author's intentions and perspective. I think there are some valid points to be had here. First and foremost, trusting your child and involving him in family decisions is paramount to building a strong relationship with him. Also, pushing a child into a tight mold doesn't always work and can strain one's relationship with their child and possibly even eventually alienate him from you in adulthood. Wasn't that the overarching message of Tiger Mom?

But one other point in this comment leaves me frustrated. The very idea that eliminating or at all limiting junk food from my child's diet would drive a wedge between my child and I is completely preposterous. I write this blog to share my experiences with other parents who have similar beliefs and share information that supports my beliefs. And what I have found is that there are many many other parents searching for the same thing, a safe food environment for their kids. Our food Nirvana is one without food coloring, chemical preservatives and excessive sugar. I want to give my kids good food, and in writing this blog I have connected with other parents who want to do the same. Isn't that what a blog IS? In spite of the shortness of the junk food conversation with Thing 1, if my strong relationship with my child hasn't come through in the post then I have to assume that my writing was sub-par. I admit this particular article was hastily written. I take full responsibility.

But the commenter brings up a good point on which I have been meaning to touch. Does talking to your kids about healthy food versus unhealthy food create anxiety in your child? Will this dialogue lead to eating disorders like hoarding, binging and even anorexia?

Dietitians and nutritionists LOVE to tell us not to label foods healthy or unhealthy for fear that the general public will not be able to cope with our guilt when we do indulge. Pediatric nutritionists also sound the warning call about creating anorexia and bulimia in our children. But at their core, eating disorders are anxiety disorders. In certain cases, I can imagine the extremely high standards of perfectionist parents can create anxiety in a child. I have seen it happen and I imagine you have also. Especially when there is more than one area of a child's life where perfection is expected like food, academics and sports. All the stress to perform can manifest in a food related anxiety disorder like anorexia. But often the food itself is just the tool of the anxiety. In the fascinating book Drinking A Love Story, Caroline Knapp writes of only sober period as the year when she traded alcoholism for anorexia. For a time starving herself was her way of coping. Once she started abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism again, the anorexia was no longer needed and disappeared. The topic of anorexia is complex, it goes way beyond a fear of food and often incorporates fear, anxiety and control issues. Anorexia often surfaces in a young person who feels powerless. One's diet is something over which one can execute considerable control.

Telling your four year old that potato chips are junk will not create anorexia in you child. Such a statement would be a trite insult to those suffering with such a debilitating disorder. Furthermore, placing limits on junk food will also not cause binging and hoarding. And if you explain yourself, as parents should in order to teach their children, your children can begin to understand WHY you might choose to limit junk food.

Of course intention is key, telling your child that junk food is unhealthy for them is a very different message than junk food makes you fat and it is bad to be fat. It is also different than constantly berating them or cruelly reminding them that junk food is unhealthy. Be sure, my conversations with my kids are occasional and center around feeling strong, growing tall, managing their hunger and having energy. I don't tell my kids that it is bad to be fat, every child carries weight differently as they move in and out of growth spurts. And weight or appearance is something over which a child has very little control. Inferring that a child would be unlovable if they were overweight might indeed create anxiety in said child. I would love my kids desperately no matter what they looked like.

In fact I believe that if you are eating real food, your body will do what it needs to do to and be what it needs to be. Eating real food and not processed garbage has gone a long way toward helping me to accept my own body. Eating real food has also helped me not fall to pieces when I indulge in cake or potato chips. Truly, a piece of cake can be part of a nourishing and healthy diet, but in order to say that first you have to have a truly nourishing and healthy diet. I don't advocate perfection. And anyone reading this blog for any length of time has seen me post about my family's lack of perfection.

In light of that comment I wrote The Grinch That Stole Halloween and tried to clearly articulate all of the above. I wanted to communicate that the holiday was fun, that we were excited to participate and even have some candy! But that I had issues with the focus of the holiday being JUST candy and gluttony. That is like Christmas just being about the presents, and most people seem to agree that there is more to Christmas than presents. Remember too that Halloween was a precursor to All Saints Day where we remember the saints who have all passed on. It is a time of year to honor the dead. Born out of an older pagan ritual, people would dress up in costumes the night before so that the awoken spirits would not recognize them. And so that they could do mean things to others with impunity. The candy thing is a modern alteration.

Then I got this comment...

"Between your interrogation of your four about what he eats everyday, and this trick or treating thing...I have to conclude that I am extremely happy you aren't my mom! Aren't there better, greater things to worry about than if your kid eats a few Butterfingers one day a year? Your house sounds like no fun."

Okay. The first comment I took to heart. I thought it was important that I truly examine my interactions with my children when it comes to food. Also I would hate to alienate a regular reader, I value you guys. But after the second comment...well...I had to ask myself does this person even regularly read my blog? This is a non-processed food blog. It is a blog about feeding one's kids REAL food, not convenience foods. It is a blog about challenging the accepted notion that we should gorge on sugar and fat whenever we get the chance. Has this person read any of the other stuff I have written against sugar? See here and here and here--those links are ALL different.

Seriously, if you can't imagine giving up candy, I have to question what you are eating. Candy tastes terrible. My homemade pizza, creamy sausage pasta, marinated steak, buttery mashed potatoes, crispy pork tacos in homemade tortillas and homemade maple granola all taste better than the crappy Kraft caramel I had this week that had a grainy texture and flat flavor.

What about Allergenic kids? Do they grow up angry with their parents because they cannot eat peanuts, gluten or whatever they are allergic to? What about children brought up as Kosher? Do they feel like their parents have deprived them of pork and shellfish? What about them? Is there a greater risk of binging and hoarding among those kids? No. Because they are given a logical reason why they cannot eat those foods. My kids can choose as adults if they want to follow this way of life or not. It will be there choice at that point.

All I am saying is that I am giving my kids real reasons why we eat this way. We embrace fat because we understand that it is important in appetite control, proper cell function and even brain function. We eat pastured animals because they are healthier, resulting in meat that is higher in Omega-3's which are heart healthy, as opposed to CAFO meat which are higher in Omega-6's. We avoid sugar because it is implicated in cancer and heart disease, obesity and Diabetes, degenerative diseases. Hell, sugar is even implicated in Restless Leg Syndrome.

My kids NEED to know about food. It is not some little part of our lives. So they get fewer lollipops growing up than I did. Why is that important? Our children's generation is the first in the history of our nation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. I damn well better be doing SOMETHING to help my children have a healthy life with food and without sugar, or else I can't say I have done all I can as a parent. This isn't about weight or looks, it is about health.

And lastly, comments like this do alot to intimidate us as healthy parents into not speaking our minds about the way that we raise our kids. And I for one will NOT be intimidated into raising a child that eats the Standard American Diet. If you don't like what I am feeding my kids, you can go read someone else's blog.

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays and Fat Tuesday and Simple Lives Thursdays



  2. The Gluten Free Girl posted a piece on this kind of thing a while ago. Aparently when you have a blog people will feel free to say all kinds of awful stuff like they don't think you are pretty enough or they don't like the shape of your infant's head. It's horrible.


  3. People who post crazy things like that probably aren't regular readers, and if they are, I'm not sure why.

    Keep on doing what you do. I wish more parents were like you and me!


  4. I tell the kids, "When I was your age I wanted to eat sugar all the time, too. It wasn't until I was a grownup that I realized how sad and angry I was all the time back then, and that I was trying to fix that by eating lots of sugar, and it only made me more sad, angry and sick. Now there are some choices I'm not willing to let you make until you get older, and there are some things I've chosen not to have in this house at all. So if you want those things, you'll have to spend your own money on them, and decide afterward if it was worth it."

  5. It saddens me that you feel that you can only preach to the choir. So if someone disagrees, they can just go elsewhere? One of the biggest challenges is getting people on board, not singing toward the nodding masses who completely agree with you. You're not intimidated enough to stop talking, so you should welcome the dialogue. Keep it up.

    BTW We make almost all of our food from scratch, but honestly, we do love candy. It can be quite delicious! Even as I'm eating it, I know that the stuff was designed to slide down the throat easily and hit those spots in the brain that not only feel good but perpetuate a need for more. But I still enjoy every bite this time of year. And then move on.

  6. Anonymous 11:06, I feel like your comments are unclear and I am confused. I DO welcome the dialogue. I want to hear dissenting opinions. I maintain that. I spent the first paragraph of this post saying that. And in regards to preaching to the choir, I think I give some valid reasons to come over to my way of thinking. I have even provided links to some of the artciles that have informed my viewpoints. But at the end of that you just simply don't like me for whatever reason, I respect your right to do so.

    I don't think we disagree. It sounds like we are on the same page. But I feel like your comments are rather agressive. Especially the comment about my house being no fun was maybe a little unneccesary.

    It is like you think I am judging you for eating candy. I am NOT judging you for eating candy. I eat candy. My kids eat candy. Just like you, we enjoy every bite. But I set limits. The issue of "off-plan" foods brings up alot of emotion in people. And I think alot of that emotion is unnecessary and a hold over from eating the SAD Diet. I am no perfectionist. And I am not an evangelist. I am just a sitting-in-the-middle-accepts-the-grey-in-life mom.

    I have tried to be clear about all this, and I don't think it is coming through.

  7. The 2nd comment reminded me of all the rude comments I got from family about the kind of cake my boys got when they turned 1. We worked so hard making sure they were fed good wholesome food we made ourselves that first year (well 6 months or so of solids). I felt like I'd be throwing away all our hard work by giving them a cake mix cake covered in icing and full of sugar! What would be the point of that? Why does a one year old need all of that? They have their whole life to eat that kind of stuff....

  8. I have never posted a comment on a blog before--but just read your post and had to say--I absolutely agree with you--and your attitude toward healthy eating! Hooray! Don't stop talking-or blogging. I wouldn't mind growing up in a household like yours!

  9. Sometimes I have composed comments on one of your blog entries, only to delete them without posting. Because sometimes it doesn't seem as if you want to hear anything that goes against what you've decided is correct. For example, your emphasis on using lard, while fine for you, doesn't work for me because we refrain from eating pork for religious reasons. In addition I have an aversion to coconuts that precludes my using coconut oil at all. But my family is healthy so your insisting that the only way to be healthy is to use lard and coconut oil is off-putting to me.

    This is your blog so you can post anything you want. But you asked for feedback so here it is.

    As far as your conversations go with your son, I had food aversions as a child that were texture-based, not taste-based. Conversations like these might have helped my parents understand them.

  10. I think you are doing a great job. I think your insight is extremely well articulated and educated. I've written about this struggle myself on my "You have to eat two bites before you leave the table!" blog post. I have gotten judgement about being "supermom".

    I tell my kids: Your body is growing NOW. You need to eat good foods NOW. If your body is always trying to get rid of yucky ingredients, it isn't helping you grow. God created the food to work as it is, not after it is changed into something else. Whole foods make us smart, give us energy, make us strong, and help us fight of germs.

    Keep up the fight! You are giving your kids the gift of a healthy start to a long life. This is an extremely sacrificial and difficult undertaking!

  11. Yeah! I couldn't agree more. When I read this comment when it was initially posted all I thought was that this person commenting has far greater nerve on the internet than probably in face to face contact in the real world. I have never understood people who make nasty, unconstructive comments on blogs- who do those comments benefit? I don't believe most of these people speak this way to acquaintances, friends, or anyone they are sharing their opinions with when they are face to face.

    So as much as I don't think comments like these are worth your time, since this is your blog with your thoughts, I'm glad it fueled you up to write this post. This post is articulate and passionate, two things needed when waging through the thickets of misinformation when it comes to children's eating. Great work! Keep up those conversations with your Things!

  12. Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!