Tuesday, September 16, 2008

on my soapbox

getty images

The Cute sent me this article "6 Food Mistakes Parents Make" from The New York Times this afternoon.

read it, please.

fascinating and informative reading whether you have kids or not. it certainly made me think about how i was raised re' food.
i was always invited into the kitchen to help cook - this i credit with making me a pretty adventurous omnivore - but i was certainly pressured to eat or not to eat certain foods because they were either "good" or "bad" - and don't think i don't see the connection between those "bad" foods and the foods i later restricted or binged upon.

the article also made me think about how i might raise my own children - i know it's not a popular parenting view, but i don't plan on forbidding any food in my house. nothing. nada. that's the one part of the article i disagree with.
Other studies show that children whose food is highly restricted at home are far more likely to binge when they have access to forbidden foods.

The lesson for parents? Don’t bring foods that you feel the need to restrict into the house. Instead, buy healthful snacks and give children free access to the food cabinets.
aren't those two statements somewhat contradictory? if you don't allow certain foods into your home, they're restricted, and when that child encounters them outside of your home, they're likely to inhale them.

case in point: my friend A. we were friends since the 5th grade. her dad was the manager of a small grocery store in our town, so her kitchen cabinets were always full of a wide variety of "good" and "bad" foods including Little Debbie cakes, sugary cereals and storebought cookies. i never once saw or heard her mother tell her she couldn't have this or that food. the cabinets and the fridge were open to her at any time. she could have anything. she could eat pepperoni and Cheez-Whiz between two Chips-Ahoy for breakfast if she wanted to. i know. how awful! how dare her mother not watch over her diet like a hawk? well, wanna know what A's favorite food was? salad. wanna know what granola-and-fruit-juice-fed-me gorged on when i went over there to visit? i'm sure i don't have to tell you (although i'm sure i reaked of Oatmeal Cream Pies for days afterwards).

why restrict any food (and i'm not talking about children with diabetes or a similar issue)? just like adults, i truly believe that if you give a child a wide variety of foods to choose from, broccoli to brownies, and let them listen to their body and their hunger, they will make reasonable choices. don't believe me? watch a toddler with an ice cream cone. they don't have to finish it. they get full. they stop without being forced to. yes, some of us might have a greater propensity to develop eating problems, but i do believe, for the most part, that we really do learn disordered eating (this isn't my theory. smarter folks than i have studied it, written about it, practiced it. check out Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. i actually used its simple tenets in my own recovery).

anyway, i ramble. i also say all of this not having had children yet, so i know there might be a litany of "i told you sos" coming my way when i have my own little bean and all she wants to eat are those victuals that fall under the BEIGE food group. i can see myself now, paying her in Polly Pockets accessories just to PLEASE eat something, anything GREEN.

i was thrilled to see this as the 5th food mistake. thrilled, because people need to see this in print
. i'm hoping that those who don't believe me when i say it, will believe The New York Times. they're like, way totally smarter than me:
Dieting in front of your children
Kids are tuned into their parents’ eating preferences and are far more likely to try foods if they see their mother or father eating them. A Rutgers study of parent and child food preferences found that preschoolers tended to like or reject the same fruits and vegetables their parents liked or didn’t like. And other research has shown girls are more likely to be picky eaters if their mothers don’t like vegetables.

Given this powerful effect, parents who are trying to lose weight should be aware of how their dieting habits can influence a child’s perceptions about food and healthful eating. In one study of 5-year-old girls, one child noted that dieting involved drinking chocolate milkshakes — her mother was using Slim-Fast drinks. Another child said dieting meant “you fix food but you don’t eat it.”

A 2005 report in the journal Health Psychology found that mothers who were preoccupied with their weight and eating were more likely to restrict foods for their daughters or encourage them to lose weight. Daughters of dieters were also more likely to try diets as well. The problem is, restrictive diets don’t work for most people and often lead to binge eating and weight gain. By exposing young children to erratic dieting habits, parents may be putting them at risk for eating disorders or a lifetime of chronic dieting. “Most mothers don’t think their kids are soaking up this information, but they are,” Dr. Birch said. “They’re teaching it to their daughters even though it doesn’t work for them.

do you remember your parents' dieting? do you think it affected your own attitude towards food and dieting? how? i'm interested to hear your thoughts.


Nikki said...

Oh my goodness. I saw this article yesterday and was so happy to see these topics covered by a major news journal! These are all the things I WISH my parents had done with me as a child and all the things I want to do with my children (once I get around to having a family.) My mom kept "junk food" in the house and while she allowed me to have it, there was always a limit which just left me wanting more. My mom definitely dieted around me and always voiced her dissatisfaction with her arms or legs or whatever else she didn't like about herself. Guess what, I wasn't surprised when both my sister and I ended up with eating disorders in our late teens. Fortunately, we're both ok now and much wiser and we've been educating my mom and I've noticed a change (for the better) in behavior with her.

Anonymous said...

my mom never kept any foods out of the house, mainly because my father isn't exactly a fan of the salads and yogurt that she is so devoted to. she did, however, consistently make comments about what or how i was eating, all the while surviving on some carrot sticks and celery when the stress kicked in. my mother has struggled with eating issues all her life, and i know she never meant for any of it to rub off on me. indeed, she has been one of my biggest supporters on my road to recovery from anorexia and binge eating. however, this experience has taught me several things, the main one being that i refuse to make any negative comments about my body in front of my future daughter (or son!), and that i will tell them they are beautiful (or handsome) any chance i get.

jenni said...

my parents are both yo-yo dieters. mom especially and she's been dieting as long as i remember. i recall her once saying, "i only weight 135," knowing very well that my current weight was 140 and that as a result of her comment, a part of me would die inside. of course we did not look the same at all but i was so fixated on that number that it was enough. i still struggle with my eating habits and body image and i definitely correlate it with the way my mom has viewed herself and by her eating habits.

Agnes Mildew said...

This is such a can of worms for me! Both my girls know I have an ED, but are very aware of how awful it is, and I encourage them to eat as healthily as possible (they both love their veg and fruit) but also have plenty of treats around - mainly of my own baking.
Yet when I grew up, each mealtime could be a bloody nightmare. My mother never 'dieted' - she didn't need to - but she had diabetes, and didn't we have it rammed down our throats? It was as though she was the only sufferer in the world and we were made to feel guilt about anything which was forbidden to her.
She pulled me to bits about my weight for years - and then when I did decide to diet, brought out all my favourite foods (home-made apple pies for e.g) and would place them in front of me, tempting me - even getting belligerent upon my refusal of them. Hard to win with a parent like that.
When my own girls got picky with food, as toddlers, she proscribed that I tied them to the dining chairs with a skipping rope until their plates were empty.
And I am the one with the mental health problem??

arcane said...

Wow, my own mother has done at least three of those things when I was growing up- and it's no wonder I have an eating disorder!
That said, I was so happy to see someone else acknowledge this. It's always been my belief that children emulate their parents to a frightening degree- and if you have a problem, your child will know. It's a subconscious thing. I'm glad there are other people on the planet who are going to be raising healthy children about eating... I wouldn't want any other child to go through what I have.