Kids and “Bad” Food Anxiety?!

26food_1-6501I found this recent New York Times article that piqued my interest, called, “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods.”

I want my kids someday (when I have them) to have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to know fruits and veggies and whole grains and low-fat dairy are yummy, but I also don’t want them to freak out if someone offers them an ice cream cone. I want them to be able to enjoy the special treat without another kid (or mother) commenting.

I’m not a mom yet, but I still have an opinion on this: it’s one thing to encourage healthy eating habits (recently Michelle Obama’s been talking a lot about how her family find that balance between health and pleasure with respect to food), but it’s another thing to ban foods altogether — which can lead to binge eating behavior later in life or an unhealthy relationship with food (like I’ve experienced).

I laugh now, but in grade school, we had a great nutrition curriculum called Juno’s Journeys, which promoted healthy eating in a fun way, which I shared here when my blog began.

Following Juno’s adventures in the forest, we learned that foods were categorized as by “Go,” “Think,” and “Stop” foods. Nothing was labeled “bad” or off-limits — but we were able to identify that some foods are healthier than others and that “Stop” foods ought to be consumed infrequently, but not necessarily “never”. It wasn’t intended to turn us into self-righteous “orthorexics,” not that the term had likely been coined back then, anyway.

The thing is, as an 9-year old then or 29-year old now, Juno’s messages still resonate. He kind of introduced me to clean eating, without knowing it!

Anyway, I decided to look to my own upbringing for cues on what works and doesn’t work for my own future children.

No foods were “off limits” in our house, but we also weren’t surrounded by junk food. It was a “treat,” and not a frequent thing. I mean, I could have a cookie or two if I wanted it. But if we went back for more, my mom always asked us if we “needed it.” Nine times out of ten, I realized I was satisfied with what I’d eaten.

When it came to sweets, soda was a rarity in our house, for special occasions like parties. Dessert was usually fruit. And my mom only baked for our birthdays (because she knew if it was in the house, we’d eat it!).

It’s nice to know that we ate pretty healthily growing up, and with balanced meals. Interestingly, my brother and sister are both — and have always been — slim. I was the only one with “food issues.” I’m also the eldest … and the perfectionist … and the one with OCD tendencies and performance anxiety issues.

But all that aside, if I had to guess, I’d say my preoccupation/obsession/issues with food didn’t begin until long after college, when I was living on my own.

And as someone dealing with eating issues now — pre-pregnancy, pre-kids — it’s my hope that between my husband and I, we can raise nutritionally-savvy (but not food-fearing) children.

I don’t want them to see Mommy eating something different than Daddy or commenting that “it’s too fattening!” I want them to see me enjoying a slice of pizza just as much as I enjoy a Greek salad.

I have to say, I love it that now, when my husband and I sit down to a meal together, we’re eating the same thing … versus a couple years ago when I was still living in Lean Cuisine world and preparing us separate meals.

Because that’s not how I wanted to live … and not the model I wanted to set for my children.

We make some concessions; he might like low-fat yogurt while I stick to fat-free, but that’s ok … it’s still in essence “yogurt.” And we can sit down and eat it together. Or go out to dinner and share dessert.

Food can fuse a family; I really believe that. It’s sustenance that also creates a bond, spurs memories. And if it’s healthy and nutritious, all the better.

But I have to say, a life without birthday cake would SUCK. And I want my kids to be able to have their cake and eat it too.

You can bet they’ll be washing it down with 1% milk (or skim, it’s ever proven better for kiddos).

How about you? If you have children, how have you handled their nutrition education/relationship with food? If you don’t have children, do you fear passing those anxieties on to them? How will you avoid doing it?

8 thoughts on “Kids and “Bad” Food Anxiety?!

  1. Growing up, things that were “junk” food (ice cream, cookies, etc) were definitely labeled as SCARY foods (mom had ED) and it was considered a special night when we got to have dessert or pizza. I say I rebelled by eating those foods and gaining weight.

    Im’ DETERMINED to not have that kind of attitude with my future children. Nothing will be off limits, but we’ll teach about moderation.

  2. I agree that no foods should be off limits. i hate that some foods are considered “bad” and therefore cuase us to feel guilt when consuming them. a magazine interviewing a 70-year-old who had suffered eating issues her whole life said that food is not about morality, there is no good or bad. even chocolate cake has good qualities, it’s just best in moderation.

    growing up we always had junk around. we ate healthy ad well-balanced meals, and there were limits to how many sodas a day and how many M&Ms in the evening, but it was always around. i really don’t think my food isues began until college though. the only thing growing up that i think has caused me a problem is the idea that i must always clean my plate.

    anyways, that’s my two cents. take care.

  3. Mara,that must have been so hard having a mom with an ED … that is like my worst fear, projecting my issues onto kids. I’m sure it makes you twice as cautious about not doing it!!

    Sheena, I read that too — I forget in Fitness, Shape, Self … but I read it.

    The clean plate club is a tough one to change, b/c we were all raised thinking there are children starving elsewhere … but really, how does us not finishing our dinner hurt someone who can’t get to our leftovers anyway, right?! Kinda nutty logic, but it stems from the Depression era, for sure. Our parents are the children of that generation so it makes sense … hard habit to change, though.

    Ironically,if you watch toddlers or small kids eat, they do it soooo intuitively. They eat more Tuesday, maybe less Wed., maybe they’re super-starved Friday … but it’s all by their guts. Wish I had that!

  4. I grew up in a household in which foods weren’t labeled as either “good” or “bad,” too. My parents are amazing cooks, who also enjoyed the entire process of cooking, so many of my childhood memories take place in the kitchen with Mom usually making traditional, non-MSG, healthful Korean food while Dad would occasionally make more American fare. They’d still take my sister and I — like you, I’m also the eldest (or elder in my case, I suppose) child AND the one with food issues) to McD’s. It’s interesting that those trips to McD’s centered around having fun in their playground and getting the Happy Meal for the prize/gift/toy, so even though we’d be ingesting what I consider processed junk, we’d be exercising by playing. Anyway, as you point out, I want my children, if I’m blessed to have them later in life, to have a healthy relationship with food, to know that food nourishes us and binds us to our ancestry, culture and family. I’m really thankful to my parents because they never withheld any food from me. They exercised moderation and never deprivation. Life is too short to eat whole grains and steamed veggies all the time, though I do enjoy meals mainly centered around them. What’s a childhood like without an occasional Happy Meal or Oreos with milk? And yes indeed, a birthday would absolutely suck without a cake. BTW, tomorrow is my birthday, and if I don’t get a cake, you know I’d shed a tear. 😉

  5. I am like you, our family ate pretty healthy when I was growing up, and I didn’t start my unhealthy relationship with food until college. And that’s a big fear of mine, that I will pass my eating issues on to my kids some day when we have them. You can bet I will be working hard to not do so…which is why I need to get my own issues under control before we DO decide to have kids. It’s definitely scary. I hope when the day comes I will be able to teach them that food is fuel, treats are okay in moderation, and exercise is fun. I think for the most part, I can do it…but it’s the rest of society and its impact that I am REALLY concerned about.

  6. I think the way you treat food in the house is only one element in what affects how we live later in life. My father was very health concious but he had treats he liked. I lived with him but my mother always had “bad” foods at her house. My dad was also not home alot. Food at my house was my dad’s way of looking after us. More food = more love. His whole family has this crazy food love. They talk about it all the time, preparation, recipes, etc etc. On top of that, we didn’t talk about our feelings. To this day, my dad still brings me special dishes of recipes he made. it’s his way of showing me love. In a home where feelings were not ok to talk about, food was one thing that gave me comfort. I still use it today. At one point I restricted it .. I’m a perfectionist, I display OCPD, I have an unhealthy relationship with food.

    I think there are just so many elements to what makes a disordered eater; in a way, I feel that the most important thing in the family is to discuss feelings, allow for different personalities, allow for mistakes and self correction.. show understanding and compassion. Of course having a healthy relationship with food is important as you are a role model to your kids but eating disorders are – or mine anyway- is about feelings and not knowing what to do with them. that is something I wish I learned as a kid.

    we weren’t allowed to cry.

  7. Hi Susie, I think for so many families, food is an expression of love, commitment. My family could literally sit around the kitchen talking all weekend, going from meal to meal — not eating the whole time necessarily, mind you! — but we do associate food and family time; it’s usually in a positive way though!! I just took it to the extremes sometimes. In fact, one thing that was so hard for my family was listening to me talk about food/obsess about it; it’s life for them — not the be-all, end-all like I was treating it.

    I agree too that it’s so important to talk about feelings; that’s something we were always encouraged to do.

    It seems like you’ve learned a lot through your own experiences, and it will carry you far. Best wishes!

  8. Great blog! I’m not sure where my ED stemmed from. There were no “bad” foods that I can remember. Everything was in moderation and I was also asked if I ‘needed’ more of something. I feel your pain about being scared of passing on issues. I’m terrified. I have a blog about my life with an eating disorder/food anxiety and would greatly appreciate some input or advice! Thanks!

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