I spent a while reading…

I spent a while reading this article and some of the comments on food-restricting your kids. Maybe Kev and I should talk about this at some point, make sure we're on the same page. Because I can see practices developing already, even though Kavi is only nineteen months old; I can see slight differences in how we want to handle things. And given that it's well established that food restrictions as a child can lead to eating disorders, I'm fretting. A few random data points:

  • As a kid, I don't think we had much sweets around. We didn't eat dessert with meals, and I didn't notice the lack. Cereal for breakfast most days, I think. Cold cut sandwich for lunch. Rice and meat curry and vegetable curry for dinner. It was fairly repetitious, but my mom was such a good cook that we didn't care.

  • I don't think I developed any food issues until I hit puberty and people started commenting that I was fat. (I was maybe 5-10 pounds over doctor-recommended-weight from age 12 - 18. But I was still a size 8, totally 'normal'. But apparently my relatives didn't think so.) My mom was constantly trying to convince me to diet, and I steadfastly refused. I would occasionally sneak food at this point, because it wasn't worth the hassle of arguing with her.

  • I still occasionally fall into that pattern when I visit home, even though I'm 37 years old and really do believe that I have every right to eat whatever I want. But if I get a midnight snack of bread and curry at their house, I find myself hoping my parents won't notice. Sigh.

  • I wouldn't call that an eating disorder. But maybe some evidence of disordered thinking around eating?

  • I don't want Kavi to grow up with those kind of patterns. Yet I also know that she's likely to inherit Kev's and my genetics, which means there's a reasonably chance she'll end up on the heavier side as she gets older, and given our society, that'll cause her some grief. We don't want to cause her any unnecessary grief. As a parent, there's a strong desire to make your child's life as smooth and happy as you can -- and in our society, being slender, or at least 'normal' is a big plus.

  • We've consciously restricted her sugar intake. We mostly tried to avoid giving her anything with added sugar for her first year. I remember the first time she had a sweet treat -- she and I were at the park on a hot day, and a family there had bought a box of ice cream treats for their kids, and offered us one, and at first I said no, but they insisted, and it would have been rude to continue refusing, so I took one. And then it felt too mean to eat it without letting Kavi have any, so I gave her some, and she LOVED the vanilla ice cream, and so I kept giving her little bits of it (eating most of it myself), and feeling doubly guilty the whole time -- on the one hand, that I was giving her excess sugar, and on the other, that I'd been refusing it to her all this time when she clearly loved it SO MUCH.

  • As she's gotten older, we've relaxed the sugar restriction quite a bit. Most days, Kavi still doesn't have any sweets. But if I'm having a cookie, I tend to give her an animal cracker. If I'm having ice cream, she gets a bit of it. She certainly gets other snack food -- but Pirate Booty instead of Cheetos, which seems vaguely healthier, although they're both puffed things covered in cheese, so I don't know.

  • Mostly, our plan is to try to model an active lifestyle for her, with the hopes that she'll take to it naturally, continue being active all her life, and then be able to eat whatever the heck she wants without worrying about it. (Unless she inherits grand-dad's diabetes or some such, that is.)

  • But I can still feel little tensions. Like last night, when we had pasta with a spicy red sauce for dinner. The sauce was too spicy for Kavi, so we just gave her plain pasta. And I wanted to at least put some butter on the pasta for deliciousness, but Kevin said to leave it, since she was eating the pasta. Which on the one hand seems reasonable -- why add extra calories in the form of fat? But on the other hand, we generally want Kavi to be eating as much as she's willing to eat -- calorie restriciton is very bad for growing bodies and brains. And why shouldn't she have some yummy butter on her pasta? Now I wish I'd added some last night.

The whole thing makes me a little crazy. Would appreciate hearing your thoughts, either on how you were fed as a kid, or how you feed your own kids (or both).

13 thoughts on “I spent a while reading…”

  1. With our kids we have followed the useful principle of feeding them the same stuff we eat — using a hand blender to puree it before they could chew, and maybe scaling back on pepper for them. I figure if they get a good diet and plenty of variety, they’ll develop decent habits. My daughter, at least, has developed a preference for _expensive_ food.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Heh. Since we’ve cut back on expensive food ourselves lately (trying to keep the grocery budget to under $100/week, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t), Kavi may miss out on that for a bit. But yes, mostly these days she does just eat what we eat. Except for the times when she will only eat hot dogs for three meals straight.

  3. My impression from what I have read is that for people prone to diabetes, pasta and potatoes are probably more dangerous than sugar. The only really safe starch is rice and maybe sweet potatoes.

  4. I’d love to hear your own (not kate harding’s) explanation of why building restriction or discipline has to result in a neurosis. In my experience, habits are malleable and one can adjust to eating less, spending less, working more. And kids who don’t “eat all they want to eat” are not calorically restricted; no one’s force-feeding kids into obesity. The whole “my body automatically knows how much to eat for health” strikes me as enormously flawed; there are studies showing that as young as 5 kids eat according to what’s in front of them.

    Definitely agree with Cambria, that kids eat what the parents eat for the most part. So the eating less, eating healthy can be phrased as what the family does; just as your family will have a budget all its own, you’ll have a food culture all your own. Vegetarian kids don’t automatically develop a neurosis about sneaking meat.

    I don’t think eating at midgnight and not wanting Mom and Dad to find out is disordered eating. It’s disordered family boundaries

  5. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    My understanding is that it’s pretty well established that parents over-emphasizing dieting and weight loss in children often results in teens (especially teen girls) with serious eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, etc. I don’t think that’s a Shapely Prose bias — I think that’s generally accepted in the the medical establishment. A cursory web search turns up a ton of articles on the subject.

  6. I think Kavi is going to have fewer issues than most, with the amount of variety in the foods in your household. I grew up eating a fair amount of healthy foods, didn’t really like pop/soda, but I did binge eat when I was exposed to ‘American’ cafeteria food for the first time. My eating had previously been so controlled by my parents that I went a little nuts. My parents didn’t keep ANY junk food in the house, EVER. If I ever have kids, I’ll have lots of healthy foods and snacks in the house, but I will also have some junk. The only things I’ll watch are the corn syrup content and organics (some things are better/more nutritious to buy organic). But as long as I model healthy portion size and healthy eating, that should help. I think you can also have her start ‘helping’ in the kitchen, maybe even find a CSA to join. Apparently the kids who go out to the CSA have more enthusiasm about the food, according to their parents I’ve talked to.

    I would have added a little butter, or maybe some cheese. I think you are doing well with her. I know that NOW I am at a point where I can buy potato chips, have them in the house, and not need to finish the bag. I have chocolate around the house, same thing (my bugaboo is actually cheese).

    I did grow up with parents who were OCD, and if you remember my last year at Porters, I was borderline eating disorder, basically three apples and tons of coffee every day. I still HATE eating with my parents, because I feel that they are watching everything I eat.

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Catherine, I had no idea about that last year at Porter’s — clearly I was too wrapped up in myself to pay any attention to what anyone else was doing. Typical teen! 🙂

    Soda is another interesting one — I grew up never drinking any; my parents didn’t have it in the house. Actually, they mostly didn’t have juice around either, I think. So my default drink has always been water. Whereas Kevin loves pop, and drinks a ton of it. He switched to coke zero a while back, so no calories, but it still weirds me out sometimes to see him going through a couple cans in a day. I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling him it’s bad for him. 🙂

    The CSA idea is interesting — thanks! It’s definitely true that she’ll grow up with a varied diet regardless, but we do have to work at it a little to include a vegetable at dinner; if I’m feeling lazy, that often doesn’t happen, especially for just me.

    I do have a few foods that I know if I buy, I’ll likely just eat straight through them in a day or two. Pringles sour cream and onion is one of them (or used to be, before they changed the formula and made it less delicious). Haagen Daaz’s new salted caramel ice cream is another. So yum. So now when I buy those, I accept that I’ll eat ridiculous amounts of them, and just try not to buy them too often.

  8. Complicated and potentially fraught set of issues and questions. I think that as with so many things in our society, no matter what you do, societal pressures are going to have a significant effect. We’re all bombarded constantly with messages, both subtle and blatant, about food and eating and body shapes and so on. (Even more so, of course, for girls and women than for boys and men.) I’m inclined to guess that as she gets older, making sure she’s consciously aware of some of those messages may be useful–though that doesn’t really help at her current age. And anyway I’m talking through my hat.

    My own experience may not be so relevant, seeing as how I was being raised by hippies in Northern California (and was a boy), and seeing as how the restrictions weren’t so much about weight, but fwiw:

    Until I was ten years old, my (two-years-younger) brother and I weren’t allowed to eat anything containing processed sugar, nor any red meat. For sweeteners: honey was fine; we had carob instead of chocolate; we chewed sugarless gum (which in those days was probably sweetened with sorbitol and Mannitol); we bought groceries from Co-ops and other natural-foods stores; and we couldn’t afford to eat out much so we didn’t have to worry much about what foods had sugar added. We almost never had dessert. For meat: chicken and fish were fine, and there was never any discussion of amphibians or reptiles.

    We were told for years that when we were ten, we’d be old enough to decide for ourselves what we wanted to eat. When I turned ten, it quickly became clear that maintaining the restrictions for my brother but not for me wouldn’t be feasible, so they lifted the restrictions on both of us. I tried red meat a few times, discovered I didn’t like it, and fairly soon stopped eating it again. (But I was also heavily inclined to follow authority, and had a lot vested in being a Good Kid, so I’m sure my parents’ wishes for us had a lot to do with my choices.) My brother loved it, and has been eating it ever since. Both of us happily started eating sugar, though I think I have less of a sweet tooth than a lot of my friends do–there are certainly sugary things that I love, but I tend to like sweet stuff that’s on the less-sweet end of the spectrum.

    As for body image: when I was in fifth grade, my parents commented, with some concern, on the fact that I had developed something of a pot belly. (I think this was the morning of the day that my class was going swimming after school, but that may have been a few days later.) That was, as far as I remember, the first time that they had ever mentioned anything to do with weight or body shape, and it freaked me out. (Unfortunately, nobody bothered to notice that my father and all three of his brothers had always had pot bellies.) It made me permanently self-conscious about removing my shirt in front of others. I realize this was very very mild compared to the body-image issues that a lot of people, especially a lot of girls, go through; I mention it really just to note that people who are neurotic enough can develop body-image issues from even fairly innocuous offhand remarks under the wrong circumstances. I imagine my parents could have handled it better–but then again, if I hadn’t been so extremely sensitive about criticism, especially from them, I might have coped with it (and a lot of other things) better.

  9. I do agree that we get a lot of societal pressures. I was amazed at the amount of marketing when I had cable that was aimed directly at the kids… and even in TV shows and the like. There have apparently been studies that show that girls in other countries have been happy with themselves until American magazines and tv shows showed up… I think all you can do is try and have images of healthy, strong women up (not sure where those even exist, though, to tell you the truth). My mom and sister went so far as to nickname my pot belly when I was about 11 or 12 (and which was probably the result of my wheat allergy). I’m not trying to gloom and doom here, and Kavi seems to be a very happy little girl, so I think all you need to do is keep giving her positive messages about her body and positive messages about an active lifestyle. My mom kept saying that I needed to ‘be careful or I would develop hips like my aunts’, and guess what? I did, but I probably would not have thought it was a problem if she hadn’t harped on it!

    And no worries about Porter’s, we were all self-absorbed teens! haha! (and an aside, the food there is now amazing, I had lunch there the other day, and I was in shock!)

  10. I sometimes obsess over Katie’s nutritional intake, too. My happy medium place is that we do the best we can and we talk about it. The communication aspect is key, I think, and hopefully will help with body image issues later. Maybe it would be good to focus on that when Kavi is a bit older. We discuss that one needs healthy food to be strong and have energy. (At 3 1/2, Katie is very into being strong, so we go with that.) She was a good and varied eater for a long time, but preschool has introduced a lot of junk, frankly. A few months ago, she began to ask for all kinds of crap in the grocery store — Oreos, Fruit Loops, neon orange cheese puff balls … — that she had learned of from snack time or other kids’ lunches. I’m all for her trying the stuff that is tempting as long as she is aware that it is a treat as opposed to a healthy, ‘strong’ food. Again, we just do the best we can. I’ll let you know how we did in 10-15 years!

  11. Oh, and I find that so much of this nutritional worry is seasonal. The kid eats tons of fruits and vegetables from late spring to early fall when there are so many fresh and tempting options. Hmmm … perhaps we need to live somewhere with a climate offering those fresh choices locally all year long?

  12. I am pretty bad at eating. I struggle to eat sensible amounts of tasty junk food, but the abundance of good, tasty food in our house when I was a kid means that I have at least a balanced diet before I add rubbish I should eat less of.

    So when starting with our kids I was pretty torn. I wanted them to eat healthy but didn’t want to create the knee jerk. In the end, they eat lollies and other rubbish, but there is a lot of conversation about it being yummy but nutritionally empty. A little is fine, as long as there is plenty of good food consumed first. They always look like they eat way too much at parties to me, but they do stop on their own eventually. Ben (6) even told me that he didn’t have a piece of cake at the second birthday party in a day “because that would have just been too much.”

    I am conscious of the need for enough fats in the kids’ diets, at least until they are 2. After that they seem to find enough fat on their own and then it is more about balancing the fat intake.

    I don’t know if I’m doing it right, but I agree with you that an active lifestyle and good availability of good food is the most important thing. Teach them to love what’s good for them and they’ll find their own path, even if they also love what’s bad.

    Oh, and I have no doubt that you are doing this too, but to counter all the media images of impossible people, I tell all my kids they are beautiful all the time, and I will continue to do it and mean it all their lives. My parents didn’t, and it had a big impact.

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