WHY IT'S NOT OUR JOB AS PARENTS TO BE THE 'FOOD POLICE'
As parents, we tend to watch what our kids eat. We feel it is our job to remind them to eat their vegetables, stay away from sugar and sometimes we even limit their portions.
If you ask most parents why they do it, chances are they will say that they are worried about their children's health which seems like a very reasonable reason.
BUT as someone who has been uncomfortable with her weight most of her life (starting in childhood), I can tell you for a fact that telling me not to eat something, or making me feel ashamed because I wanted an extra piece of chocolate, did not help me one bit.
In fact, the shame I felt was probably one of the most damaging things I could have been made to feel. It gave me the impression that eating was not allowed and that what I was doing was wrong so that every time I ate, I felt like shit.
And did it stop me from eating? No. Did it make me like vegetables more? No. Did it teach me to make "good choices"? No. Did it make me skinny? No.
Did it make me hate myself? Absolutely yes.
In short - it doesn't work.
On top, by telling our children what they should or should not eat so that, effectively, so that they do not gain weight - aren't we subconsciously basically sending out the WRONG message that there is just one version of beauty which is being thin? And if so, is it really such a bit wonder why children as young as 6 years old have body issues?
I mean, if you are, for example, a naturally heavy boned 6-year-old, but you get the impression that something about your body, or your eating habits, is "wrong" - how in the world are you gonna ever grow up to be a body confident adult who loves themselves REGARDLESS of what you look like?
And the same goes for the notion that only thin people are healthy or sporty.
I clearly remember being 15 years old and realizing that my body was not as long and lean as the other girls in my dance class. So I stopped dancing ballet because I felt I wasn't skinny enough. I was made to believe by our narrow-minded society that my body shape and my weight were a problem, even though I was easily the best dancer in my class.
And I have seen plenty of people who are not skinny do amazing things with their bodies because the fact of the matter is - it's not always fat that holds us back, in many cases, it's our minds.
Now, it took me a while to realize that I was not fooling anyone when I said to my kids "I want you to be healthy".
Because you see - kids are not stupid.
They can see right through us, straight into our fears which are probably related to our own weight issues.
I have another vivid memory of being told I couldn't have a second piece of chocolate because it would make me feel sick. I remember knowing that was a bullshit excuse and it made me feel little and incapable of reading my own body signals.
Which leads me to what I wanted to say.
We are born without any food or body issues. We know naturally what our bodies need. When you look at young kids and how they eat you see that food does not interest them as much as it does us, adults. There are no emotions involves. No guilt, no self-hate, no problems.
The issues come with time and in many cases are a direct result of the messages kids hear from the people around them, including their parents: "don't play with your food", "finish your plate", "dessert after you finish your vegetables", "you've had enough", "that's fattening", "eat the healthy stuff first" etc, etc...
Any of those sound familiar?
I heard all of those and in my case it just made me eat more in order to get to the desert that was promised, setting me up for a lifetime of overeating.
And don't get me wrong, I have said most of those things to my children as well because as a parent I really want to make sure my children eat because otherwise, they will die, right? And no, I do not think it should be a 'free fall'. I am totally aware of the fact that more and more children carry extra weight these days and that it can cause health issues down the line. But I am also aware of other things that are just as important (maybe even more important) that as parents we sometimes forget to focus on, like: how happy our kids are, their confidence, self-love, their ability to cope in life and just generally not turn out to be total assholes.
And as someone who has also been an emotional eater for most of her life, it occurs to me that when my children say that they are "hungry" after having a three-course meal, what they are most likely feeling is that they NEED something emotional which they are finding hard to express. It is 100% easier to give them another sandwich and I have done that on several occasions, but every now and then, I have managed to hear what they are really asking for and I can tell you for a fact that it was not food.
This is the hardest thing to crack, by the way, one that I am still working on for myself, but the good news is that most young children would have yet to develop an actual "problem" so it is something we can for sure help them with before it becomes a real issue.
Bottom line is, when it comes to food and healthy eating, I believe we should set an example and provide great options. I mean, we can't expect our kids to eat healthy if our fridges are full of crap, can we? But at the same time, we can't be the food police either.
I suggest we don't chase our children with broccoli at a birthday party or on holiday because by doing that, aren't we just making eating healthy a punishment?
Maybe our job as parents is to teach them the facts and then let them be?
I don't know much but I'm pretty sure that if they are "good" 90% of the time (or even 80%) - that's bloody good enough.
Because at the end f the day, we all want the best for our children and being healthy is absolutely up there for any loving parent, but whether you agree with the above or not, please know this:
There are FAR worse things than being "fat" which our children can end up as. Try depressed, miserable or self-loathing as a few examples.
As a woman who has finally at the age of 42 come to accept and love myself in all my flabby glory, I can tell you for a fact that I would have given anything to get some reassurance from my own parents that I was okay just the way I was.
Don't our kids deserve to know that too?