I love to eat, but I have a ton of other emotions surrounding that love, like disgust and shame and self-consciousness and disappointment. In other words, my relationship with food is complicated. As I do my best to be a good role model and promote body positivity and body acceptance and body confidence while, there are some things my kids will know about my relationship with food. If honesty truly is the best policy, my decision to be open and honest about my own struggles with eating disorders and self-love, can only help my children learn to love themselves and develop a healthy relationship with the food they need to survive (as well as the food they should totally feel comfortable enjoying).
I don’t want my children to see food as anything other than delicious and satisfying. Although I have absolutely no time to cook elaborate meals for the family, my partner and I do our best to serve tasty, healthy dishes (among the occasional take-out and fast food option). Our kids come food shopping with us and they understand why we choose certain kinds of yogurt (you know, the ones without the chocolate topping) and they delight in being able to pick out the week’s dessert or their favorite fruit for a snack. I can’t help but look back at my own childhood and think that maybe, just maybe, if I had been included in my family’s decisions about food I might not have developed my love-hate affair with all things chocolate.
Navigating food choices when you’re troubled by body image issues and/or an eating disorder, is a hellacious experience. I want my kids to know food’s place in their lives, and to never, ever, hate themselves for embracing that place. They should never feel bad about what, or how much, they eat. I think if I had a healthier relationship with food when I was younger, I could have avoided falling into the binge eating/binge exercising trap that consumed me throughout my 20s.
So, as I continue to recover from my disordered eating habits, I simultaneously try to model healthy behavior for my kids so that their relationship with food is vastly superior to my own. And as they get older, and more observant, I’ll be completely honest in my answers to any of their questions about my food choices and why my relationship with food is, like I mentioned, pretty complicated. Here are some things I’m prepared to share with them, should my kids want to know about my relationship with food:
I Take Small Portions Because I’m Conditioned Not To Be Wasteful
I was raised as part of the "Clean Plate Club," which meant I couldn’t have dessert until I finished everything on my plate. It took me years before I realized that my behavior wasn't healthy.
First, it might force a kid to eat too much, and to eat for the wrong reasons. Second, it uses sweets as a reward, something to be coveted for having to suffer through an earlier part of the meal. Eating should be pleasurable, regardless of what you are eating. To break myself out of the habit of devouring everything on my plate like I’m clearing a Pac Man screen, I use small plates and take appropriate portions. I help myself to seconds (or thirds) if I’m still hungry, but at least I’m regulating my intake to correspond with my appetite. If my kid doesn’t finish what’s on his plate? I let him know that’s perfectly fine, but that there won’t be any snacks in an hour if he decides he’s hungry. After all, I don’t run a diner.
I Don't Think Of Dessert As Holy Grail
I was seven, at my aunt’s wedding, and I was so psyched to dig into the triple chocolate wedding cake. I ate around the decadent frosting first, saving it for last. I got up for some reason and, when I returned, my plate (with all my frosting) had been cleared. You would have thought my best friend moved away, that’s how devastated I was. Dessert was, for me at the time, the whole point of getting through a meal.
Once I had moved out of my parents’ apartment and into one of my own, the freedom of food shopping solo, with no one to tell me what I could and couldn't buy or eat, felt amazing. Junk food and sugar cereals were mine. All mine. After a while, thought, the thrill was gone. If I could have anything I wanted, there was no glory in it.
So when I had kids, I decided that there would be dessert. I didn’t want them getting hung up on it the way I was. I guess it’s working, because they have no problem deciding not to eat an entire piece of cake, and they actually complain that something is “too sweet.” I sometimes wonder if they actually are my kids.
I Eat Everything In Moderation
A lot of sweets were forbidden when I was growing up. Kids didn’t really like playing at my house because after-school snacks were usually granola pouches. Subsequently, I became obsessed with junk food and would sneak it whenever I could.
I came around when I became a mom, though. Nothing needs to be off-limits, provided you don’t over-indulge. We keep some snack foods and treats in our house, and the kids get a small sweet in their lunch boxes and after dinner. I don’t want them to develop the unhealthy obsession with candy the way I did, and view it as something rare and to be coveted. It’s always available, just not in super-sized portions.
I’d Rather Eat My Calories Than Drink Them
I am not judging, but I honestly don’t get America’s obsession with coffee drinks. These concoctions usually pack as many calories — or more — than a full, balanced dinner plate. I would rather eat a panini than drink a frappé; it just satisfies me more. To that end, we don’t have a lot of beverage options in our house. We’re big on water, and maybe seltzer (and some adult drinks for the parents, of course), but that’s it. I buy juice boxes for birthday parties or whip up some lemonade at the start of summer, but my kids know better than to expect us to provide them with anything more interesting to drink (though that never keeps them from whining about how everybody else gets sports drinks in their lunch boxes. Sigh).
Hot Sauce Is A Vegetable Game-Changer
I’ve given up trying to sell my children on the goodness of veggies. In fact, touting the health benefits of food may (and usually does) backfire when it comes to getting kids to eat their greens. So, instead, I focus on taste. After all, why eat anything if it doesn’t taste good? I believe that is why condiments were invented, right? I don’t care what fixings my kids douse their veggies in: ketchup, cocktail sauce, guacamole. The broccoli becomes the vehicle with which to transport the flavor and, well, I’m fine with that.
I Would Often Eat Too Much And That Made Me Feel Bad
It took me a long time, but I have made significant progress when it comes to having a warped body image. I was a chubby kid, and young adult, because I was a binge eater. It was my way of dealing with anxiety, insecurity, and fear. It was cyclical: feel bad, overeat, feel bad about overeating. I hated that I was overweight, but my weight wasn’t the problem (as it was not posing a health risk). My problem was how I felt about myself, and my body. I don’t want my children to grow up hating the shape of themselves, like I did.
Which is why I refuse to police their food intake and make them fear some horrible physical result of overeating, other than they will probably get a stomach ache. It's exactly why I plan on being open and honest with my kids about my own struggle, because they can (and I'm hoping, will) learn from my mistakes and love their bodies. I won’t tell them that I hated my stomach fat, I will tell them that I hated how my stomach felt. (And it’s true, because I felt physically sick when I’d eat too much.) By learning that they can eat pretty much everything and anything they want (in moderation), I hope my kids won’t ever use binge eating to cope with their emotions.