March 2008

“Do your kids have ‘Food Envy?’

Sitting around the playground after pickup today, some of the parents and I were joking about how our kids always want what the other kid has for snack. Or lunch

Sound familiar? If so, don’t fret. It can be pretty compelling, to eat what the other man has. Ever notice that when whoever you are ordering with in a restaurant gets the better dish? Ever have ‘food envy’ yourself? I think it can happen often, particularly with kids, when they are experimenting with friends, hairstyles, new foods, all of course, (the food I mean,) everywhere else but in your home. Notice how adventurous they are with food at other kids’ houses!

So keep your snacks, lunches, and see if they will eat them at another time. Don’t fret about it. And also don’t fret, if you buy what they have tried elsewhere and of course they don’t eat it at home. I think it comes with the territory. “The grass is always greener, and sometimes, the food tastes better……”

“What food are we going to fight about tonight, Mom?”

said my 8 year old laughingly as I commented that I would ‘throw’ something together for dinner, as we were all dashing out that morning. She loves to play with the food fight concept, but I laugh since at times I really want to throw my hands up in the air as I run out of ideas for mealtimes.

For some reason, I can’t deal with cookbooks, I hate following directions, (ah, the eternal rebel), and I like to just put together meals that are part what is in the fridge, cupboard, and what I can find on the way home. Trouble is, we all eat differently. One of my kids is a staunch vegetarian, (no meat of any kind, no fish), one is a semi-vegetarian, (no red meat), and I am a meat-a-tarian. I so miss those nights I could throw a lamb roast in the oven and call it dinner. No worries about protein requirements being met!

But I have to say, that my middle daughter’s vegetarianism has changed our family’s eating habits. I never thought I would be eating baked beans and tofu hot dogs for dinner and how much I might enjoy them! We actually don’t fight about food, because I have kept the same rule in place as I always set: This is dinner, and if you want something else, you figure it out yourself and keep me out of it. It also has to have some redeemable nutritional value.

It does keep the fight out of the food. And I eat my steak frites in restaurants now. 

“I am worried that my 13 y/o son eats too much; What do I do?”

wrote in one woman, after reading that my daughter had asked me to help her decrease her eating. She says that she is also worried about ‘creating an eating disorder’ but is not sure whether with her 13 year old son being always hungry, it is normal, when is it overeating, habit eating, or truly due to the growth spurts that boys and girls go through?  

I have mainly two things to say regarding this issue, coming from my own experience and that of other parents:

1) Kids who are going through, or about to go through puberty, depending on where they are at, they often gain weight. Girls, before they get their periods, can often appear ‘chunkier’ as their bodies prepare to menstruate. (Nutritionists say that they get the most referrals of girls when they are age 8-12 from anxious parents.)

Boys, before they go through their growth spurt, and actually grow taller, can also get chunkier. My rule of thumb has always been to not look too hard at my kids’ bodies and the changes they go through, but rather pay attention to their eating habits.

2) Boys frequently during their teenage years, seem to have an endless appetite. If they are overweight however, they aren’t burning it off, and it is possible that they are getting into the ‘habit’ of eating for the sake of other reasons than hunger. You can tell if it seems that they are eating for recreational purposes, or just getting into a habit of overeating, and simply remind them, that it seems they have had enough. Make sure they are getting enough protein, to help the muscle mass that they are growing, (it also helps keep blood sugars level), and remind them to check with themselves to see if they are eating because it tastes good, or because they are truly hungry. Give them the skill of WAITING’ to see if in a half hour they are still hungry. If so, they should eat more food. (Food that fuels their body and muscles, not just junk or sugar, that is for happy eating!)

Hunger in boys is not usually driven by hormones, (it certainly can be in girls, right? PMS and all of that), but often is driven by biology’s push toward growth. Even if they aren’t growing taller right away, they are probably about to. But it is always good to arm kids with the tools to be conscious about their eating.

Don’t let your fear of creating an eating disorder render you powerless: You are still their parents and can remind them how to take good care of themselves. Teaching them good eating habits is not just about the nutrition and providing them with healthy options, you can teach them to pay attention to their bodies and their behaviors with food.

I was nervous the other day when my daughter asked me for more direct help so that she could break some of her habit of recreational eating, as I call it, out of boredom, nerves, whatever; that repetitive habit of reaching for food that can create a pattern. She ended up feeling empowered as she said that it did the trick to help break a cycle she felt had started up. I was worried because I keep saying: “You don’t have to lose weight!” but she just wanted some help so that she could begin to build a skill on her own, and it seemed to do the trick. She is still eating, not depriving herself, and doesn’t seem overburdened or restrictive.

It is all about tools; one more in the toolbox can’t hurt.

“Yikes! My daughter wants to lose weight!”

No, I am not talking about anyone who is consulting with me, I am talking about my oldest daughter, now a teenager, who is asking me to help her control her eating. This as you might imagine, goes so against the grain of how I have raised her and how non-controlling I try to be with my kids and food. But here is the beauty and joke of course of parenting: It is not about us. We really do have to continue to separate out our needs from those of our children, and now my 13, soon to be 14 year old daughter is asking for me to help her stop some of what she feels to be is overeating.

Trained and working in the field of eating disorders, I of course am terrified that she will try to restrict her food intake too much and develop either an ongoing restrictive attitude, (anorexia) or deprive herself and then overeat on foods she loves and think she needs to over restrict again. Even if a full blown eating disorder doesn’t develop, I know full well the dangers of dieting and just even the head set of feeling the need to restrict your food intake.

Despite my initial efforts to avoid this job she seems to want and need me to take on, (helping her to structure herself and become more conscious of her eating when she is not hungry,) she persists. She knows she is asking me for help and I can see that my job as a parent, is to see what she needs. To be flexible and not rigid in my parenting style. To know that one kid might need something from me, and to be parented in one way, and the other will have a different personality and need other things. And most importantly, that it is my job to challenge myself, to ‘parent outside the box’, so to speak, the box that I have because they are my biases, needs, wishes, and to really and truly see what she needs, separate from me.

So I forge ahead. Trepidatiously, but I give her what she asks of me. She asks me to help her stop eating after a nice meal, when her mouth hasn’t flipped the ‘off switch’ yet, and she is at risk for eating more and more. I do this. I encourage her to wait. I remind her that in fact she did have a good meal and her mouth is probably just stimulated and she is in the habit of eating more because it is a habit, and whatever cravings she is having, will go away if she tries to pull herself away from the food after eating dinner. To make a rule for herself to wait until the next day for a few nights. To really and truly feed herself well, with all she knows about nutrition and not to deprive herself too much, but to eat more consciously. Be aware of the bites she takes which are not motivated by hunger, but rather by habit, or agitation. Nervousness. Boredom. Feeling down. Whatever.

She tells me I should write a book. I laugh.