[subtitle: How the Hell Do You Do It?]
Today, on two separate occasions, I followed the sound of silence to find one of my sons tucked in the corner of a room, frantically unwrapping and eating candy that he had found in the Christmas stash.
I’m still trying to sort out how I felt upon discovering him, hiding from me like he was doing something bad. I have a swirling mass of needs-to-be-untangled thoughts and feelings about the topics of eating and bodies, and I don’t want to project my own drama onto my sweet, innocent, still-untarnished-by-the-world little children. And yet, I want to raise them to value themselves and others, to look deeper but also to love the bodies they were born with and to have an easy, natural, untainted relationship with food.
But it is damn hard to know how to teach intuitive eating when it’s not a skill you grew up with or are even now passably proficient in. I don’t know what mistakes I can make and still have my children turn out okay. I don’t even know how many mistakes I’m already making. I don’t know if fostering intuitive eating means letting them eat whatever and whenever and however much they want, or if it’s eating whatever they want at mealtimes only, or if it’s eating whatever they want of what is offered at mealtimes, or any number of options. I just don’t know.
My boys are bread fanatics–they would subsist solely on baked carbs if we decided to restrict our diet to a single food group. Because they’ve often loaded up on bread/rolls/naan/focaccia/biscuits/etc. and refused to eat any other dishes at dinner, my husband has instituted the “finish all your food before you have more bread” rule. I back him because we’re supposed to present a united front and all that. But inside, I’m conflicted. The “eat food to get more food” concept just doesn’t quite sit right with me. To me, it reinforces the concepts of (1) “special foods”–things like bread and dessert get put on a pedestal; you have to suffer through a plate of “boring food” in order to get to them and (2) overeating/eating when you’re not hungry. If a kid (or adult) wants a piece of cake but believes he has to join the Clean Plate Club to get it, he’ll plow through the food on his plate until he’s worthy of the prize. And if he isn’t hungry anymore by the time he’s “earned” the cake? Too damn bad. He’s worked for this cake, and he’s going to eat it, hungry or not.
If it’s dinnertime and I’m absolutely craving chocolate cake, I think I’m better off forgoing the dinner and just eating the cake (provided I enjoy it, listen to my hunger signals, etc…all that IE stuff). Maybe after I finish the cake, I’m full, so cake is all I have that night. So what? Worse things have happened. But as someone who has worked really hard to eradicate the ideas of “good/healthy/guilt-free” foods and “bad/sinful/naughty” foods from her mindset, I feel really uneasy when we start talking about earning this food or deserving that food.
On the other hand, I really want my children to be open to trying new foods, and I don’t think I should have to make them something separate when they don’t like what is being offered. But I’m having a really hard time trying to fit these two pieces of the puzzle together. What if I let them eat whatever they want (of what is offered) at dinner as long as they try at least one bite of each dish? Then I’m exposing them to new foods, but am I screwing up their chances at being intuitive eaters?
Maybe I am projecting. (very likely) Maybe I’m overthinking this. (99% chance)
But I hated seeing my son try to hide his candy-eating from me. Oh, I know it wasn’t due to some deeply rooted body shame and mental anguish over his food choices–he was just hiding because he thought he would get in trouble (I’d already vetoed candy consumption when he asked me earlier). But at the same time, I don’t want him or his brother to ever feel ashamed or like they have to hide what they’re eating.
I suppose the most impactful thing I can do is model all of these things myself–self esteem, body acceptance, a healthy relationship with food.
At least that’s easy.
Do you overthink your relationship with food? Do you think it’s laughable that I use the words “relationship” and “food” in the same sentence? Do you believe that children are the future? (teach them well and let them lead the way)