Baby Dust Diaries

A Life Less Ordinary

Tag: fat acceptance

Good Food v. Bad Food

Photobuckethostess_20120111064640_640_480Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!  I have two follow-up posts: Big Fat Myths About Fat and this one.

Many commenters had problems with #6 and #13 in my list;

  • Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
  • Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).

For example, one commenter said, “I think this is ignorant regarding food options. It is highly important to educate your children about proper food intake & nutrition.”

So, let’s talk about why you don’t want to label foods as good and bad and then I’ll look at if there actually are good and bad foods.

Why You Shouldn’t Call Foods Good/Bad

The dichotomy of Good v. Bad is one that children learn very early on.  If you have a preschooler you’ll hear them talk about the good guys and bad guys in tv programs.  My daughter has even said “my good” when she helps pick up toys and this is with a very strong intention on my part to NOT label her (or her behavior) as good or bad.  When she is “good” I’ll say “thank you! You were so helpful.”  And, when she does something “bad” I’d say “If we rip pages out of a book then we can’t read the story any more.  Let’s tape it back in.”  This isn’t a post about gentle parenting but needless to say labeling kids with value judgments is not a good thing.  Even good labels are bad (ha!) for two reasons; 1) kids know the opposite of good.  If you say they are good then they know that they have a capability of being bad, and 2) placing a value judgement as vague as good becomes an external pressure on your child.  If you want to read more about this concept you can start here.

What does this have to do with food?  Before we can get there we need to look at another aspect of child development called moral reasoning.  The pyramid on the left is Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development.  Children start at the bottom self-preservation and move up to adult moral reasoning at the top.  Up to age 10 children fall into the three lowest levels while middle schoolers tend to be very black and white in a “law and order mentality” it is only in the later teen years (or older) that principled morality, recognizing shades of gray, is developed.

A young child can clearly understand good and bad based on the effect it has on those around them but they can not differentiate between a good person and a bad deed.  The idea that the bad guy on Monday can do something very good on Tuesday is too complex.  You are either good OR bad.

When you say “Twinkies are bad” and your child thinks, “I think Twinkies taste good and Twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad.”  And, even worse, “well I’m bad so I might as well just eat bad foods.”

And don’t think just sticking to good works!  If you say “fruits and vegetables are good” they are going to deduce that other foods are bad.  AND they won’t eat their veggies.  Oh, and don’t think trading another word works.  Kids know the opposite of healthy is unhealthy and the connotation intended.

It is too important to me that my kids develop a self-image that is positive for me to label them even indirectly.

But Twinkies ARE Bad!

Twinkies are horrible.  They aren’t even food they are “food-like substances”.  I don’t want my kids to eat Twinkies.  I want them to eat fruits and veggies and lean protein, etc. The fear is that if you don’t scare your kids with “DOOM for all Twinkie eaters!!” then they will eat nothing but Twinkies forever and ever.

But the opposite is true: Research has shown that creating forbidden foods actually increases poor eating habits in kids (see twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad above).  Other studies have shown that authoritative feeding styles in caregivers increases children’s consumption of healthy foods.

How To Encourage Healthy Eating Without Labeling

Authoritative Feeding is a style of parenting the eating relationship with the ultimate goal being your child making healthy food choices.  Parent-controlled feeding (Authoritarian Feeding) has the opposite of desired effects (as in the forbidden food research).  If your goal is to make your child a good choice maker then you need to give them choice.  There are 3 great ways to do this:

1. Have a Division of Responsibility.

You are responsible for providing options, a place, and a time to eat.  Your child is solely responsible for what they eat and how much.  SOLELY RESPONSIBLE.  That means stop with the nagging or commenting on how much they eat or what choices they made.  Remember that children learn food likes and dislikes through nurture not nature.  They eat what they see eaten; what they see served.

2. Provide Choice.

With young kids a choice between two things is best.  “Do you want an apple or grapes for snack?”  This gives them control over their food choices. A caveat here that drives some parents batty: kids waste food.  My daughter eats half an apple a day…and leaves the other half to rot.  This drives my husband crazy!  But what are you going to do?  Tell them they can’t have an apple for snack?  Yell at them to finish their apple?  Anything you can do is counter intuitive   You could maybe give a sliced apple but my daughter likes to eat whole ones like a big girl.  I chalk up wasted food to the cost of raising a healthy eater.  Let it go.

3. Give Trust and Control When Possible.

I recommend having a “junk food” stash that your kids can get to.  Talk to them about how much candy they should be eating in a day (negotiate don’t tell) and then let them decide when to eat it.  With little kids it might be a “now or later” choice but as they get older it can be a weeks worth of candy that they are responsible for.  They can binge in one hour or make it last all week.  Little kids and those new to this control will always choose NOW and ALL but they won’t forever.  They will learn to delay gratification, space out treats, and trust their gut.  Stick firm to the limit and discuss the choice they made (“honey, you ate your candy for today this morning.  Maybe tomorrow you want to make a different decision and keep some for after dinner?”).

It is difficult to trust children when everything about our culture says they can’t be trusted and need to be controlled by adults.  But, remember, you are raising an adult not a child.  That means you want to nurture their strong decision making skills and they can’t do that if you control all the decisions.  

 But Are Some Foods Bad?

A Twinkie really is a bad food in my book because it isn’t food at all.  I’d rather make a fattening, sugary confection from real food and let my kids eat it than to let them eat a bunch of chemicals disguised as food.  My kids will learn from me about chemical dyes, artificial flavors, etc.  That is much more important to me than their ability to count calories or fat grams.  Humans can learn to trust their eating instincts – you won’t eat yourself to death with butter – but chemicals are like any drug in that they trick your body into thinking you need that non-food.  I trust humans but not drugs and that’s what food-like substances are.

I still won’t use labels of good and bad, and with all my kids being under 4, I don’t talk about this explicitly much but I will as they get older.  And even then, I will trust them to make their own choices.  (as long as they don’t have a dangerous sensitivity) I will let my kids pick the Twinkie if that is the choice they make.  Why? Because I’m not afraid.  Because bad foods don’t make bad people.  Because they love apples and eating is joy for them not a landmine field.  But mostly because their relationship with eating is so much more important than what they eat.

This concludes my follow-ups to the original article.  I know that our culture is firmly entrenched in;

a. fat is unhealthy
b. shame helps people get skinny
c. losing weight is easy with diet and exercise

so I’m probably not going to change anyone’s mind with three posts.  However, if you look at the research I’ve linked to and maybe read a few books you will see that the evidence is overwhelming in favor of intuitive eating and against the dangerous mentality we currently have toward food.  I hope I’ve piqued your interest to learn more.

Big Fat Myths About Fat Part I

source: http://scaddistrict.com/

Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!

I’ve been reluctant to talk about some of the naysayers because I’m not primarily a size-acceptance blogger and there are so many great bloggers out there already doing the work.  However, I haven’t been able to reply to every comment so I figured it was time for a clarifying post.

First, the post in question was a revisit of a previous post “I Don’t Think of You As Fat!” Raising Size-Accepting Children where I provided a little more background on why shaming doesn’t work and how close most kids skate to an eating disorder.

  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives[1. Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat!. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.]
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner[2. Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.]
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat[3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets[4. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]

Several comments left are completely off base and lacking in a factual basis.  For example,

Fat = Unhealthy

 the fact that you refute fat=unhealthy is completely off base. This is not just some beauty myth. Being overweight truly is unhealthy. It taxes our joints, our organs and every part of our body.

It’s absurd to think being overweight is as healthy as being ideal or average weight.

Uh, no. Sorry.  Not true.  This is an idea promoted by the diet industry not science.  Researchers at Case Western Reserve studied the idea that “fat” taxes our organs when in fact “the idea that fat strains the heart has no scientific basis“.  I recommend this series of articles from Junkfood Science for more information: 

Fat – aka adipose tissue – is not a disease.  It doesn’t cause disease.  It has even been shown to be healthy.  I love this quote from Kate Harding at Shapely Prose;

In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes.

Losing Weight is Easy

 Weight control is pretty simple – eat less and exercise more if you want to lose weight. Maybe they would do it if told/shown how…If I had an overweight child I would help them lose weight and it WOULD happen.

The hubris here defies logic.  Three words: Minnesota. Starvation. Study.  You can read about it here or here.  Of course scores of other researchers have found the same thing like this for example which has a fascinating follow-up where they tried to get thin people to gain weight;

subjects were prisoners at a nearby state prison who volunteered to gain weight. With great difficulty, they succeeded, increasing their weight by 20 percent to 25 percent. But it took them four to six months, eating as much as they could every day. Some consumed 10,000 calories a day, an amount so incredible that it would be hard to believe, were it not for the fact that there were attendants present at each meal who dutifully recorded everything the men ate.

Once the men were fat, their metabolisms increased by 50 percent.

They needed more than 2,700 calories per square meter of their body surface to stay fat but needed just 1,800 calories per square meter to maintain their normal weight.

Within months, they were back to normal and effortlessly stayed there.

So, no.  Losing weight is not easy, simple, or even beneficial in some cases.  Everyone’s body has a healthy size and trying to alter it is nearly impossible and a bad idea.

But I know a fat person that got skinny!  No, you probably know an out of shape person that got in shape.

Stay tuned for part II where I”ll look at the myths of Good vs. Bad Food and the myth of Nutritionism.

15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image

IMG_1081Don’t forget to check out the follow-up post Big Fat Myths About Fat.  Comments are closed on this post since I will be responding via the follow-up posts.  Please comment on the new posts.

I wish I could say the above images were designed by me to make a point about fat-phobia and how poorly kids are treated when they don’t fit society’s ideal of size.  Maybe I threw them together because I thought the SHOCK of seeing kids would help people understand how fat-shaming in adults can feel.

Alas, a group in Georgia actually produced these billboards in an attempt to end childhood obesity. Apparently they thought that shame was a good way to motivate kids to eat healthier and exercise.  Clearly, they also are working under the delusion that size can somehow magically tell you about a person’s health.

I just want to vomit when, in a time where anti-bullying campaigns are making headway, some kids, skinny or fat, had to see this hateful and erroneous message in their towns.  There are plenty of other bloggers that have written about how wrong these ads are (I love this one: What’s Wrong with Fat Shaming?).

Instead, I wanted to revisit a previous post of mine where I talked about how fat-shaming and the fallacy of size=health hurts everyone: skinny and fat.  These billboards didn’t just do a bang up job of making fat kids the target of hate but they also put “being fat” in the minds of kids as being the absolute worst thing that could happen.  Where do we think eating disorders come from?  A self-hatred and fear so strong that young people starve, vomit, over-exercise, take dangerous pills, and otherwise slowly kill themselves is the root of eating disorders.

When we say “fat is bad” we instill that fear.  And it works. Remember the study that showed 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat?  How do you think this billboard effected those numbers?

It is not too late.  As parents we have a powerful influence in how our kids grow up feeling about their bodies and their relationship to food.  Many of them are things we can say (or not say) that have a huge impact.

15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image

    1. Never use the word fat in a derogatory way.  Avoid media that does.
    2. Never imply that you can’t do something or wear something because of your size (“oh, not with these thighs!”)
    3. Never compliment others based on size (how many times is “you look so thin!” the ultimate compliment?)
    4. Point out the beauty of diversity in people and nature – nurture the idea that beauty is diversity.  I love to say “what would the word be if all the flowers looked the same?”
    5. Avoid making physical activity about size or based on what you ate (“I have to jog off that cake”).  Physical activity should be joyful.
    6. Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
    7. Offer a variety of foods and model moderate indulgence and a wide consumption of foods. Eating should be joyful.
    8. Don’t make your kids eat if they say they aren’t hungry[1. Unless you suspect an eating disorder in which case contact your doctor].  The refrain “finish your dinner!” should be stricken from the mommy lexicon.  Better to let them trust their bodies than feel guilt about wasting food.
    9. Don’t deny your kids food if they say they are hungry.  Another area where we often ignore our kids opinions and feelings.  Try to make your pantry a “yes” pantry with a variety of healthy options that your kids can eat when they want.
    10. Never comment on the amount (too little or too much) that your kids eat.
    11. NEVER use food as a reward, incentive, or punishment!  (this is SO abused among parents!!)
    12. Guard your children against negative body-image media – stop your subscriptions to women’s mags, don’t watch Biggest Loser, Toddler and Tiaras (focusing on appearance), and any variety of shows promoting appearance as a route to happiness.
    13. Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).
    14. Encourage alternative means of self-esteem besides appearance – spirituality, values, empathy, effort, etc.
    15. Volunteer!  It is much harder to think of something so superficial as size in the face of true plight.

Sh*t Fat Phobic People Say

I don’t know if you’ve seen this meme lighting up YouTube.  I’m not sure where it started but it consists of videos called “Shit x say to y” where x and y are opposite groups.  E.g. Things White Chicks Say To Black Chicks.  There were a few called Things Fat Girls say that were full of hungry, snack munching, lonely fat chicks.  I thought it needed an answer!

Here is my submission!  Sh*t Fat Phobic People Say.  I was originally going to have a conversation between a fat girl and a skinny girl but the program I used had not a single fat body to choose from!  Notice the title is not what “skinny chicks” say because I’m not trying to stereotype; I’m trying to break down stereotypes.

How many inaccuracies can you spot?

[youtube_sc url=dls1sIfj_Sc width=630]

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