Healthy Eating Habits: Shaming is not Educating

I’ve noticed several times now that when I say I keep sugary foods away from my children or teach them that, say, soda is bad for them, I am told that the person does not want to inflict a “zero tolerance” policy on their child or cause them to “be denied sugar now and then go crazy later.”

This has honestly baffled me for some time. I’m not entirely strict about sugar, either. But, yes, I have told my children that soda is bad for them and if they never drink it in their life, they are for the better. Now, if my children see me get it, they yell at me. We eat fairly liberally, too, perhaps a bit too liberally. But I do keep most cookies, candy, etc., out of our house.

I think I figured it out, however. I think it is the difference between shaming and educating.

What the parent is responding to is shaming. Someone attempted to shame them, as a child, out of sweets. Their parent had a controlling, bossy, domineering posture over them while denying it. Probably they didn’t trust the child. They likely felt children naturally want to eat sweets at all times and it was up to them to guard them against this evil. Or whatever. I actually have little experience with it to describe it well.

I grew up with the opposite. Junk food was always in our house. Two bins of cookies, several types of potato chips all on a shelf, white cheddar cheese popcorn, various Little Debbie stuff, and ice cream in the freezer. My parents went shopping every Thursday, and I knew it. Most stuff was gone by Saturday, except a trickle here or there. And when I got fat from it, it was “my fault” because I made “bad choices.” I see people actively give this very parenting advice now, too; the “you made your choices now live with it” advice. I disagree. I do think children need healthy examples set before them and parents who make fairly reasonable choices as to what they bring into the house. I write about it warn others. I lived that. It’s also toxic.

I think shame has been part of our culture so long that it’s difficult to needle out healthy education from shame. I mean, shame is built right into traditional education. Kids even get graded on their homework, which should just be just healthy, mistake-friendly practice. You get a big fat F if you fail. We’re proud of it. Anyone who disagrees with this system is obviously lazy right?

So, anyway. There is a difference between healthy education and shame. I have a general trust in my children. I trust they know their own needs. They know their own hunger cues. Yes, our culture is a bit toxic when it comes to food. Sugar is addicting and offered at every corner. That aside, children genuinely do know their needs. Some have written that children need higher levels of fat and glucose for their developing brains. So, children’s demands for milk and sugar at least make sense. It’s unfortunate that our culture has fruit snacks instead of fruit. But dates, dried fruit, and even maple syrup are actually great for their developing minds. And they need milk, too. It’s too bad we malign breastfeeding past a certain age.

I do teach my children about sugar’s effect on insulin. When my children ask me the healthiest thing we can drink, I say water. When they ask me the worst, I say soda. When they ask me about the healthiest thing we can eat, I say chicken soup. When they ask me the worst thing we can eat, I say candy.

At this point, yes, they do enjoy candy on occasion. But they often regulate themselves. “I’ll have half of this bag.”–My 8-year-old on his favorite candy, Skittles. My daughter, after eating pizza and ice cream one night, pondered how she still was so healthy after eating so many unhealthy things. (A discussion followed that when and why we eat is sometimes more important than what.) So. They ate the food. They are armed with knowledge. I keep them generally away from the worst of offenses out there (soda). But ultimately I do trust that they will grow up to make healthy, wise choices.

Tell me your thoughts. Because this seems like a super emotional issue for people. And it’s one I think we may need to work through to get to healthier eating habits. I think people’s past needs addressed. What was your relationship with food? What body image issues did you have? What fears do you have and what fears are you operating on?

Perhaps seeing successful paradigms put in place live in front of us can heal this part of our culture.

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