Parents and Food: Healthy Role Models?

A mother brought her young son to me as a nutrition and personal training client. She was concerned about her son’s weight and wanted me to give him nutrition advice and coach him in swimming.

Now, coaching swimming is not a skill I have, but I agreed to be his nutrition coach and also train him at the fitness club. We used gym equipment, water exercises and some swimming. The kid had a great time exercising and “invented” a few pool exercises, using paddleboards. They were vigorous exercises – and he loved them because they were his own creations.

But mom wasn’t happy. She wanted her son to swim (and eat “fruits and vegetables”) so he’d lose weight. Her son was quite defensive about his weight.

Mom #2

A different mother wanted me to meet with her teenage daughter, who was on the school swimming team. She feared her daughter would get fat due to adolescent hormonal changes. She pressured her daughter to skip the snacks served before the after-school training sessions and eat nothing till she got home for dinner.

The daughter said mom never ate anything during the day and just drank green tea. The girl was angry about all of this but afraid to say so.

Food ‘Programs’: Are Any Of These Familiar?

Food programs can take many forms and cover a lot of territory. Many parental quirks about food are passed on to their kids, either intentionally or unconsciously.

This post has more questions than answers, but the questions are worth exploring.

• Do you make your kids clean their plates?

Where did you learn that? As Dr. Phil might say, How’s it working for you?

A father told me that, once his kids put food on their plates, he made them eat all of it. Supposedly, it taught them to gauge their needs, but sounded like child abuse to me. Apparently, dad’s never heard of Tupperware.

• Along the same lines, what are your rules about throwing away food?

The U.S. makes 3950 calories per day for every man, woman and child. Under those conditions, throwing away food isn’t a sin. It’s survival.

Unfortunately, starving children are everywhere, but eating food you don’t need – or making your kids do that – won’t help the starving children.

• Do you serve overly large portions to your kids?

The average stomach is about the size of the person’s fist. Yes, it stretches, but think of the size of a kid’s fist.

• How often do you weigh?

How do you react? Do you strive for a precise weight or accept a range? How does your weight affect your feelings of attractiveness?

• What do you not allow yourself to do because (or when) you feel fat?

• Do you comment negatively about other people’s bodies, weight, shape?

• Do you use food to reward yourself (or your child)?

• Do you use food to alleviate stress or a bad mood?

Two of my clients with very different eating patterns had one thing in common.
One client had anorexia and did anything to keep from eating: she’d sleep, chew gum, drink water, exercise. The other client used food as an answer to virtually everything: fatigue, thirst, bad moods, stress, and more.

What they had in common was that neither one was taking care of her needs. But which one would you admire?

This is a complex topic and, again, brings up more questions than answers. It’s worth becoming aware of the behaviors your children have seen in you, and the ones you’ve encouraged in them.

Rigid thinking around food and weight can send a perfectionistic message. That can be tough for any child to live up to – or overcome.