First off, and most importantly, I need to thank all of you who write to me and tell me how helpful “Take the Fight out of Food” has been to you and your family. I would like to open up this blog to be a place you can send in specific questions and I will respond; perhaps this can help others with similar issues, and it is a way for us to begin a conversation.
I am starting this off with a recent query I received; I am publishing it with permission and some changes to preserve anonymity which is what I will do whenever I publish anything that is written in, so no worries that anyone will recognize your identity!
Q) I have 2 sons who are picky and have multiple food allergies. My husband is overweight . I am 39 and have a history of dieting starting in my early teens, even though I have never been more than 20 lbs. heavier than I was in high school. The dieting, as you know, led to bingeing and weight gain. In college I started the binge/purge cycle. I did that for 2 years. I quit and was vegetarian for a while.
Due to my kids’ allergies I started reading about nutrition. Because of what I’ve read, and more, I am now vegan. I enjoy eating this way and I don’t give it much thought. My husband is not on board at all. What do I feed him and the kids?
I’m trying to get the boys off cows milk. One of them likes soy milk and drinks it, and the other is worried about heart disease.
I believe, based on my personal experience, that your way is the best way, i.e, teach them about nutrition and how to listen to their bodies. It develops a healthy relationship with food for life. However, I am having a hard time viewing foods as equal (not good or bad) when the research is telling us differently. Do I share my beliefs with my children? What do I feed them?
Cows milk vs. milk substitute, chicken vs. tofu. I don’t even know if they will eat it.
I recognize that this is an ongoing eating disorder for me. I recently read a book about orthorexia nervosa and could relate to that diagnosis. I don’t want this problem to be passed down.
A) Yikes! First off, you have your hands full with allergies and different needs! Very difficult, and whenever there are specific medical issues, it is important of course to adhere to those.
Secondly, thanks for your openness and willingness to acknowledge your own issues. It can be a lot of what we “bring to the table” along with the food and is a first step to helping us give our kids the best relationship with food, they can have.
Sounds like you are probably going to need to have the milk and soy options. Regarding your husband, I wouldn’t try to convert your husband to this if he flat out refuses, and, I would argue, drinking milk isn’t something you want your child to be worried about.
I understand your concerns with the food industry and how to protect your children the best way you know how. My daughter is a vegan and is often trying to help me and all of us in our family understand her point of view and why she feels so strongly about staying away from meat, dairy and fish.
However, that being said, she is old enough to take responsibility for making sure her body gets the additional vitamins that she is missing and she shops and often cooks her own food. (Not always, we do help out, but it is not something everyone in the family wants to eat this way all the time.) Given your husband’s reluctance to take on a vegan diet and how young your kids are and that their growing bodies do need the vitamins gotten through more easily obtained foods, I think it best to wait until they are older and let them make the decision.
I think it is easy to get really worried about all kinds of different types of food, for all kinds of reasons. I do believe in moderation though, as the best defense against not only allergies, but also obsessional thinking about food, and I think it is important to give kids the tools to help them feed their bodies well, know the variety of food groups that they need and how to take responsibility for those choices so that they are equipped to also deal with the outside world when they are on playdates, at school, and can’t always eat exactly the way you might like at home. Nothing wrong with having a vegan diet yourself, and exposing them to your meals, this may sensitize their palate and they may end up making that choice when they are older, but I wouldn’t over worry about their exposure to a non vegan diet.
Make sure they know what their bodies need. Help them figure out how to ‘balance’ the food groups that they are having, even if they are a picky eater. Teach them about the reasons the different food groups are important and what they do. One of the best things you can do to give them a healthy relationship with food is to educate them about why their bodies need calcium, protein, vitamins and vegetables. Connect the benefits to the activities they love, and help them to know their own bodies and eating styles. Even a picky eater can be getting enough within the limits and the different food groups. (Chapter 4 has specific information about what say, a 7 year old needs in terms of protein, or a 1 year old and the amounts of calcium.) Help them stay connected to their bodies, so that they don’t eat from their head, but rather from how they feel from the inside. Chapter 5 has a 1-7 Hunger Fullness Scale adapted for kids, so that they can figure out how much to eat that works for their own bodies.
Most importantly, try to help take some of their fears out of eating. You don’t want your kids developing too much anxiety over the foods that they might want to eat, or will end up needing to eat, because it is too difficult for them to limit their exposure. Try to adopt a ‘for the most part’ attitude about their eating habits, which helps deal with anxiety over needing to eat a ‘perfect’ diet. It sounds like you are doing the best you can for your kids, and they will profit from your concern to feed them healthy, you just don’t want to overdo it. You might have ongoing excessive anxiety about food that is making sense to you with all the information about the food industry, but be aware of how your anxiety may be funneled into this rationale, and how it may be spilling over into your kids; and their worries about food. Any eating disorder is accompanied by extreme anxiety, so be sure to address that, and then try to be help your kids be less worried about the foods they eat.