Part Two, Y’all: Sections 2 through 5. In which we talk about talking about food.
2. Fat is a necessary part of every body.
The role of the body is to store fat. Surprise. That is the literal point. Tell your kids that when you are talking about bodies. Say to them ‘Hey kid did you know that a really important thing that our bodies do is store fat and that is what has kept our species going in times of famine? Did you know that our body can burn fat to keep us warm when we are cold? Our fat is an important part of keeping us alive! ISN’T THAT AMAZING???’ Fat is not a thing our kids should fear, it is a thing they should understand. The more we can buffer kids from the fear of fat, the better – cause that fear sets our kids up for worry, low self-esteem, and a solid shot at disordered eating, all because of a part of our bodies that we all need to goddamn survive. Fat is just fat. I don’t want my kid afraid of any part of her body. Because bodies, and the parts they are made of, are flipping amazing and if our kids learn that from us, then they are less likely to believe any random busybodies who try to tell em different.
3. Be value neutral about food.
We talk about the benefits of food for our bodies in terms of energy. In our house, there is no such thing as a food that is ‘bad’ for you. We never talk about clean eating or healthy vs unhealthy eating – That kind of talk is FORBODDEN. Every kind of food serves a purpose. Food is not just about nutrition, it is comforting, celebratory, ceremonial – this is as important to us as the role food plays in keeping us alive and our bodies working well. So, for us foods like candy or cookies are treats and they taste good, and feel special to us. That is important. Other foods like bread and pasta give us short energy really quick which is good when we are feeling low and need a speedy surge, Things like fruit give us quick energy that also lasts a little longer than say, white bread. Protein gives us energy that takes a while to get going and then gives us a ton of steady, over time, energy. We have found that talking about food in terms of energy is value neutral and teaches our kid about how to mix and match food to get the right kinds of energy, for the right activity, when she needs it. For example, if she is going outside to play and is feeling hungry, she knows that she should snack on something that will give her a quick jolt of energy and probably something that will give her more lasting energy. That could be a cookie and some tuna, or cheese and crackers, apple and peanut butter, or carrots and hummus – really any number of things. This teaches her that food is an important part of her life and helps her do the things that she wants. It also eliminates the idea that food is bad, cause y’all once our kids learn from us that certain foods are bad, then that opens the door for the rest of the world to get a chance to tell them what is bad too, and that is where (if they have blessedly not started at home) fucked up relationships with food can begin. Don’t let other people get their twisted food relationship tenterhooks into your kids – no one needs to feel shitty for eating a potato, and yet, here we are. Protect your kids from that garbage. FOOD IS NOT BAD. IT IS LITERALLY ESSENTIAL TO LIFE.
4. Listen to your belly.
Since our kid was little we have been asking her to listen to her belly. My partner did a ton of research on how to talk to kids about food and read something about telling kids their job is to fill their bellies. We were into it, and because we like to amp shit up, we made it a HUGE thing in our house. Our kid’s belly is a girl (Natch) and babes, she has got a lot to say. When our kid eats more that she needs, her belly lets her know. When my kid wants a snack, we ask her belly what kind of food she needs so she can get the energy she needs. Her belly tells her when she is full. That belly is wise as hell and teaching our kid to listen to that wisdom has meant that she checks in with herself on the regular. She lifts her shirt, gives her belly a look, and really listens. Her belly also tells her when she has eaten too much and when that happens we have a conversation (a kind, compassionate curious convo) about what we could do next time to help our belly not feel sick from eating when she had already had enough- like listen to your belly ahead of time, take breaks from eating so your belly can take stock of what it wants etc. Our kid has had conversations with us about how her belly sometimes tricks her because the food tastes so good so we have talked about how sometimes our belly needs a moment to finish enjoying her food so she can then figure out when she is done and avoid feeling sick afterwards. Now, obvi, no one needs to be that literal, but regular belly check ins do tell us when to eat, what to eat, and when to stop eating. We have also found that bellies generally don’t believe in diet culture so that is a bonus.
5. ‘Too Much’ sugar.
Have you ever heard someone say too much sugar is not good for you? Wait don’t even dignify that with an answer. How about someone saying, ‘too much steak is not good for you?’ or ‘too much lettuce is not good for you’? My guess is a strong ‘probs not’ on those last two. And yet the truth is that ‘too much’ of any one food is not good for you. There are a million complex reasons people choose the foods that they do for themselves and their families and honestly, I’m not interested in getting into this debate with anyone. The bottom line is that a positive relationship with food is more important than our kids understanding that simple sugars aren’t the greatest. ESPECIALLY SINCE LITERALLY THE WHOLE WORLD IS TEACHING HER THAT. That information does not protect you from disordered eating. Seeing food as positive and a way to fuel our lives does.
Part 3 tomorrow – I told you it was SUPER LONG. Your fave has a lot to say about this one.