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Kids and Diet Language



Donuts with filling

Every few weeks, my husband and I get donuts from our favorite donut shop. While our 2.5 year old daughter has seen us eat donuts, she’s never asked to try them. As we  were picking out our donuts yesterday, the employee asked our daughter if she wanted a donut hole. A little confused, she pointed to the crumbled one. Naturally I was a little nervous; would this open the floodgates into unhealthy eating? Is this where childhood obesity starts? One donut hole?


She took a small bite, put it back down on her plate, and then went to play. There was no drama and it didn’t turn into her asking for more. It was just a food like any other she tried.


When was the last time you were able to do that with a highly palatable food like a donut? As adults, especially adults with tendencies to overeat or use food as a buffering agent for emotions, we use food to change our emotional state. We know that sugar produces pleasure. Donuts are pleasurable, so for me, it’d be pretty difficult to pick up my favorite donut, take just a nibble and then walk away from it. 


As a professional in the health and wellness space and as someone that struggled with both heavy restriction and binge eating, I’m in an interesting position. On the one hand, I’m hyper aware of all the harmful products in today’s food industry that are targeted toward children, and yet I also work with women with prior histories of disordered eating. Some of my clients were dragged to their first Weight Watchers meeting at age 8. Others were constantly told that they were getting fat even before puberty hit. I was raised in a household where the typical greeting was, “you’ve gained weight” or “you’ve lost weight. That said, I have to be equally aware of diet language.


Social media didn’t exist when I was a kid. So if my generation of women and older are growing up with diet trauma, and this is without the IG comparison game, photoshopping and AI, can you imagine what additional pressure our kids may have?


While we don’t have control over what happens when she goes to school or when she gets older, we can shape the conversation that we have over food and body image in our home. 


When we talk about food, we use words like more nutritious and makes your body feel good and strong versus labeling food as bad. While we buy mostly whole foods, I love baking, so there are always treats in our freezer. If we’re having a cookie, we’re not going to refuse her one. Those cookies taste good, but there’s little nutritional value in them. Our stance is, if we feel like she shouldn’t be having a specific food, then we have to question why we’re eating it.


We offer our daughter the same foods that we are eating. If we’re eating beef or chicken, we put it on her plate too. If we have a cookie for dessert and she wants to try it, she tries it. 

 

While we don’t buy a lot of ultra processed food, she’s at an age now where if we’re at a gathering and someone else is eating a particular food, she may be curious and want to try it. While we know that some foods provide little nutritional value, we won’t disallow her from eating it if she wants to try it. We know that injecting our biases may only make her rebel with nutrition or develop unhealthy eating patterns later in life.


Empowering our toddler with choice has allowed her to be more vocal about which foods she wants to try. We know that her tastebuds will change, but we want to continue to encourage her to try a variety of foods. She still spits out most vegetables but loves beef, chicken, salmon burgers, broccoli, apples and bananas. Some days she’ll eat beef, broccoli and apples, and other days she insists on crackers. She doesn’t understand nutrition yet, but she does understand what a tummy ache is.


When we discuss food, we don’t focus on labeling it as either good or bad because when we demonize food or attach morality to it, we can set up disordered patterns of thinking about food. No food is inherently good or bad. Instead, food can be more or less nutrient dense. Some foods contain more vitamins and minerals than others. Some foods give us more energy for longer periods of time. Other foods with less nutrients may make us feel good for a few minutes, and then we feel tired.


We always circle back to how the food will make us feel. Do we want to feel strong and energized or tired and sluggish?


I am not an expert in parenting. I am simply a woman with a prior history of disordered eating that now works in health and wellness and I want to do my best in modeling healthy behaviors for my daughter.


If you’re reading this, you probably want the same for your kids. So the question I’m going to leave you with is this: do you want your kids to have the same relationship with food and their bodies as you do with yours?

If not, it’s not too late to change.


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