9 Things to Avoid Saying to Kids About Food
Our thoughts and beliefs about foods and eating are programmed at a very young age by media and by the people around us, especially our parents, who, in many ways, become role models on even subconscious levels. Spoken language about how to eat that we convey to children may be powerful and create a strong ripple effect throughout a child’s life into adulthood. Here are some typical phrases that I hear parents say to their children:
(1) “No playing with your food!”
From a very young age, our creativity with foods and eating is stifled. We are told not to get messy, not to get food on our clothes, and definitely not to play with food and make games out of eating. So what happens to us as adults with this message deep inside our psyche? We stop having fun. We might see eating as a serious occasion. Purely functional, and not enjoyable. The connecting, communal aspects of eating have been overriden by our need to get back to work and to the drudgery. To reverse this message within, indulge in your foods – play with them, maybe in an adult way, like engaging in food photography or fantastic food creations and unlikely, yet tantalizing, food combinations. By doing so, we will catapult ourselves out of the mud of the doldrums of daily eating and into the pleasure, play, and passion of the essence of eating!
(2) “No dessert until you finish your meal…”
On several levels, we have received the message that we do not get a reward unless we have accomplished a task. Our society is very goal-oriented, laden with expectations. In a nutshell, if you don’t achieve, you don’t succeed. This mentality turns out many perfectionists, overachievers, ruthless competitors, and, ultimately, lots of ulcers, inflammation, and mental frustration. When we permeate this thinking into our meals, we become focused on “doing it right” – the “analysis paralysis” of eating. Eating is no longer an intuitive, instinctual activity, but another thing to master on our to-do lists, another aspect of our lives to conquer, to have control over. We can help to overcome this mentality by letting go of doing “nutrition by number” — in other words, releasing our hold on calories, carbs, proteins, and meeting the RDAs of the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals ad nauseum. Instead of nutrition having a hold on us, and controlling us through our tendency to put our approach into categories, boxes, and classifications, not to mention die-ts, we can free ourselves from limiting thinking by surrendering to our body’s inherent wisdom and listening to our inner messages and physiological needs.
(3) “Finish everything on your plate!”
How many people eat at a restaurant, or even at home, and feel obliged to finish everything because they “paid good money for it”? Children hear this message from their parents. We program ourselves to stuff ourselves in spite of our true heartfelt needs. We lose sight of our limits and boundaries by using the plate as a target for determining how much to take in. Our inner voice becomes drowned out by the artificial, and unserving boundaries that we find ourselves confronted with on our plates. Re-form your limits and boundaries by re-leasing your views on “completion”. Rather than fixate on the end goal, engage yourself in the unwinding, unraveling process of learning and experiencing foods and eating!
(4) “No laughing at the dinner table.”
As children, my sister and I were told by my strict parents not to laugh at the dinner table. We couldn’t laugh in church. We couldn’t laugh in the classroom. The stifling of a child’s inner joy and the expression of his laughter can program us to be serious adults later in life. We lose our sense of play and fun, and what it means to have a good time. Life becomes about working rather than playing, and often, to the detriment of our complex inner world. Let go of being serious by loosening up…eat for hours with friends, like they do in the Mediterranean region of Europe. Eating is about connection, about pleasure, and about sharing who we are with the community at large.
(5) “Feel bad? Let’s go for ice cream.”
Your pet dies, your parents take you to get a new one. Your best friend betrays you, you quickly find a new friend. Your boyfriend breaks up with you, you seek a new mate. We are used to messages of “filling in the hurt” rather than allowing ourselves to experience the pain and emotions deep within us so that we can simply “be” with them, ultimately letting them flow and exit the body. Food becomes like a band-aid, a quick fix to help heal the hurts that are too painful to look at. No wonder that 75% of overeating is due to emotions! For correcting forward, honor your emotions, learn from your hurts, and flow with your expression so that you don’t pack on the pounds.
(6) “If you’re good, you get a treat!”
So, if you feel bad you are taught that something sweet will cure you. However, on the other side of the continuum, if you are GOOD, you also get to indulge! It’s a never-ending “feed”-back loop. We never get to deal with the messy emotions, even when they are good. We sink them into something sweet and creamy (i.e., ice cream). How can we let go of the quest for the eternal treat (the carrot in front of the horse), and focus on our inner joy and peace through positive thinking, actions, and words? The healing begins with your next bite! Let the goodness come through you rather than from the outside in…
(7) “Don’t you realize that kids in Africa are starving? You should feel thankful to eat!”
Oh, the guilt. The guilt of eating the “wrong” foods, the guilt of eating too much of the “right” foods…do we ever give ourselves a break? We surely need it (even McDonald’s says so!). Kids are programmed with guilt early on — being fed the message that they are lucky to eat, to survive; in the end, all enjoyment is robbed from the eating experience and replaced with that of fears of survival, safety, and trust. Once we enter into the game of comparison, we enter into a never-ending battle – whether we try to keep up with the Joneses or we try to ensure that we don’t have “too much” so that we feel guilty for having money or other resources. The solution here is to let go of guilt, and embrace eating for the planet. Develop an awareness of your connection to the lineage of the food supply, and do what you can to cultivate consciousness for yourself and extend that to others as best you can.