Monday, September 19, 2011

Modeling Healthful Relationships with Food

Yesterday, I wrote a post about my desire to be deliberate in cultivating family traditions that exemplify the positive values I want to teach to my children.  Along that same line of thought, I’ve been thinking quite a bit today about modeling positive body image and relationships with food for my children, especially if I have daughters. 
Family traditions often center on food – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter meals, certain foods we make for birthday celebrations, perhaps a custom of going out to dinner to celebrate large or small triumphs.  The nightly dinner table often becomes a tradition in itself, hopefully teaching children to eat homemade, healthful foods, and that meals can be used to build up family and community when accompanied by conversation.  The process of making food together and the smells and sounds of food can add to the seasonal traditions of a household.  When I was young, my mother and I would make loaves of holiday bread to give to neighbors and family members for Christmas.  They weren’t made from scratch, but they were made with love and every Christmas season I get an itch to bake breads and give them to our friends and neighbors.
These are the types of memories I want my children to have related to food - food as a positive part of life, which adds to a celebration but is not a celebration itself.  Unfortunately, these are not the only memories I have regarding my mom and food.  My mother has always referred to herself as “being bad” when she ate something unhealthful – a cookies, ice cream, or cake.  And she was “good” if she bypassed the goodies for something more healthful.  As far as I know, my mother has had a fairly positive relationship with food all her life and these comments weren’t part of a deeper issue.  They were said rather off-hand, and when she was “bad” for eating unhealthy foods she didn’t beat herself up about it.  However, these remarks made a very deep impression on me. 
I won’t blame my mother, or her comments, for the struggles I’ve had with body image and my relationship with food, because those issues run much deeper, but I will say that I started to adopt the attitude that I was bad, even sinful, when I ate sweets or junk food.  While she said those things jokingly, I took them to heart.  Thankfully, over the past few years, I’ve left most of my food and body issues behind, but I still can’t help but cringe every time I hear my mom refer to herself as “good” or “bad” regarding her food choices.  Sometimes, when she says this, I want to hug her and tell her that she is good because of her kindness, her love, her intelligence, and compassion, and that a brownie can’t do anything to change it.  But I don’t, because I know that she doesn’t really think a brownie makes her bad, she’s just using it as a manner of speech and it’s ME that’s taking it literally.  What I really want to do is hug my younger self and tell her those same things.
What do your parents do or say that contributed to your positive or negative relationship with food and your body?  How do you mindfully create positive experiences with food and body image for your children?


  1. Thanks for your comments on my SOD blog, Mandi! I like this post too. I can appreciate what you said about 'good' and 'bad' in relation to the type of food eaten. I hope to avoid using those terms around Gianna.

    I'd answer your questions, but they are already answered in my Save Our Daughter you'll have to check out the rest of my posts ;-)


  2. (Dang, I started a long comment and then it deleted!)

    I think this is a good thing to consider. I hadn't thought of your specific example before, but it definitely seems common. My own issue was/is knowing how to stop eating when I'm full - I was raised to clean my plate, period. I thought my husband was so strange when he would stop eating even if there was still food on the plate! But now I'm used to it and really hope we can teach our daughter to know how to listen to her body. Hopefully that heads off other issues.

    Right now we're just starting with family meals. At 9 months, Miriam is expected to wait to eat until we've said grace (I don't serve her food until afterwards) and to sit at the table until we've all finished (not hard because she takes the longest!). We only give her healthy foods and try not to comment on how much she's eaten - if she's hungry, she'll eat! It is hard sometimes not to urge her to eat just one more bite, though.

    My next goal is to get my own snacking in order, since she's probably already more aware than I realize when I snack in front of her!


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