Being anxious and guilty around food isn't good for anyone. It's not good for us and it's not good for our kids.
But yet we are....
In the US alone, 30 million people will be diagnosed with an eating disorder at some time in their lives. 40-60% of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat, and such concerns may persist throughout life. (www.behavioralnutrition.org)
Guilt sucks! It is the murderer of fun and the destroyer of relationships. It keeps us up at night and it causes us to gain or lose extra weight. And it doesn't belong in the world of eating. But who can get rid of guilt?
Most of us remember feeling some sort of guilt or maybe even shame around food and eating in our families. So what can we do to stop the cycle since many of us carry anxiety around eating from our own childhoods into our parent-child or provider-child relationships?
No one can be guilt-free in this world, we just need to be aware of what we're feeling, take stock, and take a few simple steps to start enjoying food as a family again.
First of all, it can be helpful to take a look at the way other nations view food before we start to re-frame our own thinking. In France, where the rate of obesity is 10% less than the US, the people tend to stress the quality of food over quantity. Smaller portions seem just as good. Especially if they're beautiful portions.
After vising Paris last summer, I came back with some new information about how they think about food over there because I'm constantly eavesdropping on family conversations. What I heard and saw was a complete lack of guilty feelings around food and families actually enjoying high calorie treats together without making excuses.
You can read my whole article on Why French Kids and Adults Aren't Obese here or How I Became a Qualitarian and Changed my Relationship with Food Forever.
Secondly, we can use family meals to promote a feeling of family togetherness instead of conflict.
In Denmark, where the people have been voted the happiest in the world every year since 1973, they really know how to enjoy meals as a family. Hygge, the Danish term for "family coziness" is very important there and meals are no exception to the rule. The Danes make their meals fun and relaxing family experiences. They wouldn't approve of the kind of nagging or cajoling that happens so frequently at American tables.
So what can we do to make that better? After 43+ years of eating meals daily with very young children, I can tell you this. We can divide the responsibility for parents and children at meals and in doing so put an end to a lot of the arguing. It goes like this....
Parents and/or providers keep the responsibility for providing nutritious meals and snacks at regular and predictable intervals and children have responsibility for eating what they want of it until they feel full and excusing themselves.
If sugars and/or processed grains are involved, that's OK, just be sure to portion those out to avoid pitting family members against each other. That's it. Stop arguing and start enjoying each other's company during meals. That's what really matters.
Thirdly and most important in my mind are the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements, (1997, Allen-Amber Publishing, San Rafael, CA)
Just do your best. Your best can change from one moment to another, from one day to another Your best will also change over time. If you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don't judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame and self-punishment.
Don Miguel Ruiz
Do your best because you can, forgive yourself because you're human.
Thanks for stopping by and reading this today.
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Nanci J Bradley, 60+, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI