My passion for learning new things has always given me a yen for documentary films. I’ve found several captivating documentaries over the years on HBO and I discovered another this past week when I watched The Weight of the Nation. This much-buzzed-about documentary focuses on the reality of weight in our nation, what has caused the obesity epidemic and what that can be done to combat it. The film shared tremendous insight into the disastrous lifestyle changes the U.S. has undergone over the past few decades, adopting an ever more sedentary lifestyle and a diet that has become ever more abundant, processed and heavily marketed.
This film spoke to me on many levels: as a woman who has battled with her own weight and as a parent. I’ve struggled with maintaining a steady weight since childhood so I’m always looking for perpecitve on all that I have tied up in the issue. Eating is a complex thing. We need to do it for energy, but it goes way beyond mere sustenance as we also eat for pleasure, comfort or just out of boredom. As a child, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to understand this complexity. For many years I would beat myself up and think what’s wrong with me, why can’t I beat this? I would constantly tell myself what I could and couldn’t eat and if I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, I would mentally rake myself over the coals thinking where’s your self control? you’re an embarrassment, etc.
Thankfully as an adult a nutritionist finally challenged me on the benefit of beating myself up. “Does beating yourself up over this yield any positive results?” she asked, “Are you losing weight as a result or feeling any better about yourself afterwards?” The answer of course was “no.” Anyone who has struggled with their weight is probably accustomed to this guilt trip but the truth is, if beating yourself worked, we’d all be thin.
Like any parent reflecting on something that’s brought her misery, I don’t want my children to go through what I went through. My husband has been naturally thin his entire life and I’ve prayed many nights that my children will inherit his metabolism (which they seem to have done thus far). My husband and I try hard to be conscientious about eating healthy food and we do a pretty good job for ourselves but there is room for improvement with the kids, a fact that hit home after watching the documentary. I sat there the next morning watching my children eat their breakfast—mini pancakes, toaster waffles and cereal—and wondering if I was doing right by them. We’ve certainly set our kids up with some good habits, we talk to our children about getting vitamins and minerals and we never have them clean their plates the way I was told to as a child; they’re only required to make a good dent in their fruits and vegetables. They also drink far less juice than they used to, we split juice intake to 50% water, 50% juice both to promote healthy teeth and to avoid excess calories.
But alas, we’re not perfect. The challenges we face in feeding our children are common and myriad. Frankly getting the kids to eat anything can be a challenge (instead of their food palate expanding it appears to be contracting). They’re more likely to eat fish sticks, chicken nuggets, popcorn shrimp or mac n’ cheese than whatever lean protein my husband and I are having. Vegetables are our one non-negotiable, they can have input into which vegetable they prefer—peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli—but they have to have something. Snacks are a bit easier—it’s simple enough to give them an apple of banana– but there are plenty of pitfalls here too, like the “gummy” snacks from the store that aren’t labeled as candy, but may as well be. Our youngest son goes to a daycare that is near a great bakery and we go there once a week to let the kids buy treats. They enjoy it, but is it an innocent treat, or am I reinforcing a behavior of making unhealthy choices?
As a parent there are so many questions that we face every day: are our children getting the love and attention they need from us, are their basic needs being met, are we teaching them the right things, are we preparing them for the future? The question of what we feed them hits on all of these issues. I already understood that on some subconscious level, but watching such a powerful expose brought it to the forefront of my mind.
I am definitely rethinking what my husband and I feed our children and it’s clear we need to make some changes. Nothing radical, but we’re going to work to be more mindful of what we’re feeding the kids and why. Are we feeding them what they need, or just feeding them what they want? The point isn’t to beat ourselves up over it, as I said, we know that doesn’t work. I see this as an opportunity for us to reflect, recalibrate and feel more in control about the decisions we make about food for our children and for ourselves.
It’s heavy to think about, isn’t it?