Eating Habits: Healthy Relationship With Food (cont.)

One of my central beliefs is that we can only really enjoy and appreciate food if we are actually paying attention to the fact that we are eating on some level. Sitting at a table together as a family, I believe, is a grounding and stabilizing force, which although we may be talking and sharing memories, reinforces the fact that it is mealtime. I believe it is normal and healthy to share joy and life together at the meal table with food, and restoring the tradition to the act of eating creates a healthy relationship with food. Furthermore, the fact that your children know that there will be a consistent meal on the table gives them stability and reassurance as it relates to food, and it also symbolizes that you give them permission as well as yourself permission to eat.

My only concern is whether or not you're doing all the cooking. You mentioned your kids are teenagers. Are they participating in helping prepare the meals or are you the lone chef? Involving them in the preparation of the meal as well is not only good for them, but relieves some of your own burden.

Member: Do you think mindless eating (munching in front of the TV, etc.) is responsible for some of the worst eating habits in our society?

Oliver-Pyatt: Absolutely. As I stated earlier, it's my belief that we have lost our ability to truly enjoy and appreciate the presence of food in our life with our chaotic, high-pressure society. True enjoyment of food requires that we first declare and acknowledge the fact we are eating. A truly healthy relationship with food requires again that we declare and acknowledge the fact of eating. Many of us sneak food in, eating it mindlessly while we watch TV, drive in the car, and sit in front of a computer. Are we truly enjoying food or are we creating a numbed emotional state in which our mind and body are disconnected?

On a behavioral level, by simply making a commitment to turning off the television and sitting at the kitchen or dining room table and eating food off of a plate or out of a bowl is the first step toward connecting your mind and body while you eat. Incidentally, I think it is very important for everyone in the family to do this, whether or not they are children or adults, or whether or not they are concerned about their weight. There is a direct correlation for children's tendency to become obese and the number of hours they spend watching TV.

Member: What steps can we take with our children to help them avoid an unhealthy food relationship?

Oliver-Pyatt: Step 10 in my book Fed Up is called "Give to the Next Generation." There is tremendous confusion about how to help children develop a healthy relationship with food. Many children are indeed obese or overweight in our society. In fact, there's been an increase of 50% since the 1960s of overweight, obese, or extremely obese children. Our children put on excess pounds because of a steady diet of junk food, television, and video games, and sometimes they merely put on a few pounds of baby fat as a normal and healthy result of aging.

We respond, in our society, by doing the same thing with children as we do to ourselves, that is, we attempt to put children on diets or to externally control their intake of food. Unfortunately, our children will respond in the same way that adults respond to dieting, that is to develop increased food compulsity. Furthermore, dieting is the first step in the direction of developing eating disorders. No youth wakes up with an eating disorder on a Saturday morning. Eating disorders start off with dieting.

So what can we do instead? I outline the seven essential keys to preventing eating disorders and obesity in my book. I will tell you the first key is to love your child unconditionally. This is especially important if your child is developing a weight problem, because one can be fairly certain that they will be teased and that they may have a tendency towards developing low self-esteem. We must therefore teach our children to respect and love themselves based on values that are truly meaningful. To be fit, your child must first love him or herself and have your unconditional love, as well.

Moving on to another key point, it is important to foster healthy attitudes about food, for example, as I mentioned earlier, by eating in the kitchen and the dining room with the television turned off. If you are a parent who is uncomfortable in your relationship with food, it is important to contain this and not model disordered eating for your children. In other words, watch the comments you make about your own relationship with food, such as "I'm such a pig, I shouldn't be eating this or other demeaning self-talk that your children may hear.

It is very important to provide consistent meals and snacks for your children. They are the ones who will decide if and how much they will eat. That is their job, not yours. It is your job to provide them with consistent meals and snacks that are satisfying and diverse.

Member: I can see so much of myself in what you say. But how do we change a lifetime of habitual behavior?

Oliver-Pyatt: To change a lifetime of habitual behavior we must make a decision to recognize the problem and to prioritize our need to address the problem. It is truly far past the time in our society for us to become "fed up" with the diet industry and with cultural pressures to pursue a body size and shape that makes no biological sense. Dieting trivializes the relationship between food, body and self. It is time to take ourselves seriously as human beings with physiological and emotional needs that are important and serious.

One must be willing to embark upon emotional work that is necessary to address this problem. It is through this emotional work that we can achieve fitness of mind and body for the duration of our lives.


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