Isn’t it ironic that as parents, people spend all this energy encouraging children to eat, and as adults, people spend all this energy dieting?
We worry, “He’s so skinny, you can see his ribs,” and then spend hours in front of the mirror imagining how great we’d look in these jeans if our bellies didn’t spill over the top? Some parent follow their toddlers around the living room with food because two-year-olds have no interest in mealtimes, we ply little kids with snacks throughout the day, and at the pediatrician’s office we note that they are below average in size for their age so we try to cram them with calories. But in the grocery aisles we look at the calorie count on packages, we ignore the pastries in the bakery windows that are calling our names, and beat ourselves up for eating too much at dinner again.
Some nutritionists believe we have forgotten how to listen to our bodies when we feel full. Instead we have learned to eat until the plate is empty because as children we are told to think of starving people elsewhere… of course, how eating everything on the plate alleviates another person’s hunger is beyond most children’s understanding. I have a memory of being “locked out” of the house as a 4-year-old for not eating my dinner and how panicky I felt. Another memory at age 6 of staying at a friend’s house and being told by the parents that they would not take me back home unless I finished all the chicken liver on my plate (honestly, who serves chicken liver to a 6 y.o., even adults don’t eat chicken liver). I think this might be a reason why I’m such a softie when my son can’t finish his meal or swallow a certain food.
We are not only teaching kids how to eat, we are also trying to teach them to appreciate what we have to eat. It only comes to light how warped we are in our preoccupation with food when we hear our 8-year-olds, 6-year-olds, even 4-year-olds discussing how many calories there are in ice cream, or worse yet how fat they are when they could disappear behind a subway pole. Then we wonder what we are really teaching.