I come from a long line of big eaters. Both my parents were amazing cooks, and when our family gets together, there are enough leftovers to last for days and days. Healthy appetites seem to be in our genes. My kids often have seconds — sometimes thirds. They like their snacks, and they are healthy and active.
A few weeks ago while dining out at our favorite Chinese buffet, a stranger came up to my daughter and made a huge deal about how much food she had on her plate. "I've never seen anything like it!" he said. "Where are you going to put it all? Do you always eat like this?"
His comments left me cringing because my daughter is a 12-year-old girl who has really started to notice her size. I can tell her reflection in the mirror is important to her, which is typical of course, but not always easy for a parent to notice — we want our kids to know they are so much more than their size. Her cheeks were red and all I could muster was a half smile. I know he didn't mean to make her feel bad or annoy me, but he did both.
My kids don't have a perfect diet (nothing is off limits unless they have food allergies) because I refuse to tell them they aren't allowed to eat candy or chips. I think denying things just makes them want it even more. But for the most part, I think we do okay. I teach them moderation, they help me in the kitchen, and they know the more colorful their plate is, the better.
They are educated about food. I owe some of that to their schooling, and some of that to my relationship with food. I struggled as a teen with anorexia and never want my kids to go through that. It's important to me they don't restrict themselves, make healthy choices, and eat if they are hungry without feeling guilty.
So when people make comments to my kids and say things like, "Where are you going to put all that?" "How can you eat so much?" Or the inexcusable, "You better watch it or that will catch up to you," it sends the message they are eating too much and they should cut back. Which is a lot of pressure for kids. It sends the message that their bodies and what they eat are public property and people are allowed to "police" their diet.
My kids, and many others, eat a lot because they are hungry. They eat a lot because they are growing. They eat a lot because they are active. And it's not an opportunity to make them hyper-aware of every morsel they put in their mouth.
Studies have shown kids start thinking about their size and weight at a dangerously young age. An article in Common Sense Media reports," that multiple factors — especially parents, some media, and peers — are influential."
Let's not add the dysfunction by saying anything about what kids eat. Chances are, whether they eat a ton, or very little, the parents are already on top of it. And hearing these comments, even if our kids don't seem to be listening, are affecting them. We're all doing our best to make sure our kids love their bodies, regardless of size, and that they grow up learning how to move and eat like they love themselves. And we need all the help we can get.