- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Why You Should NOT Force-feed Your Kids!
I Have To Eat All This?
If They Say They Are Full Believe Them
I am sure my childhood was not abnormal when it came to eating habits. My sisters and I were told from a very young age that we were not allowed to leave the table until our plates were clean. When and where did parents learn that it was healthy to force feed their children before they could be excused? Infants are born with the ability to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, even when ounces of milk are left in the bottle (Earthbest.com). This notion of forcing your child to keep eating even when their body is telling them they are full has become indoctrinated into our culture. Perhaps this idea has been passed down from our parents and grandparents who lived during a time when food was less abundant as it is today. However, this is not the reality most millennial parents cope with these days. My own parents taught me to clean my plate at each meal because not doing so was wasteful. It was a sign of respect to eat all my food so my father’s hard earned money did not go to waste. However outdated this idea may be, many parents continue to teach their children that leaving food on their plates comes with consequences.
Studies have shown that children who are taught at an early age to eat everything on their plate even when they are full leads to obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders (McCormick,Globapost.com). Research has also shown that children who are force-fed have a harder time self-regulating their meals as adults, causing them to over-restrict, overeat or binge eat later in life. I too can attest to the fact that being force-fed as a child has given me an unhealthy relationship with food as an adult. Being told to continue eating during dinner even though I wasn’t hungry has left me confused about portion size, with being able to tell when I am really hungry, and has caused me to binge eat. As a child I wasn’t a picky eater and did enjoy fruits and vegetables. I am not passing all the blame over to my mother, who in her own right was busy raising four children. However, she did not teach her daughters how to prepare healthy snacks, or make foods that appealed to us readily available, other than the apple or banana laying on the kitchen table. My mother herself struggled with food and her weight and was constantly on a diet. I learned to eat through my emotions whether it be anger, sadness, or happiness. We used food in my home in many ways and not always for sustenance. Food was used as a reward for almost anything or taken away for bad behavior. As the years went by I was slowly but gradually gaining weight, yet still being forced to clean my plate at dinner.
When my weight gain finally did become apparent to my parents, the blame was set on my shoulders and not theirs. I was told at age 10 to stop eating so much and exercise more. Treats were slowly being taken away and dessert wasn’t even an option anymore. My self-esteem plummeted and I began to self-restrict my food and count calories before I even hit puberty. I entered my first Weight Watchers program in the summer before middle school, and of course was the youngest member enrolled. I learned to count calories like a pro, weigh all my food, and never over-indulge in snacks before dinner. I stopped going over to friends’ homes in fear that I wouldn’t be able to control my eating. This was the time I began the on and off cycle of binging and restricting: something I have been doing for over seventeen years now.
As a teenager my perception of my body was not a positive one, rather one that paved the way for an unhealthy relationship with food as I grew older. Always considered the fat kid at school, I was teased relentlessly and was referred to as “Slimfast” to most. I learned to hide my eating in public, ashamed if anyone in my class saw me eating. I began skipping lunch at school and gorging at home alone in my room. I did not understand what portion control meant or how to listen to my body when I was hungry. I ate my emotions and withered deeper into a depression that did not fully lift until I was in my twenties. The sit downs with my parents at the dinner table over my weight became a monthly occurrence as the scale continued to climb. “But you did so well a year ago, what happened?” my mother would ask as tears ran down my cheeks. Never did they think that what they were doing or not doing was also causing my weight gain. They did not stop stocking the house with chips, cookies, and soda. They did not tell my younger sister what to eat or how much. The openly gave us money for pizza on Friday nights when they wanted to go out and have a free babysitter. I didn’t complain and my baby sister didn’t judge. My life continued down this path until I hit my freshman year of high school and weighed over 200 pounds. At 5’7” I was able to hide some of my weight with baggy clothes but it didn’t stop the hate-filled teasing from my peers. I was No longer in middle school, yet the same bullying continued. I felt trapped in my own body, suffocating from my fat, low self-esteem, and pure hatred of myself.
Negative body image among young girls has risen in recent decades and is attributed to the many eating disorders plaguing adults today. Images of thin models, actresses, and singers are plastered on T.V., ads, magazines and all over the internet. Girls are taught at an early age that being thin is the ultimate goal, even when accomplished using dangerous measures. Restricting food and over exercising are quick fixes I grew up using as a teenager, never realizing the damage I was doing to my body let alone self-image. A recent study conducted in the U.K. found that girls between the ages of 7 and 12 desired slimmer bodies (Marsh, Dailymail.com). It is outrageous that at such a young, impressionable age, many girls have negative self-images of themselves, and desire to be thinner than what is considered a healthy weight. The study revealed that many children aspire to weigh even less than what is considered healthy for their age, gender, and height. Sadly few studies have been published that correlate the effects of being forced fed as a child paired with the media influences promoting thin frames that ultimately result in negative body images in girls.
Although I am no health expert, I can attest to the fact that being force-fed as a child, coupled with an unstable home with parents who did little to support a positive self-image of myself, all contributed to my demise with food as an adult. It has taken me years, and continues to be a struggle to find the balance between being happy with my weight while still enjoying food. I continue to panic when I jump on the scale and see that I have gained five pounds. I still will myself to exercise everyday even when I am tired. I still live in fear of being teased or mocked for my weight. These are struggles that will take time to heal completely even with the small changes I have made. I try to make healthy food choices while out at restaurants, and allow myself a few “cheat” days a month. I have overcome a lot in my life and yet my weight continues to be a struggle. My negative self-image has taken its toll on my marriage, and my husband has paid the price. Even though I have been with my husband for almost a decade, I still cringe when he catches me naked, and showers together are pretty much off the table. I want to allow myself to heal completely from the wounds of my past that continue to plague me today. I want to walk down the street and feel confident in my own body. I don’t want to hide behind oversized clothes or wish that I could just lose those last 10 pounds. It will take time, I know, but in the end I realize I am heading down a positive path, back towards loving myself and accepting myself for who I am, whatever size that may be.