From the Mouths of Babes
Hi everyone, it's Karen here! Last week, I overheard an intriguing conversation between my 11-year old son and his friend, when the topic of candy came up. It went something like this:
Friend: "I'm only allowed three pieces of candy a day. But sometimes I sneak some."
My son: "My mom isn't really that strict about candy."
Friend: "Maybe that's because you eat home food a lot and it's really healthy."
For context, this friend (sadly) seems to subsist mostly on ultra-processed foods and fast food. So I imagine it catches his attention when he sees me preparing "home food" in my kitchen several nights a week (although I do think his perception of "really healthy" is a bit skewed). But he is clearly aware that his diet and my son's diet look pretty different. And the friend seems to understand the concept of balance. He might be thinking something like "eating more candy is okay if you are eating other healthy foods at home." It reinforces what we already know - we are all born as intuitive eaters who instinctively strive for balance in our food choices. And this kid still has that instinct. Unfortunately, this inherent knowledge gets stifled and second-guessed as we grow into adulthood.
***IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I understand I do not have all the details needed to know why this child is restricted to three pieces of candy per day. There may be reasons I am not aware of such as dental health, behavior concerns, etc. Every family's food dynamic is unique and I respect that!***
But it really caught my attention that this friend admitted to sneaking candy. It made me think of how this plays out in adults, who are intentionally restricting their own intake of foods they enjoy. Many of us are acutely familiar with the deprivation-binge-guilt cycle. Restrict foods until the deprivation becomes overwhelming, give in, binge, drown in guilt, and then repeat the cycle. It is likely that the restriction of candy for this kid is what is actually causing him to sneak candy. Foods become more enticing the more we feel we can't have them (like many things in life). Just as it can feel scary for us, as adults, to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat, it can feel scary for parents to give that to their kids. But that is how kids learn to self-regulate (or more accurately, continue the self-regulation they were born with). And that is how adults and kids alike learn how foods feel in their body, when they are hungry, when they are full and what foods truly give them enjoyment. This is something we should all strive towards for ourselves and the children in our lives.