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Toddlers, Food, and Trust

I was reading Why I Don’t Watch My Kids’ Weight by LiveOnceJuicy this morning, and I love it. Have I mentioned I love it? Because I do — I love the idea that we can give kids the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about food and lifestyle without making it about weight. But it got me thinking.

Food is hard, especially when it comes to feeding Miles. Some of it is that he’s 2, and trying to do anything reasonably with him is a nightmare these days. A lot of it is that I don’t understand what healthy, unmarred food impulses look like. My relationship with food is a rocky one. I eat for one of three reasons.

  1. I’m hungry.
  2. I’m not coping with something emotionally.
  3. Something sounds really, really good and I want it in my mouth right now, fullness or food sensitivity be damned.
We all know that #1 is good; you should eat when you’re hungry. We all know that #2 is bad; you shouldn’t eat your emotions. #3 is iffy for me, though I believe in me it represents a lack of self-control that colors a lot of my life — I don’t want to wait until tomorrow, or even dinner, to have something that suddenly occurs to me as delicious. I have a craving. I want to sate it. Now.
So, I have a basic common-sense understanding of how I should feel about food, though I don’t always apply that logic when I’m wrist deep in a gallon-sized bowl of popcorn. As such I’m sometimes stumped for what to expect a child who, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really have cravings1 nor the impulse to turn to box of macaroni & cheese for emotional support. 
I let him eat when he’s hungry. I lay out his fruit in the morning and leave the plate in the same spot. Some mornings he devours it, and others it might take him all day to get through one apple. He drinks water or sometimes milk or slightly less often juice — and sometimes I have a pop and he drinks that. Really, I let him eat on a basis of, “As long as he’s eating something.”

Again, I have the logical knowledge. I know that three large meals a day is not the healthiest way to eat — though I also know that three healthy meals are damn good things. Miles has been eating on demand all his life, and I know that he knows his body a damn lot more than I do; he is the best judge of when he’s hungry, and to a certain extent even what he needs. I’ve found the easiest way to guide that is to have certain momma-approved foods2 in the house, and let him take it from there.

It’s just… Sometimes he hardly seems to eat anything at all, and I can never tell if it’s because I have no concept of healthy food portions or because he really hasn’t eaten that much today.

Like a lot of adults my age, I grew up with the dual messages of “You’re (getting) fat, that’s bad,” and “Clean your plate, or you’re be in trouble — not to mention no dessert!” Neither was exactly explicitly stated like that — okay, the clean your plate thing, sure — but until I hit a certain age there was less following natural hunger cues and more avoiding punishment while reaching sweet tasty treat nirvana.

I know now that treats as a reward make them more desirable, and that all the time spent cleaning my plate may have skewed how my body interprets being hungry. I’m not going to lie: I can pack away herculean amounts of food before I feel full. And I’m not blaming my parents/grandparents for this; it’s not like they were trying. It just happened.

It takes a lot for me to trust that Miles is eating enough, especially recently as he got taller and when he lays down his little ribs poke out. I kind of have to do what we did when he was breastfeeding regularly: is he peeing? is he active? does he seem sick?

Meanwhile, I have to lay my food hang-ups by the wayside and try to model a healthy eating and lifestyle as best I can manage. It kind of sucks — I want a fucking gallon-sized bowl of popcorn right now — but at the same time I recognize it as a good thing.

I can do this now and redraw my relationship with food — and help avoid seeing the same issues mirrored in Miles as he grows.

That last part? That’ll be the best part.

1. He does have things he likes more than others — if he’s drinking milk and he sees me with a can of pop he will come to steal my drink, which is an interesting reminder to save my junk food for when he’s asleep or not looking take better care of what I’m ingesting.
2. Not always to be mistaken for healthy foods. I try to an extent, but like I said earlier — hot dogs.