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“Just don’t bring it into the house!” Questionable things experts say #5

Posted by on Oct 3, 2011 in Blog Posts | 55 comments

This one makes me crazy. I hear it over and over. Some doctor or other ‘expert’ scolds parents, “Hey, you’re the parent, just don’t bring it into the house!”

A recent article on kids’ eating had this nugget, from Renna, a pediatrician and nutritionist: “Just don’t have it in the house: Having a junk-food-free home gives kids no choice but to eat healthy. If your kids do not have the constant exposure to foods with little to no dietary value, then they won’t crave them. It may take you a month, or perhaps a year, but if you and your kids continue to follow healthy eating habits, you will find that your children prefer to eat healthy foods over junk foods”

Oh, and she also says about her healthy food transition, “But it always works.

Really? I beg to differ…

These are just a few examples from clients, or others who have stopped me after a workshop who have been told, “Just don’t have it in the house.” and they don’t, and here’s the result…

• the 8 year-old daughter is found hiding in the bathroom at a neighbor’s with candy and cookies
• the 12 year-old boy, whose mom was in tears about his weight gain, rides his bike home from school and stops by the corner story and eats a package of donuts or other “junk”
• the mom of the 7 year-old  who found a frosting container that her daughter pulled out of the garbage and ate secretly in her room.

This tactic may work for some kids who may be less interested or get less pleasure from foods in general, but for many, forbidden fuels obsession, makes it hard for kids to learn to handle these high-sugar, high-fat foods. I’ve written on this before (one, two), so this is just a brief post. Unless your child is on house-arrest or you live in a commune far from civilization, they grow up, they go to places other than your home, and you can’t always be the food cop. You don’t need to be. ‘Forbidden’ leads to shame and secretive eating and bingeing. Those three children above are not eating competent, in spite of having loving, concerned, intact families, who did as they were told. These kids are already disordered with their eating, and I worry for them. You don’t have to have a free-for-all, but children do need an opportunity to learn to manage all foods.

Have you tried to follow this advice? What happened?

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  1. katja

    Perfect jennifer, thanks for getting back to us!

  2. Jennifer Hansen

    I suppose the old anxiety is cropping up again, because I feel as though I need to check this plan with someone. My husband and I are planning to let the kids collect as much candy as they like on Halloween, but we will immediately sort it and bag up everything that is artificially colored. We will then count it up and take the girls down to the health food store to “trade in” the candy. (We will buy them an equivalent amount of gummy worms, gummy bears, jellybeans, fruit twists, and assorted flavors of old-fashioned chewing gum, all colored with plant dyes.) Only one of the children has a bad reaction to artificial dye, but we feel that it isn’t fair to her to watch the others eat things she can’t have. After that, they can have Halloween candy as a dessert option: three pieces of mini candy, or one big one if somebody is passing out full-sized bars this year, until it’s all gone.


    • Elizabeth

      What is the “bad” reaction? Is it a rash, or bad behavior, or anaphylactic shock? Does it last for an hour or a week?

      If the reaction is localized (in time and space) and manageable, I would actually let them all eat whatever they want on Halloween night, and then proceed with the trade-in/dessert options on what are left. The affected child may well decide not to eat stuff that makes her feel yucky, but getting a chance to experience the feeling may actually be beneficial in the long run. Offer to help her sort out her candy if she wants, but let her eat what she wants that night.

      How old are your kids? If she’s cognitively ready to understand her own sensitivity, it may be time to start teaching the “cruel world” lesson that other kids can eat things that she can’t. In that case, I wouldn’t force her siblings to trade in candy that they want. But if they’re all young enough that she’s not ready for that lesson yet and the other kids aren’t going to feel oppressed by it, then doing the trade-in procedure with all the candy seems reasonable.

      • Jennifer Hansen

        Sometimes it’s rages, sometimes it’s inflammation of the upper respiratory passage that may go so far that we have to get out the inhaler. She had to go to the emergency room a couple of times before we figured out what was going on.

        It may be time to let family eat stuff in front of her that she can’t have, though. I’ll consider her behavior in the next couple of weeks and think about it.

        • Elizabeth

          How did Halloween go, Jennifer?

          • Jennifer Hansen

            Sorry I didn’t report back earlier! The girls actually handled the candy problem on their own. One can eat no artificial coloring and the other one hates nuts and peanut butter–so they traded. Bada bing bada boom, solved. One has eaten up her candy and the other still has some left over because she preferred a different dessert option most nights.

  3. Camilla

    I do keep plenty of sweet things around (I like to bake, the kids get a square of nice chocolate each every day) but there are totally products that my two year old will bug me about until they’re gone, and I’ve showed off the empty package to him.

    I’ve clearly trained the problem myself, because sometimes panhandling for some before dinner absolutely does sometimes work (especially if the problem item is a box of fresh strawberries). His older brother (aged four) can take it or leave it, with just about anything – if he wouldn’t leave it from in front of him, he’ll believe me when I say “no more until after dinner”.

    I think there’s a lot of room between “having a box of cookies in the pantry causes tantrums (so we don’t)” and “no sweets in the house ever.” For us, I’m trying to tighten up what the standard portions are of cookies, not stocking cookies that are hard to portion reasonably, and getting used to just feeding the kids a whole box of strawberries between them, if I buy them. (With the aim to make the portions more predictable, and the bugging me for things less useful.)

  4. Joy

    While I agree that not having it in the house can result in bad eating habits, it can also be a very important strategy in keeping an overall healthy diet. I’ve seen it go both ways.

    When I had kids I decided that I’d never restrict their food choices. I had a great relationship with food. I usually making healthy choices without a problem, and when I ate something “bad” I never worried about it at all. I figured if my kids ate a bunch of crap they’d feel like crap and decide not to do it any more. We had mostly healthy food in the house, but I was in no way strict about that. We bought “treats” when we felt like it and the kids had free access to everything.

    That backfired when I got divorced. In my house what was available was mostly pretty healthy, but I ended up with a kid who would just not eat for the 3 or 4 days she was with me, then go back to her dad’s and binge on sugar (cheesecake, pie, milkshake, popsicles, french fries, and one bite of gardenburger was a typical day). This really negatively affected her. My other kid ate pretty well at both houses, because he was drawn to more protein foods.

    However, over the course of the past year we discovered our son has celiac disease (and is very sensitive to cross-contamination), plus other food allergies. In addition to making our home extremely gluten-free and no longer eating anything but whole foods prepared in our kitchen, we’ve been on the GAPS diet for 8 months (the kids’ dad went along with it) and it has been really good for all of us. Fortunately the kids were old enough that they were able to agree to try it. Our daughter has Tourette’s, mood issues, and is extremely small for her age, so she hoped it might help, and our son really felt horrible from his celiac disease and wanted to heal. We’ve all experienced health benefits from this diet.

    Our daughter who was so picky before is now a great eater and is really happy to just eat anything she wants from what is available. She doesn’t tend to think about what isn’t “GAPS Legal.” She has noticed some improvement from the diet, but not as much as our son. Ironically, our son, who really feels awful if he accidentally gets some gluten cc or foods he’s allergic to still mourns not getting to be normal and eat whatever someone else has (though he is very careful about the diet all on his own).

    Having only the foods that are “GAPS Legal” in the house really helps us stick with it. If that was the WHOLE solution, it wouldn’t work at all. My kids are now 11 and 12 so they really are faced with situations where they can make other choices all the time. We just got back from a few days visiting family, including numerous potlucks involving cakes, candies, and all sorts of other things we don’t eat and that were not prepared in gluten-free kitchens. They go to sleep away camps, classes, friends’ houses, gatherings in restaurants, birthday parties… if the choice wasn’t theirs, there is no way they’d continue on the diet.

    But with the internal motivation on the part of every member of the family, keeping off-limits foods out of the house is an important technique. I want to feel like I can eat anything that’s available to me, the key to not feeling deprived is to have those good choices more accessible than anything else.

    I recently made a post about my own struggle with this.
    I find that I feel much better with big lines in the sand. If I see something as truly off-limits I can go on without thinking about it. If I have permission I am constantly debating whether to “cheat” or not, constantly reminding myself of how crappy it will make me feel to convince myself not to have it. Some days I feel very at peace about all this… other days not so much. I try to just move on when that happens.

    • katja

      It sounds like you are finding something that is working for your family. I don’t endorse any dietary interventions, nor do I off the bat particularly “comdemn” any, and families can research and pursue what they feel is best. GAPS is VERY intense, and very tricky to do, and I see many children really struggle with this. With any restrictive diet, it is not to be undertaken lightly. I see many moms who seem to careen from one diet to the next, (one GAPS blogging mom shared about 5 she had put the family on from raw to vegan to macro to traditional…) bringing their kids along, without any clear indications for it, so I just recommend caution. If the parent is still struggling with an eating disorder, these diets can be particularly appealing and dangerous as they force severe restrictions, and put former “binge” foods off limits for the parent, but makes it really hard for a child.

      • Joy

        I agree that going on any diet really can exacerbate eating disorders. Since a big element of eating disorders for many people is the aspect of needing to control something it can be really tempting to take on an extreme diet. I definitely find myself struggling with maintaining balance in my relationship to food in a way that I did not prior to starting a diet.

        I also agree it doesn’t make sense to swing from diet to diet. I think that’s generally horrid for people’s health from a physical standpoint, not to mention from an emotional standpoint. I imagine some people with health issues find themselves doing this out of a desperate search for answers.

        I know that we did a bit of that… my son had health issues from the time he was born and I could tell they were related to food but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was causing the trouble. As a breastfeeding mom I cut out lots of things in hopes it would help. I also tried a rotation diet for him when he was younger, tried the feingold diet, and when nothing seemed to make a difference went back to our regular way of eating (mostly whole foods, no stress about other choices).

        I think any time someone thinks one diet is the answer for everybody that’s a red flag. We are each individuals and some of us will do better than others with the same food choices.

        We realized quickly that if we tried to just cut out gluten for our son he might as well have been eating it still due to all the cross contamination. Plus he felt bad being “different” and at least at home we wanted him to feel normal. When we made our household gluten-free without being totally vigilant about it and using “gluten-free” products, he regularly got cross-contaminated. Plus, I discovered I was having “withdrawal” symptoms and reactions to “gluten-free” foods. Reading about GAPS, we saw indications for all the members of the family that it might be a good choice for us… and it has turned out to be.

        GAPS is intense as you say, and it is much easier to do as a family than just for one person in the house. Not only do you have the problem of being tempted by foods that are not introduced yet if only one person is doing it, but it’s also a lot of work. Having to cook separately when doing GAPS seems like a ridiculous amount of work to me.

        It has been worth the hassle for us to do this diet. The list of health problems that have resolved or improved for each of us is astounding. While I don’t like that we’ve created new issues around being vigilant about food, I do like that we actually have found healing.

        As we add in foods we’ve discovered that what works for some of us does not work for all of us. Surprisingly, both the kids have been fine with everything we have introduced (we have been on GAPS for 8 months and started introducing the full diet a couple months ago, though we haven’t added in everything yet). However, I am now in the position of not being able to eat foods that others are. That means they are eating foods I can not have in front of me, and those things (cheddar cheese, eggs, etc) are around the house! If it were our kids in that position, we would not have those foods around.

        The question becomes – how can I maintain a healthy relationship to food (and foster that for my children) while maintaining our physical health? It’s plain as night and day that changing what we eat has dramatically improved our physical health. No one says we have to be healthy, but we want to be healthy. That doesn’t make it much easier to pass up a fast food place on a long drive, to say no when a friend offers dinner, or to be the only kid who skips the s’mores at camp.

        I think that’s part of the reason why we feel the need to maintain our home as a place with only foods that are allowed on our diet. It is a place of refuge, where the choice to stick with the diet is made for us. It’s a safe feeling not to worry about being made sick by something you eat.

  5. Cindy

    Some really good posts! I struggle because my family has some picky picky eaters, one diabetic, vegetarians and someone who doesn’t have an “off” button who is on the heavy side. I have a permanent dent in my tongue from biting it. If we don’t have sweets or treats in the house everyone finds a way to get it and enjoy it in “supersize” portions. If we have it in the house some can’t stop. But, when it is gone it is gone! At least until the next time I go shopping. At some point each child has to figure it out for themselves because when kids reach the teen years there are so many more eating options available good and bad. At some point kids need to take responsibility for what goes in their mouth. Sigh….

    I have been flabbergasted at my mother and mother-in-law who are visibly hurt or angry if we don’t participate in supersize portions of desserts…..and just don’t get that too much is too much sometimes and not enjoyable.

    Why do we make food into a battleground?

    • katja

      It sounds like you are having trouble with managing sweets. It reads as an all-or-nothing experience. Have you read Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming? It might help with your concerns about your “heavy” child. Many children are bigger than average but are growing just fine. some aren’t, but it is important not to intervene if your child is growing at a steady rate. The teen years are when they start to learn how to really manage foods in stages, with your guidance. When kids feel restricted, they will “overeat” and “binge” when they have access until they can truly trust that they will have access (not all the time) but at reliable intervals. It is very tough with different dietary needs, like diabetes and vegetarianism, but you can use this model with diabetes (Type 1 and Type 11) Ellyn Satter has guidelines online under resources, or just search google. I don’t get the food-pushers either, check that link for several post links about how to talk with family and others. Good luck…

  6. Jacquie | After Words

    My husband grew up in a no junk household and it worked for him–he doesn’t particularly have a sweet tooth and had been blessed with an impressive metabolism to boot. I, on the other hand, grew up in a house where my parents attempted to restrict my food in various half-hearted ways.

    I struggle now with my daughter, who at 4 is overweight. I try not to restrict her food, but she has what often seems like a bottomless appetite for all the “wrong” things. I struggle with “limits on quantity and frequency” (as you commented above), as it sometimes feels like the same thing as restriction to me.

    • katja

      Jacqui, I’m so sorry you are struggling! have you read Your Child’s Weight? (Satter) It can be so helpful! Most preschoolers who are “obese” or “overweight” will NOT grow up to be overweight adults, unless we spoil that natural slimming down process with restriction and head-games around food, or are neglectful about feeding. It might be tough is Dad doesn’t have a sweet tooth, or isn’t as interested in food as she is. Some parents struggle if they are not particularly into food, or can easily skip meals while the child gets upset if they don’t eat every 3-4 hours… It is a fine line, in terms of working sweets into the structure, not allowing a free-for-all, but also not restricting. probably one of the hardest parts of this process. If you need a little guidance, sometimes one or two phone calls can help. I highly recommend reading YCW as a starting point. Hang in there.

    • Jennifer Hansen

      If I may, my middle child was practically spherical as a baby–breastfed– and did not lose the last of her baby folds until she was about five years old. She has now stretched out; she still has a round face and always will, which in our irrational culture will probably brand her as “overweight,” but I can see her ribs when she raises her arms over her head. Of course, this will change as puberty approaches, if not before.

      We were very lucky to have a family doctor who did not freak out because our little girl was “fat.” If she could get around and did not show any symptoms of actual ill-health, he said, we should just feed her when she was hungry and provide lots of opportunities for active play. Hunger, he said, was the refueling signal, so unless she had Prader-Willi syndrome or something like that, which she definitely did not, we should not restrict her food intake.

      We concentrated on foods that would provide a lot of the nutrients a growing child needs and also fill her up quickly with minimal mess. If she was hungry we would offer her a small portion and if she asked for more after she finished we would give her more. Our list: carrots (more filling than you might think), bananas, pears in season, string cheese, peanut butter on small crackers, avocado when they went on sale, canned salmon, dark meat of chicken with the skin on, hard-cooked and fried egg, whole-wheat toast with jam, plain Fritos and potato chips, potato wedges, black olives, and hamburger patties. We didn’t give her a lot of sweet treats because she was hard to deal with on a sugar high and we were also struggling with our own disordered eating. These days we explain that you don’t try to fill up on sweets, because you’ll get a sick tummy, or quench your thirst with sweet drinks, because you’ll just get thirstier, but sweets are always available for filling in the corners after a meal.

      We used to deflect strangers’ comments about our fat daughter by pretending that there had been no criticism and saying cheerfully, “Yes, it’s going to be interesting to see how big she gets later! Kids fill out and then stretch up, you know–fill out and then stretch up, over and over. We think she’s going to be quite tall or well-muscled or both.” And she is.

  7. Jess

    One of my good friends grew up in a no-sweets household. She found out after she left home (she’s the youngest of three) that both her sisters had also been eating spoonfuls of sugar straight out of the sugar bowl, as she had for years.

    My Mom also didn’t allow junk food and was very controlling (in many respects). Of course, I binged on forbidden fruit at every opportunity. It wasn’t until I left home and was in control of my own eating for many years that I got over it.

    At my house now, we don’t consume a lot of “junk” (chips, packaged foods, processed foods, etc.) but we almost always have chocolate (grown up chocolate and left-over easter or Halloween candy) and some sort of frozen treat (popsicles or ice cream) around– my son chooses a (fruit juice) popsicle for dessert almost every night. My son’s favorite thing is to bake, although I’ve noticed he likes the process a lot more than eating the finished product. He recently had the idea to make jelly donuts at home, which we did (it’s easier than you think!) and he only had one (my husband and I each had…let’s just say, more than one over the course of two days).

    All in all, I’ve found the Satter model to result in a kid who is extremely self-regulated for a four year old– of course, I have to set limits around quantity and frequency of treats sometimes, but mostly treats seem not to be on so high of a pedestal in our house.

    • katja

      ooh, jelly donuts! Sounds yummy, and sounds like he’s competent to me. Wonderful. And, it is OK to decide what and how often he gets “treats,” if you include them on occasion, it’s not the same as restriction. it’s subtle, but sometimes there are limits on quantity and frequency (just a different way of saying, you are doing your jobs with feeding.) Likely you have found the right balance for your family 🙂

  8. nancy

    I grew up with immigrant parents and I what I feel was a very sane approach to food. Because of our differing ages, we didn’t eat together but each served ourselves from the stove when we were ready. My mother didn’t feel the need to police what of each thing we were eating because it was all good food she cooked. Every week when she went shopping my mother bought one bag of salty junk (usually Ruffles) and one bag of cookies a week. We usually ate a lot of chips on Saturday (shopping day) and didn’t think about them much for the rest of the week. The cookies usually lasted a little longer. We had plenty of access to junk food but it wasn’t stockpiled as if it were a staple.

    • katja

      sounds like it worked out really well. A great way to approach the different food. Did you feel like you missed anything by not having meals together?

  9. sarah

    I can relate to so many of the stories in the comments above. We follow you (and Ellyn’s) advice when feeding our family and it has also made a tremendous difference in my life. I was treated for an ED in my early twenties but didn’t have children then. The service you and Ellyn provide is invaluable to parents like me who struggle, in some ways, on a daily basis to remain balanced with food and eating (although it’s much easier than it used to be)! I don’t worry as much about passing on my “issues” to my kiddos b/c I have a blueprint for how to feed them!

    On that note, have you seen this new Chop,Chop cooking magazine for kids? Their philosophy actually seems a little better than some I’ve seen in the past. What do you think??

    • katja

      I am so glad this is helping you! About half the moms I work with share a history of ED. I WISH this would get out there to the ED community more. I know so many women struggle with feeding, and this model can be incredibly healing… I have mixed feelings about Chop, Chop. I guess I should get my hands on one. My beef is that EVERY post on their FB page is about obesity. Usually when there is that much of an agenda, it is hard to really stay size-neutral and not let it color the content. I worry that they will do the typical thing of talking about balance and variety, but sneak in talk about “moderation,” and portion control, and other subtle “shoulds.” What have you found?

  10. einfachschoen

    I also think that it doesn’t work, that you don’t bring it into the house. A junk-food-free home is a drem. My little girl loves junk-food! So what can I do. I trie to explain her, that junk-food isn’t good. I think that she understand that, but she loves junk-food!

  11. Kate

    My parents wanted to keep me from fattening foods, but would let my brother eat whatever he wanted, how could they have thought that was a good idea? But most homes, even homes without “junk” still have sugar or pancake syrup or other things that can be consumed when junk food isn’t available. I’ve eaten in secret, stolen food, pretty much anything I could do to get my fix, I have no doubt in the world I’d have been better off just left to my own devices. I certainly was not helped by having two sets of grandparents with their own weight issues and who saw my visits as an excuse to overconsume themselves.

    My dad’s mom was the worst, she’d feed me wave after wave of food, food, I didn’t even really want, but she’d guilt me into eating, then she’d tell my parents everything I ate. My grandfather would use my visits as a reason to stock the house up with chocolate since I was coming, but he wanted the chocolate just as much, if not more, than I did, so everytime he’d get something to eat for himself, he’d get me some too, since they got it for me. I think I was 12 before I visited them without throwing up. I did my part to, I was excited to go just because I knew I’d get to eat whatever I wanted.

    My other grandma would take me out of huge, freaking HUGE lunches, this is after already big breakfasts, then tell me that I still had to eat well at dinner, so my grandfather wouldn’t know we went out to lunch. It seemed so normal then, but now I look back and see how crazy that was.

    My mom was so critical of both sets of grandparents because they “equated food with love” and she’d never do that, but she does the same thing when I bring my dogs to her house. I have tried to point out the irony, but she doesn’t see it.

    • katja

      I see this so often in families now. Many parents think it’s a good idea, because if you feed in a control model, that is what you do. Try to get the skinny one to eat more and the fat one to eat less (and by “fat” these days it seems to mean anyone about 75% to parents…) These moms call me crying, because it feels horrible. they know in their gut that what they are doing isn’t right, but they aren’t even aware of a different way. It’s sad.

  12. Kate

    Like Agnes, having a dessert available has made a huge difference in my eating too. I can and have said no to dessert and I’ve had a very small dessert and not wanted more, even when I thought I would. And there have been times when I thought I’d have a dessert on a given night, but ended up forgetting about it, I’m still amazed when that happens.

    Even though I talk about the changes I’ve made, I’m far from done learning how to eat, I’m just really proud of the changes that I’ve made so far. I’m also really proud of my husband who has made changes as well, though we’ve changed at different speeds and made different changes, everything has been easier because I’ve had someone supportive and open minded enough to make changes with.

  13. Susan

    Growing up, my parents would “allow” junk food – chips, pizza, candy, etc. I was also a very picky eater so my parents were typically happy when I ate anything. But because it wasn’t taboo, it was easy to be moderate.

    My closest friend was the daughter of a dietitian. They weren’t allowed junk food (or tv) so whenever she came over all she wanted to do was gorge on chips and zone out on reruns. It was really boring – for me!

    • katja

      Susan, I love this story. Sorry for your friend! Banning doesn’t help, whether it’s TV or “junk.” My mom was too cheap to buy lots of junk, so I too would go to friends and eat lots and lots of Doritos while we watched GH 🙂

  14. Elizabeth

    We tried “don’t have it in the house,” and we found our daughter sneaking and binging on cough drops instead.

    Satter’s methods work better, even though they’re sometimes harder to stick with. I do notice now all the effort that my friends make, pleading with their kids to eat their “healthy” food at parties – it’s so nice to have stepped off that treadmill.

    • katja

      Elizabeth, I am so glad that when something clearly didn’t work, you found something that did. I feel so sorry for the parents who never hear about Satter, who suffer and keep doing the same old thing. (Isn’t it the definition of insanity???) This model is simplle, but not always easy. Te good news is, the longer you do it, the easier it gets and the more you will see her capabilities maturing. It’s a beautiful thing to watch!

  15. Jennifer Hansen

    We have two things that can’t be in the house for what I consider to be legitimate reasons. The first is artificial food dye. A particular dye makes my middle child ragey (annoying) and gives her breathing problems (terrifying). I find checking all colored foods for that particular dye crazy-making, so we just don’t have any artificially colored foods or drinks whatsoever in the house and we don’t eat or drink them in front of Middle Child because that would be mean. Luckily our health food store will cheerfully find vegetable-dyed substitutes, even gumballs! After she goes out on Halloween, we’ll swap out anything she can’t have for the kinds she likes from the health food store.

    The other is xylitol. We had the girls chewing “healthy” gum to keep their teeth clean and one of them developed gut issues. Turns out that xylitol can be a laxative. D’oh!

    We used to “not have it in the house” in an effort to restrict our eating and it always backfired. Now we just “don’t have it in the house” if we know we won’t be able to eat it up before it spoils or if it’s too expensive.

  16. Samantha C

    yeah, I was another with siblings who were allowed what I wasn’t. And I binged. When I went to the dietician for help (who seemed confused at the idea that I binged but didn’t purge, and couldn’t really help me any more than giving me a diet and a food diary), she told my mother the same thing, get it out of the house. So had a friend’s mother, who was also a nutritionist. I found out years later through gossip with the friend that she resisted, because “what will the boys have for snacks?”

    Oddly, it doesn’t seem to have stopped as we’ve gotten older. I saw her posting recently about the big batch of chocolate chip cookies she made to take with her to visit my brother at college. And realized that not only had she really not made that many attempts to visit me at my (closer) school, she never in a thousand years would have brought cookies.

    /mom issues

    • katja

      Oh, man. I am sorry. Not fair. Some of those mom issues take time to heal. A therapist can be helpful there too 🙂 I remember my mom making my brother’s favorite cake often for him when he came home from school, but not for me. Oh, there are other memories, fairly typical I presume, and it hurts. Sometimes what makes me feel better is knowing I am treating myself kindly, and I will do better for my daughter. (Don’t get me wrong, in many ways my folks were the best, but there were some issues around weight and shame…)

  17. Agnes

    I’ve found that having dessert daily at the house has really helped me get over some of this craziness. My mom was one of the “no junk food” types, not really for weight, but for health, and it had the predictable results. Now we have dessert every day when we eat as a family, sometimes ice cream, sometimes candy, sometimes fruit. I also find the self-reminder that I will be having cake later, or can bake a cheesecake next week if I really want it (I love baking and trying new recipes) helps me avoid sweets in other contexts.

    In the past few months, the following bizarre things have happened:
    – My son asked me why I never eat dessert. The fact is, I do eat dessert with them, but a few times I wasn’t hungry for it, so I just had my cup of coffee.

    – I have made a cake or pie that we have eaten so slowly it molded.

    I would have never believed that either of these would happen.

    • katja

      Love this! I notice that you son is tuned in to what you eat too! Being a model is important. I don’t really like dessert as much as I like salty things, and M has asked why I don’t eat dessert. I honeslty answer that I would just rather save room for the food I prefer, which is usually more steak or asparagus or potatoes. When I do enjoy a sweet, she notices that too. We like getting cupcakes for snack at the local bakery every now and then, and I do love those! Agnes, I love that you have figured this out. it is amazing, isn’t it? For a bag of Tortilla chips to go stale in my house? Also a small miracle to me when it happens 🙂

  18. AcceptanceWoman

    I had a great conversation in the car with my daughter the other day on the way home from a birthday party.
    My daughter likes many but not all sweets, and has a few “treats” everyday.
    We talk about “grow food” and “fun food” or “dessert-y food” and say that there is room for both, but that our bodies need the nutrients in the “grow food” to grow, and if we eat too much “dessert-y food” there isn’t enough room in our tummies for the grow food. (She’s 6.5 now).
    So here’s the conversation:

    Daughter: Mom, I wish dessert-y foods were grow foods and grow foods were dessert-y foods.
    Me: (Giggling) How would that work?
    Daughter: Well, ice cream would be grow food, and carrots would be dessert.
    Me: So if I said, “Mom, I really want a salad” what would you say?
    Daughter: I would say, no salad until you’ve eaten your ice cream.
    Me: Please, mom, I really want salad.
    Daughter: No, you have to eat your ice cream first!

    We were both cracking up. But I felt like it demonstrated that there wasn’t moral value around this — just rules.
    We don’t require specific foods to be eaten before dessert — just the category of “dinner” — and sometimes we have dessert “with” or in some rare occasions, before dinner.

    She knows that there will be food at regular intervals, and that if she’s hungry there can be snacks (those don’t always show up at the same intervals).

    We really don’t differentiate between “junk food” and “real food” so much as just stuff that doesn’t contain the things we need to grow — we eat it because it tastes good and it’s fun to eat, but we know if we ate only that, we wouldn’t be getting what we need. We are allowed to express disappointment that this is the case.

    • katja

      I’m glad you guys had fun and it seems to work for you. In my experience though, this can be a slippery slope. Kids are pretty smart, and using words like “growing” vs “entertainment” food (as one expert suggests) for many kids still sends the message “Good” vs “bad” or “real” vs “junk.” It might not be the case for your family, but with the barrage of “nutrition” info out there, this is increasingly common, “healthy” or “growing” food still sets up a hierarchy, and calories do help kids grow, so ice-cream and candy technically fuel kids too. I have to resist the temptation to talk too much about this stuff. Ellyn asked me once when I told her what I said to M, “Why do you have to talk about it? She’ll figure it out.” It’s similar to the green light, red light foods, or the message of “moderation.” Some kids do OK, don’t get hung up on the message, others do. I try to just talk about variety, and that our bodies need short and long energy, so I offer a fat and protein with her treats so it is balanced. I also decide WHAT she gets served that she can chose from. Did that make sense? Again, if it works for you, no problem, but I do see this kind of messaging still meaning to some kids, “I should eat less of that” and that should can still mess things up…

  19. Erylin

    my mom was fine with junk food until i hit puberty and started getting hips. at that point skinny my sister conveniently got an “allergy to HFCS” (complete bs btw, she (and my bro and myself) developed ADHD) so ALL candy left the house…even halloween candy. We did bake and such but in a family of 5 hyperactive folks a plate of hommade cookies doesnt get made often and its never enough.

    by the time i was old enough to make my own baked goods, i had already been in trouble for “wolfing” down too many sweets at many parties (my dad is a germphobe so he dosent eat out) At 12 i made a pan of lemon bars, then ate them all before anyone knew…. and then i binged for the first time. I would spend the lunch money given to me for the week on candy and snacks at the vending machines at school. i would then beg borrow or steal cash to get me lunch through the week.

    once i hit the dorm and all you can eat meals every day with no prison guard watching my every move i gained about 3 freshman 15’s. that sort of uber-control just sets up the adult for failure later. our bodies are HARDWIRED to crave fat sugar ect. and it dosent make us evil for craving those. or lazy, or spineless. when you listen to your body and indulge enough, trust me you stop wanting it all the time. i make bread pudding now, and half will go bad before i finish it. i’ve throw ice cream AWAY because it sat in my freezer too long. IF i was a spineless globular fatty wouldn’t i be gobbling everything in site. i mean i cant be trusted with sweets, remember? so i shouldn’t keep that junk in the house /headdesk

    • katja

      yes, the prepubertal weight gain is a time when kids are especially vuinerable to adults messing with them. At a recent workshop, a mom who also teaches tennis to girls says that moms come up to her all the time worried about the girls’ weights. The tennis teacher said the girls are all fine, but it scares her that these mothers are wondering about “what to do” about the girls’ weight. I encouraged her to tell the moms that the girls were beautiful and strong, and that they can be fed well and trusted to grow, that it’s normal for bodies to change with pre=puberty and that trying to get them to be skinny will likely backfire (I also recommend Your Child’s Weight, helping Without Harming and my card.) I ache for these little girls…

  20. Jane

    Do you think the children who were binging had parents who were keeping junk out of the house because they were neurotic about it, and so the children were getting dysfunctional signals? Like a lot of people of my generation (I’m in my 40s), we didn’t have junk in the house when I was growing up. Chocolates and so on really were special treats. My sister, who has kids, still runs things that way. She doesn’t buy it, but it’s always there for birthdays and Christmas and so on. What’s different from the above scenarios is that she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. The kids aren’t terrorized about junk/sweet food, it just doesn’t happen to be on her grocery list.

    • katja

      Jane, I do think the attitude and way it is handled is important. Also, the temperament of the child. If the child is allowed to enjoy the treats, without guilt on those occasions, it helps enormously. We don’t have a “junk” drawer, but we do hit the local candy store about once every 4-6 weeks, and we have ice-cream a few times a week. yesterday we happened on a carnival, and M wanted an Icee. I remember begging for one for years as a child. She got hers, enjoyed it, but said, it wasn’t as good as she thought it would be. I think the psychological overlay and constant talk about nutrition, badness etc messes kids up. it’s all the “noise” around food I mentioned a few posts back with the ghrelin hormone study…

  21. Kirsten

    Oooooh, this was (is) me. We always had junk, lots of junk, in the house, but it was “bad” food, “you can’t/shouldn’t have that” food. Naturally, this made it far more appealing. I mean it tasted good, and I knew that, but tell me I can’t or shouldn’t have it? Oh, I’m gonna have it, any way I can get my hands on it. Wolfing down cookies? Check. Licked-clean frosting container found hidden in the room/closet/under the bed? Check. Riding bike/walking home from school with horded change in pocket with sole purpose to buy what I wasn’t supposed to have? Check. Eating what I wasn’t supposed to have behind the dumpster behind the store? Check. Constantly wearing hoodie sweatshirts with the front pockets, because it was easier to hide gooey sticky “junk” at someone’s house so I could take it into the bathroom and eat it in peace while sitting on the closed toilet lid? Check check check.

    Even now, at 39, I still have the urge to hide the fact that I eat junk, only its morphed over into non-junk foods. In fact, I have a lot of trouble eating in front of people, period. I PREFER to eat alone. I am more comfortable, and can eat peacefully when there is no one around to watch or witness. On one hand this is good, because I don’t have the performance anxiety. On the other hand, it means that my eating is often binge-like, even if it’s a salad or other healthy fare.

    So many social situation are centred around, or involve, food and eating. It’s really hard to enjoy those when you just can’t bring yourself to eat in front of someone and desperately search your mind for ways to eat when nobody is around, or look for hiding spots for a quick wolf down.

    If I ever have kids, we’re going to follow the Ellyn Satter approach, and we’re going to refer to this blog daily, or even hourly, if needed. I will never do to my kids what has been done to me. I don’t know how to fix myself, but I can make sure my kids won’t need to be fixed.

    • katja

      That seems particularly cruel. it’s in the house, AND it’s off-limits. Other readers have shared that it was in the house, and siblings were allowed (bc they were slimmer) but they were not. What a mess! I am SO sorry that has happened to you. It is predictable, that adults eat the way they do, often when we closely examine how they were raised around food. If you weren’t getting enough food, or reliably fed, in some ways, good for you that you did what you had to do to get what you needed. Alas, it is not serving you well. Some readers have had great luck working through Secrets of Feeding a Healthy family by Satter. the first 1/2 of the book is about learning to eat as an adult. I would highly recommend reading it. Also, Michelle (a colleague over at went through the training with me and works with adults on the How to Eat program in accessible group situations. You might want to check her out. I sometimes work with clients long-distance on these issues, but it’s not as ideal as in person. I hope that as you read, and mull, you begin to ask yourself some new questions. (See the last few posts and comments are really inspiring.) Good luck!

      • Kirsten

        Yes it was very hard to understand exactly how that worked, the having jink in the ouse but not being allowed to have it.

        The other confusing thing that would happen was that that same food–that was not allowed to be had when when I wanted it–was used as a soothing agent when. I was upset. Trouble was, I didn’t necessary WANT Oreos and milk if a classmate had hurt my feelings and I came home crying, or Ruffles and French Onion dip if a neighborhood kid picked on me. Usually what I wanted was to be told that they were wrong and that in was fine just as I was.

        I must admit that growing up there were tons of contradictions with food in general. You were plied, cajoled or guilted into eating whether you wanted it or not, and then subsequently referred to as a fat a**e hog if you ate more than was deemed necessary. I never could work out what the happy medium was, and as a natural people pleaser it really did a number on me.

        As I mentioned in my first comment, I am to this day so messed up with food, even more with EATING, that it’s a typical state of mind for me to be constantly stressed if food is in any way involved. I am working on it. Some situations are better than others. Some make me want to fall into a deep black hole for the rest of my life. but I do at least recognize this and know my triggers, and I also am learning to say no if I really don’t want it. Still having a lot of trouble yes, if I really do, though! Oh well……baby steps.

        • katja

          Kirsten, thank you again for your powerful story. I am glad you are finding healing, if perhaps slowly. has a great post out today. I hops you continue on your journey of discovery with your eating and hunger signals. Understanding your past can be helpful and freeing. Does it? Does it help to know that how you were fed was really confusing and punitive and cruel and that it would be really hard to come out of that with “normal” eating? I know that your stories are so helpful to me when I talk to parents of small children today. Aside from the food aspect, the emotional needs that you were unmet, or were met with food really stand out in your post. Thanks again.

  22. wriggles

    I have to say this approach does seem to be okay work with some, to varying degrees. Some people’s (including children’s) hunger and appetite seems to partly “give up”, a bit like when you lose hope and give up, or like a machine on standby, when deprived of calorie dense foods.

    The problem is, people assume that is the template for everyone unless they are being greedy, rather like everyone must become slim through dieting. For others the opposite occurs, their appetite and hunger for these foods increases and the compulsiveness you described starts to occur. And you can’t tell by weight either.

    My mother did buy us some biscuits/cookies mainly, looking back it should have been a reasonably happy medium but for some reason for me, it never seemed to be enough! I’ve no idea for the life of me why, that’s just the way it was for me.

    • katja

      I have to say this approach does seem to be okay work with some, to varying degrees. Some people’s (including children’s) hunger and appetite seems to partly “give up”, a bit like when you lose hope and give up, or like a machine on standby, when deprived of calorie dense foods.
      Can you tell me what you mean by this? Different things work for different folks, but so far, banning sweets seems to mess people up far more than allowing them. (Studies show that in children as young as 4 who are forbidden to eat “junk” that they eat more and feel guilty too…) The changes happen at a very young age. Show me a kid who can’t control themselves, and I will show you a kid who in some way, at some time has been restricted.

      • wriggles

        I’m not actually disagreeing with your conclusions and approach.

        I’d go with you and include them, supporting children’s confidence in their ability to recognise their needs and to properly contextualize these foods in their overall diet.

        And my personal experience of a certain amount of denial tallies with the development of compulsions that you described.

        However I do know people who were also denied these things, perhaps given fruits and/or puddings with their meals, who either didn’t care or if they did the desire for these foods petered out through being denied.

        Quite a few have told me they’ll do or have done the same with their own children. I’ve noticed that many expect this to be the only response in all children and cast the perhaps more usual one as a parental or sometimes even personal failing rather than a legitimate response to denial.

        Our cultural climate(s) of food fear and calorie intake angst that has de-legitimized CD foods, makes it harder to see exactly what’s going on.

        Some children need more calories overall (without bulk), some really do need fast energy– something also discounted- so they actually need calorie dense foods to get their right balance.

        • katja

          Thanks so much, great points! yes, some kids are really sensual eaters, really tuned in. Perhaps they have a higher reward physiologically to food than others. We all know some who will moan with pleasure while eating, and others? Meh… So, yes, different kinds of folks. But your point that “It worked for me, so it will work for my kid” can be dangerous. I have seen a mom (who was naturally thin and “forgot” to eat) really struggle feeding her little one who was like her dad, needed to eat regularly and really enjoyed it. Knowing that people approach food differently helps.

      • Susan Swan

        I have always been of the opinion that I have a responsibility to teach my child to live comfortably with all kinds of foods, including junk, and that restricting it turns it into that apple that got Adam and Eve into so much trouble. I also feel like a hypocrit, as I do not eat organic Hummus breakfast, lunch and dinner myself. But I am just not sure where the balance is. For instance I have recently banned granola bars from the house. My child wakes up at the crack of dawn even on weekends. Now that she is old enough to be on her own a bit I am letting her get up and watch tv on weekends while I get some more sleep. When I had the granala bars in the house, I’d find zillions of granola bar wrappers stuffed behind the couch after a weekend of unsupervised morning TV time.

        • katja

          Well, this is a tough one, and I’m waiting for the delivery guy to come with our new dining room/kitchen table… Yay! Anyway, this challenge is an opportunity to figure this out. In general, when a kid is “sneaking” a food, some thinking is required. I wonder how old she is? (Oh, and I drink Coke, and don’t let M drink it yet, so I get feeling like a hypocrit!)There are some options. (Oh, and if they are those chewy quaker ones, I get it! I didn’t get them at home and would eat a box at my friend’s house…)
          If your daughter is old enough, you can talk through some options. You can pack them with her for snacks on the go. You can have them for an after school snack with milk and a fruit of her choice and she can eat as many as she wants, maybe once a week. You can allow her to have them before you get up, but maybe she is asked to sit at the table with some milk… I think if the message is that all food is OK, and she can be trusted, but there is structure, it might help… Also, they aren’t cheap, so having one with more food and on occasion letting her have as many as she wants, maybe with you sitting with her for her snack may help. Eventually, she will even get tired of those!
          What do you think? There are other options too…

  23. Dawn

    This was pretty much my mom’s policy only she did bring it in on special occasions, which meant we three kids all learned to eat as much of it when we could because it wouldn’t be there tomorrow and who knows when we’d get it again. For example, my mom never really baked so when she made chocolate chip cookies it was a BANNER day and we’d eat ourselves sick in excitement. All three of us have trouble moderating our junk food intake now (my sister will still drink karo syrup when she’s jonesing for a sugar fix). Since I’ve “met” you, I’ve loosened up on trying to control the junk food around here especially for myself. For awhile I WAS back to eating myself sick but this past year I finally have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about it. I finally realize that I can have whatever food I want ANY TIME I WANT IT and don’t have to gorge on, say, chocolate just because it’s Halloween. This is HUGE for me. (I did gain weight while I was learning how to listen to my body but the mental health trade-off was worth it.)

    I also have a friend who does not allow her daughter’s to have any “crap” (I remember her daughter sweetly looking up at someone offering her a cupcake and saying, “No thank you, my mommmy says I’m not allowed to have that crap”). I will never forget the time her daughter was at our house and while all the other kids were in the backyard running & playing, I found this little girl in a corner of the living room with the entire plate of chocolate chip cookies wolfing them down. She was five. That is EXACTLY how I learned to binge on junk.

    • katja

      Oh Dawn, I am so glad to hear it! It is incredibly freeing, isn’t it! I could maybe be thinner if I torture myself, but why bother? Life is too short. I love your story about the little girl. Poor thing. This is so common. Sad thing is, she feels like she is CRAP when she eats this food. it is so toxic and pointless.


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