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Who’s your “food ogre?”

Posted by on Dec 29, 2010 in Blog Posts | 24 comments

I found a new blog that I have liked so far. It’s called the Horrible Food Ogre (sorry for the Shrek photo…)

This post is particularly poignant to me. Here is an excerpt, form the 21 year old author…

I reach for the potato-baking dish from the cabinet. “What are you making?” My mom asks. Her voice is cold, accusatory, maybe even scandalized. What am I doing taking out food-preparation materials, when she’s also preparing food?!
“I really feel like a potato,” I answer. I cross the kitchen, put the dish down. Start to reach for the vegetable.
“NO.” She scolds me like a small child, her voice firm if not actually angry. “You are not making a potato at this hour, that’s a meal, not a snack.”

Luckily, the author stands up and makes food for herself, but what if she was 12 at the time, or 14, or 21 and shamed into not eating, not being allowed to listen to her own hunger. It is amazing how much parents  (and increasingly teachers and schools) can shame around eating, and how they can’t seem to stop as the children grow up, and how our culture not only condones, but expects parents to be the food-cops and police portions and food choices, and how destructive it can be…

Many parents are told, by their doctors that this is their job, “You’re the boss, just don’t bring that junk into the house,” or “It’s your job to control portions…” It’s sad, some parents do it, but know it’s not right, know it feels horrible and know it’s not helping. Others seem oblivious to the harm, themselves miserable with eating and convinced that as they fail they must just try harder, and they will help others to try harder too…

Who is your ‘food ogre?’ Your mother, your spouse, your boss, you?

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  1. Mary Worthington

    Talk about Flashbacks! Oh, how terrorized I was by the Food Ogre in my life. (My Mom) I know she loved me, but her methods were so so very harmful. I am a fan of Elleyn Satter and have been for several year. I am worried about the biological component mentioned above for my 14 year old daughter. She is 6’1 and had gained 68 lbs in the past 18 months. The Dr. just ran a full lab workup on her over winter break to check thyroid,glucose and hormones. Her thyroid & hormones are fine but glucose is 30.(A little elevated according to the Dr) The Dr thinks she is overeating because something is bothering her. I asked my daughter last nite about this. She said she hates herself because she is a giant and because she is fat. I’ve avoided for years saying Diet because of what I was subjected to a child. (Numerous diets and weigh ins. Food restriction ad nauseaum.)

    I am looking into some counseling for her. Like I’ve said, I am support and try to practice Satter’s methods. It is just so hard sometimes to see my child suffer in similar ways that I suffered. I am trying to do things different. One way is to not be a Food Ogre.

    • katja

      Oh Mary, I’m so sorry! Talk about size acceptance, it must be very hard to be as tall as she is! Sounds like you are very tuned-in and sensitive to her needs. Sounds like counseling and learning some techniques to help her deal with her emotions will help. A great read is Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming and Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family. It’s not easy though! My thoughts are with you, and especially your daughter as she navigates adolescence…

  2. Jess

    Which one to pick? Mom, aunt, grandmother, step-dad? They were all either commenting on how much or how little I was eating (usually it was too much, or too junky or the wrong time of day; but if I wasn’t eating they’d be all in my face about that, too). In retrospect, it fits into a larger pattern of being generally very controlling and critical. Now my somewhat chubby, but healthy and fit 12 year old cousin is on the receiving of it and it makes me so angry.

    You want to know the amazing thing? I am not, nor have I ever been fat. In fact, after a few slightly chubby middle school years (looking back at pictures, I wasn’t even that chubby…just big and tall for my age), I thinned out and have generally had a healthy, athletic, size 6-8 frame my whole teenage and adult life. I’m 34 years old and I have only realized in the last two years that I am not, in point of fact, fat. (I said that to a friend recently and her reaction was, “Um, you’ve always been thin. You didn’t know that?”) But I felt fat and was convinced my body was gross for YEARS! Pregnancy, motherhood and lots of therapy– and, in particular, learning how to feed my son in an *emotionally* healthy way has helped me appreciate my body (and my previous semi-disordered relationship with food) much more.

    • katja

      wow, jess, that sucks. I too remember in high school thinking my butt was huge, never having a second without a towel around my butt (I would wear it to the side of the pool so I could put it on instantly.) I think I was about a size 8 at the time, and perfectly lovely. I am so sorry your family gave you those messages. Are you close to your cousin at all? Are you able to have any kind of a relationship with her and be that life-line for her? Even having one adult tell her she’s perfect just how she is, and the rest of the family is wacko would help I imagine…Oh, and those slightly chubby years are called puberty and is a flashpoint for so many girls. It’s usually when parents, and doctors first see the changes. Many overreact and misinterpret norma growth and start the pressure. Tragic.I love your point about learning to feed your son being a source of inspiration for you. That’s a theme I am hoping comes out in the blog, and that parents can tap into the healing power of that feeding relationship with their children. Good for you!

  3. Emgee

    My mom was (and is) my food ogre, although my dad was right in there. And I have to say, some of these comments are giving me major flashbacks. I was also a food sneaker due to my parents’ attempt to control my food. And I learned to ignore my body’s hunger/fullness cues, leading to a lifetime of disordered eating.

    • katja

      Sorry for the flashbacks. I think these comments have been so interesting, and will be potentially helpful to parents today. As I look back, I would often eat a lot at friends houses (I could eat a whole bag of Doritos during General Hospital), or eat dinner with them, and then dinner at home too… I was super-wiry, lean and fit until puberty when I got a more “average” build. I don’t think my parents could ever let that go. I remember watching home movies as an adolescent, and they would wistfully sigh and say, “God, look at how athletic you were! You were so wiry!” It spoiled watching home movies for me for sure! On another note, I think I was an ectomorph as a kid, and then more of a mesomorph as an adult. I wonder if that is common?

  4. erylin

    my food ogre was my mother. Everything was dont snack on that…while the “skinny” siblings and all the boys got to eat what they wanted when they wanted. I can remember crying in the bathroom because i dared to eat some wheat thins before dinner and my mom caught me and asked “are you sure you wnat to eat that? remember helping is 200 calories and only 16 crackers. (keep in mind i was eating lunch at school at 11 and we didnt eat dinner till 7 or so)

    i had to teach myself that snacks were ok, and how to serve myself them…offering a mix of carbs, fats and protiens really seems to help. i realized i needed to eat every 3-4 hours to feel ok. and now i make sure there is a snack for my kids right after school. something like fruit and yogurt or a bowl of cereal. i try not to say no, just offer something and they pick.

  5. Christine

    I’m torn on this. On one hand, I definitely don’t want to be the “food ogre” in my teenage daughter’s life. I had 2 of my own in childhood – my father and older sister – and it was awful. (Dad has since passed away and Sis has mellowed out.) But I also have to acknowledge that my girl has problems with portion control, and a tendency toward mindless hand-to-mouth snacking. So I feel that I have to be a voice of reason. “Sweetie, dinner is in 30 minutes. I understand you’re hungry now, but make it something small to tide you over so you won’t spoil your dinner.” In a case like that, the 6 or 8 cookies she was reaching for weren’t a good option. And when she’s just finished a large first helping, I will say something like, “Hold off for about 10 minutes on your second helping. See if you’re still hungry for it, because it takes awhile for the stomach to signal to the brain that it’s full.” Usually I’m right, and she no longer wants it. And lastly, I tell her that instead of snacking directly out of the box or bag while she’s watching TV, surfing the internet, studying, or doing some other activity that is capturing her primary focus, she should dole out 1 portion onto a plate or into a bowl. Because I’ve seen her eat an entire box of cereal over the course of an afternoon without even realizing she did it. (Two days ago she did it with 3/4 of a can of cashews – about 1,200 calories worth.) Thoughts?

    • katja

      This is a tough question, with a lot of “it depends” and not knowing the context for your family. I would wonder how old she is, if there has been “weight” and “health” talk for years, is she getting the message to “eat less” basically? What is the motivation for the voice of reason urges, to help her learn to listen to her body, or to eat less? This is subtle. For the question about dinner being in 30 minutes, I think it’s perfectly OK to say, dinner is in 30 minutes, there’s some cut up fruit in the fridge or some crackers to take the edge off the hunger.” You might say this differently to a 13 year old than a 17 year old… I wonder why you think she has trouble with portion control? Does she eat lots some meals, less others, is she restricting or trying to eat less only to eat more when she gets the chance? Is she sipping meals or dieting? Is she growing? Is she gaining weight at a rapid rate, crossing percentiles with BMI? Is she larger than average, but growing steadily and at a healthy rate? Are you serving cookies at other times, or is she feeling like she “shouldn’t” and therefor is more interested? Are there times when she can eat as many cookies as she wants? In terms of the “wait 10 minutes to see if you’re still hungry” this one scares me. It has such potential for abuse. I see it as a control tactic largely to get kids to eat less, and the way it’s said, or to whom (to the larger child, and not the smaller one) can shame children into eating less even if they are more hungry… If she is eating in a tuned-in way, she may eat more some days, less others. It takes time to learn. I don’t recommend telling kids to wait 10 minutes. (or 20 which some families do and some “experts” recommend.) So many times I have had that urge to cut my daughter off when she’s having a large meal, and she will usually finish within one or two bites of my urge to cut her off. It is very different to her if she is the one to decide when to stop vs if I would tell her to stop. I remember my mother “asking” -“Do you really need another pork chop?” With the implication that I don’t need to eat so much, that I need to lose weight. I remember distinctly thinking, “Oh yeah, well now I want two more!” (Wait 20 minutes to see if you’re still hungry, Do you really need to eat that? Why don’t you have some salad instead of potatoes… all are said with the goal of getting the child to eat less…) Your third scenario of asking her not to snack while doing something else is a good one. Why not ask that snacks and meals are done in the kitchen, that she pay attention and enjoy what she’s eating, then watch TV, surf, whatever. That goes back to structure, providing the opportunity to eat satisfying amounts of balanced offerings every 3-4 hours, and not eating in between. A great book is “Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming.” It is a difficult question, with nuance, guiding and providing structure and limits vs taking over her job. there are some great resources about how to feed with the Division of Responsibility on (look up DOR and adolescents) Chances are she is already worried about weight and dieting to some degree (2/3 teen girls are, with the predictable result of weight gain.) Another great book is Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family (Satter) Great questions, ones that many parents struggle with. I hope this was helpful… I am writing this while watching Baby Genius with my kid (possibly the worst movie ever) so please excuse the lack of organization… Off to start the bath now. Thanks for writing in!

      • Christine

        Thank you for responding, Katja, and yes, that was helpful. My daughter is 13 and is a large, heavyset girl. As much as I’m trying to instill a positive body image and a healthy, relaxed, joyful relationship with food, I know my words often come off as an “eat less, lose weight” message. And there is probably a little of that intent there, as much as I try to keep it out (and as firmly as I believe that most of our shape & size is genetic and that dieting doesn’t work). It is exactly the question of providing guidelines and structure vs. taking over her job where I struggle.

        • katja

          Christine, I know you want to do the right thing. I struggled too when my daughter was born at almost 10 pounds, and I worried about her weight and started down the road of “portion control.” I recognized quickly that it was making things worse, and I had enough clinical and personal exposure to the longterm consequences of restriction to look for help. Had I not, I am pretty sure that I too would have done the “portion control” route, with waiting 10 minutes, and all the rational explanations. Who wouldn’t? A recent study showed that even girls who try to maintain or lose weight with “healthy” means (more water, more fruits and veggies, watching portions…) were heavier than their non-dieting counterparts and more disordered in their eating.
          It’s what we hear from the CDC, ADA with the pyramids etc. I would really recommend reading Your Child’s Weight. It’s not too late to learn and help your daughter. She might not be a size 6, but she CAN be healthy at a 6 or 8 or 14… (That’s another thing I despair for parents. They are so scared about the “science” of BMI and bad health that they restrict.) Check out my website for some great reading, including “Rethinking Thin” Gina Kolata. It helped me to accept and put this into practice when I read the data about health and BMI. Heavyset can be healthy. Good luck and keep me posted. I’d love to know if reading some of the other comments here have given you any insights…

        • Jenny Islander

          It’s a tricky question. My husband grew up without any disordered eating messages as far as I can tell, but he also has a habit–as an adult, still!–of devouring a huge plate of food at top speed, often while watching a movie, then going back for more. And then complaining that he feels sick. And then doing it again the next day!!! This used to drive me nuts. I learned long ago that while he can make the connection “eating very quickly and/or while staring at the TV will make me ill,” he can’t seem to get it, excuse the pun, in his gut. So I had to just let him do it.

          Now, after many years of marriage, he is ready to tackle the issue. He asks me to plate his food in the kitchen and serve a first course that will fill him up without making him ill if he forgets and gobbles at top speed again. Then, if he still wants more food, that’s his business.

          Obviously, he isn’t a child. But I suggest that framing the issue as “You may give yourself a stomachache” or “You may end up eating more than you actually wanted, which makes a person feel sluggish and tired” will help your child not get the idea that you are worried about her getting fat.

          And if she isn’t getting sick, I suggest that she is actually eating what she needs at this stage of her life. Just make sure that what she has available is filling, nutritious food that will help her grow.

          And it’s important for her to learn what it took my husband a long time to learn: If you want to enjoy the taste, mouth feel, and satisfying aromas of food, you have to slow down. My husband was surprised to discover how I was seasoning his dinners after he slowed down; when he was gobbling all the time, all he could tell me was “good” or “eh,” but paying attention to each bite helped him learn the difference between nutmeg and allspice (for example) and which he liked better.

          • katja

            Adults and kids are different as you point. out. I would be interested to know if your husband grew up eating in front of the TV, or if there were lots of kids, competition for food, or portion control. Lots of the adults I see who eat quickly had some worry of scarcity as kids.
            Ever tried telling a kid to slow down? I have, my clients have and usually they speed up… I like your idea of bringing it back to how they feel. I might ask, “Is your tummy still hungry?” but we do need to let kids make “mistakes” and “overeat” since that’s how they learn. You might say, “sometimes I don’t feel well if I eat too much, I’m sorry you don’t feel well.” Trying at all costs with kids to not set up a power struggle, or give “advice” which they often simply want to defy because that’s their job developmentally… You can encourage older kids to take time and tune in by having calm, pleasant structured meals, maybe asking, “Can you taste the cinnamon in here?” It’s yummy, isn’t it? This might work better than, “Slow down so you can taste your food.” All nuance, but I get what you are saying 🙂 Motive is huge too. If you are telling a larger child to slow down, or serve a smaller portion, is the message they hear “eat less…” ?

          • Jenny Islander

            Re possible underlying issues: My husband’s parents were children during the Great Depression. His father told his mother when they were married that there would be bread, butter, and jam on the table for every meal because when he was little, he could have either bread and butter or bread and jam, but not bread, butter, AND jam. He further stated that as long as he had the money, there would be meat at every meal, preferably steak.

            DH, then, was raised in an atmosphere of abundance. His mother always said, “Take cookies when cookies is passed.” There were always cookies and everything else too, even though he was the youngest of a swarm of ravenous teenage boys; she cooked huge pans of food and served the leftovers for lunch the next day to whoever was home. He did the shopping for her beginning as a preteen, when her health began to fail, and he got to pick out an extra treat for himself at every trip. About that same time, he got a severe emotional shock that exacerbated the natural teenage boy’s tendency to escape from the turmoil of puberty by “checking out.” He watched A LOT of TV, including during meals. Meanwhile, his mother’s health got worse and worse–but even when she had to take puffs from an oxygen cannula and knead the bread sitting down, she insisted on cooking. And she was a fantastic cook.

            I think that “food equals love” and “food buffers emotional upset” got mixed up with the tendency for people who are watching a movie or TV show to eat more than they planned on. Somehow that came out as “If I’m not painfully stuffed, I didn’t really eat.”

      • Lena

        My mother was worried about portion control like the previous commenter. You know why I tried to snack constantly (and ended up sneaking food and spending my allowance on food to eat at school out of sight of my parents)? Because my parents exercised portion control and the whole “wait 10 minutes” and “drink some water and see if you’re still hungry” and more. For goodness sake, I was a growing teenager who did quite a bit of physical activity, and I needed far more calories than they thought I needed. Most parents joke about their teenage sons who eat mounds of food, but teenage girls need just as much food however it’s not seen as “ladylike”, or parents are more afraid of their daughters gaining weight than sons.

        I don’t think I would have felt the constant need to snack or sneak food if my parents had done the Ellyn Satter thing and just let me eat as much as I liked at regular meal and snack times.

        • katja

          lena, thanks so much for your experience and perspective. Yours is a common reaction to restriction, and alas I fear will be ever more common as parents and health professionals take up more of the line of “don’t diet, just watch your portions…” I heard this again recently at the U at a lectue by a researeher in childhood obesity who uses the “small plate” trick, (and other Mindless Eating approaches) and also makes her kids wait 20 minutes. There are no studies that that approach helps. Fundamentally it belies that we can’t as humans be trusted to eat based on internal cues. (there is also a denial of biological diversity…) Thank you again for sharing

          • Christine

            Now I feel like I need to reiterate and clarify: I ask that my daughter wait 10 minutes before getting second helpings after she’s already finished a large first helping. She’s a fast eater, and slowing her pace gives her a chance listen to her body and mindfully judge whether she wants more food. As I said, usually she finds that she doesn’t; she’s already full. (And sometimes the leftovers don’t even have time to get cold in the fridge, and that’s OK, too.) I’m trying to avoid the “automatic response” of reaching for more of anything that tastes good, (especially with rich and calorie-dense foods) which is her first impulse. I think that’s very, very different from “coping” techniques like drinking water first, or imposing arbitrary waiting periods before eating in the first place. Those are designed to distract from and deny real hunger, and I don’t believe in that at all.

          • BigLiberty


            Would you have these restrictions if your 13 year-old daughter was thin?

            Also, what makes you think that your 13 year-old doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do, and that you’re monitoring her food intake? As someone who used to be a heavyset 13 year-old, what you’re doing right now is telling her that she’s broken. I know you don’t see it like that, but I assure you that’s what she hears. That she can’t even eat correctly, one of the most basic functions of a human body, and I’m sure that she’s hyper-aware of her body size and how our culture treats larger women.

            My advice is to exercise some more empathy, and trust your daughter more. Make her more comfortable, build up her confidence, and encourage her. Positivity. Don’t focus on her body. Trust me, she knows what she looks like and what other people think of that. She knows that you think she eats too much, or doesn’t eat the right things, or doesn’t eat in the right way. And she probably thinks you are on her about it because of her size.

            I’m sure she’s really not all that different from other kids her age in this respect. You need to focus less on the amount she eats and more about just making sure you have healthful options in the house and leaving the rest up to her. She’s 13. I’m sure she understands the concepts of meals and snacks, she doesn’t need to be policed on portions or when she decides to eat anymore.

            Otherwise in my opinion you are putting her on the road to an eating disorder. If you make her think that she’s ‘doing it wrong’ and ‘doing it better’ means smaller portions, or eating less, or eating lower-calorie foods, then the natural parent-pleasing impulse in most kids might make her take that to extremes. It happens a lot, and *especially* around this age. Please, be very careful. From an anorexia survivor who was a chubby 13 year old (my ED started up when I was 15) please, please be careful.

            Your words, your advice, they carry a lot more weight than you think. Kids have a tendency to take these things to extremes. You need to foster a much more positive relationship with food. It’s not her enemy, and her desires and hunger aren’t her enemies. And I’m sure you’d much prefer not being her enemy in this, either.

            Note additionally that, as another commenter said, teenage girls (of all sizes) eat a lot if they’re not restricting, just like teenage boys. They’re still growing. I had plenty of thin friends in middle school who ate like there was no tomorrow. When they did it it was because they were ‘growing,’ but when the fatter kids did it it was ‘unhealthy’ and ‘why they were fat.’

            She needs to figure out for herself what normal eating is all about, ultimately. Just like the thin kids, just like anyone else.

          • katja

            BigLiberty, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m glad you are a survivor and sharing here. This is a tricky issue with lots of controversy. As you know, there is a biological aspect to eating disorders, perhaps more with anorexia, than with binge eating for example. Some folks are not aware of the saying, “Biology loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger,” so I don’t think we can say that what Christine is doing will lead to an eating disorder, though depending on lots of factors, it may be undermining her eating competence. There is a continuum from eating competence to disordered eating to full-on eating disorders.
            I had a very supportive feeding environment until puberty, and still with comments about my weight, portions, etc, I was still fed regularly, reliably, a good variety of foods, mostly without too much comment. So, had I had more of a genetic or temperamental predisposition, or a boyfriend that ripped on me, or if I was bigger to begin with and experienced more teasing, who knows…
            It’s complicated. I highly recommend reading Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming for anyone who has concerns about weight or portions. I hear too many stories from adults (women mostly) who started their path to their disordered eating or full blown eating disorder with a simple diet, or attempt to eat “healthier”-which almost always meant “less.” We do have to be careful.

          • Elizabeth

            One thing that I saw in How to Feed Your Family (I think) that has helped me is the comment that people learn by experience. If kids are never allowed to overeat and learn what it feels like and how to manage it themselves, then they don’t have the skills to do it and recognize it later when they are on their own. It’s just like lots of other areas of life – sometimes you need to let them learn by making mistakes, even though it’s killing you to watch it and not step in and “fix” it.

          • katja

            I totally agree. This was really helpful to me with my larger than average child with her larger than average (often it seemed to me) appetite. I looked at “overeating” as a learning experience and that was really key to letting her decide how much to eat, even if it was on occasion a lot more than I expected (or the books told me she should be eating.) Thanks!

  6. TropicalChrome

    My mother and my grandmother were my food ogres growing up. Food was very highly moralized – there were “good” foods, which it was virtuous to eat, and “bad” foods, which made you a horrible person. All of which were summarized in their common reaction to eating anything they didn’t think you should be eating for whatever reason: “Are you SURE you want to eat THAT?”

    My grandmother is no longer with us, but the damage she did lives on. I’m 46 years old, and I’ve made it clear to my mother that no, I will no longer speak about food morality, nor will I listen to her beat herself up about her own food choices (partially because it’s boring, but mostly because I don’t care).

    Even though your blog is mostly about teaching children to feed themselves and make their own choices, it helps me because I’m still unlearning all the awful habits and self-doubt and self-hatred I was taught. I’ve come a very long way, but there’s more to go. Which only goes to show you it’s never too late to try something new.

    • katja

      Thanks for sharing! It is boring, isn’t it! Good for you for drawing the line! I’m working with adults more these days as well, so I hope you will continue to read and find useful words here. the reader comments are usually amazing, so be sure to check those too! The sad thing is that schools are now turning into food ogres, big time. Look for more on this coming up! You’re right, it’s NEVER to late, and try and try again. that’s what is so lovely about our bodies, there aren’t really mistakes with eating, but learning opportunities in this process…