viernes, 31 de agosto de 2012

The Food Obsession

Dave, Alex and I arrived in Barcelona a week and a half ago. In a couple of weeks we'll go to a small town north of the city, on the Costa Brava, where I've hired a house by the beach for a month, and then we'll go back to Australia. In the meantime, we are staying with my parents at their apartment in the city.

My mum came to pick us up at the airport and one of the first things she said to me was, 'You're so thin! You've lost weight!' It was my cue to deny it and then sigh. We do this every time we see each other after a long absence, which is about once a year. Of course, she's wrong and I'm right. If it were true that I am thinner every time she's seen me, I would have disappeared years ago.

In the last two years it's got worse because she's been insisting that Dave is also too skinny. When Dave and Alex are watching telly I have to watch her. I've seen her spoon feeding Dave while he's open-mouthed and distracted. I never do this. He's six years old. If he's hungry he'll let me know and I'll cook something for him, or he might go to the fridge himself and grab whatever he feels like. Same with Alex. Some days they eat little and it never worries me. They are healthy kids. They were both breastfed for years and rarely get sick. They've never had an ear infection, asthma, food allergies, or any of the other illnesses that seem so common among kids nowadays. They don't even get colds or the flu in winter when everyone else does. But when either one of them or both have one of these days of eating very little, my mum worries. She says things like, 'These kids don't eat well enough' or 'Children at this age are growing so rapidly, they need to eat more.' Again, we have this sort of discussion every time we see each other. I say, 'Agreed. But if they don't want to eat, you cannot force them, and forcing means distracting as well.' I still remember the games she used to play with me when I was little and I refused to eat. She pretended the spoon was a plane and my mouth was the airport. She would fly the spoon-plane all over the room, to my enormous delight. Having to eat it was the distasteful price I had to pay for her to do it again. 

As it is so hot here in Spain at the moment, we've been going to the beach a lot. Sometimes Dave and Alex and even myself don't have much to eat for breakfast, and then I take some healthy snacks for later. One day at the beach I was looking for the sunscreen lotion in mum's bag and I found a box of chocolate, rice and yoghurt cereal bars, for the kids. Mum was surprised when I told her that these bars are shit, also known as junk food. 'But this is good nourishment, it's rice and chocolate; chocolate is actually healthy,' she said. Yes, pure dark chocolate is healthy, but these disgusting little bars that kids love so much are nothing but sugar, which is not very healthy at all. As a general rule, processed food is not good and the more ingredients listed on the packet the worse it is. This particular cereal bar had 42 grams of sugar per 100 grams. More than 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams is already too much for anyone, let alone children.

Sometimes Dave and Alex get ravenous, especially if they've spent all they splashing in the waves. They're so hungry they could eat a horse, as they say. So they eat whatever they're given and it's all healthy, nourishing and filling. Mum gets really happy when this happens. She loves to list everything they've gorged down. She might even say, 'They're such good boys!' I sigh. They are good boys because they are meeting a basic need? Then I laugh and say, 'Did you really think they were going to starve?'

My mum is so cute. It's not a worry that she acts like this. She belongs to another generation and has her reasons to do the things she does. What I find more alarming is to see people my own age and younger forcing their children to finish what's on their plate at a time when they (the parents) decide is time to eat. They use desert as a reward for finishing something the children don't want, so they end up overeating and abhorring the good food they have to eat in order to get to the sweets.

It takes a lot of trust and even courage to let a child fast for hours and then when at 3 pm he finally says, 'I'm hungry' give him some real, healthy food. Yet, this is what I do. I do it myself and I do it with the kids. We don't listen to people when they say, 'It's lunch time' or 'It's dinner time, let's sit at the table.' I want my kids to listen to their bodies and follow their own intuition, not what other people think it's best. I don't offer them food that I consider bad for their health, but many other people do, and they are tempted. Every time we go shopping for groceries (I try to limit that to once a week) they ask for an icy pole, yoghurt, strawberries, biscuits or cereal. I buy whatever they ask for, even though it pains me when it is stuff that I consider of little to zero nutritional content. Luckily, there's a lot of shit they don't ask for because they've never had it before, so they don't know what it is, like sodas. I don't want to deprive them of certain foods because that would make them want them even more. I let them have them because I know they're not going to kill them in the short term, but I let them know how bad they are and what they do to their bodies. I buy them when they ask for them, but I never offer them.

Kids tend to get attached to a certain type of food for a long period of time, and then they get over it and move on to something else. For a long time Dave would only want to eat pasta with cheese, no sauce. He would have that for lunch and dinner. But he'd also eat a raw carrot here and there, an apple, beens from our veggie patch... Some days Alex would be happy eating only icy poles. We had a box in the freezer and one day he ate six in a row... It was very painful to see him do that, but I let him. After all that sugar he had a healthy dinner as if he hadn't had anything before. It might surprise some people that I let my 4 year-old do this, but again, I prefer him to listen to his own body than to me. Dave is already very good at this. He can't have much of sweets or chocolate because it doesn't agree with him, he says.