Recently I was in a tourist environment that was fairly equally split between Americans, Brits, and Germans. I decided to conduct one of my infamously unscientific polls (which often seem to get me marked as a peeping tom, as I hide in potted plants to view my “subjects” in their natural habitat).
In general, I noticed that American and British parents tend to be less lean than Germans (and the smattering of Latin Americans, Lithuanians and Indians that I also observed). But the kids were all about the same in terms of size/weight. Noting this, I turned my attentions toward food choices and eating habits.
What was interesting among the kids, was that American and British kids always had to have a high fat, calorically dense, low nutrient type of dessert when eating a meal, and required snacks of the same type. German kids (and the others I mentioned above) were just as likely to pick fruit or nothing for dessert, as they were to go for the ooey- gooey’s that the American and British kids went for. So then I went in for eavesdropping about how the kids and parents “negotiate” ordering and food choices.
The American and British kids tended to feel that they were “entitled” to the sweets because they were on vacation. And while their parents argued with them about fat and calories, and “healthy” eating, they always gave in, and ordered liberally themselves. The German and other kids I observed didn’t seem to have arguments about food, and didn’t feel that food was automatically tied to rewards (such as being on vacation equates eating excessively for a reward).
My conclusion: American and British kids at younger and younger ages are being “infected” by their parents’ obsession with dieting and “healthy” eating (which really translates to some screwed up idea of perfect eating). Where cultures are less indoctrinated with “dieting” rather than living well and normally, the kids and parents not only seem thinner, they face a lot less angst in their relationships.
We’ve all heard the Harry Chapin song, “Cats in the Cradle” where a father laments missing all the important milestones in his son’s life due to his work schedule, then sees his son being absent in the same way as his son grew up. “My son was just like me…” which was both a lyric of hope at the beginning of the song and sadness by the end of the song.
After watching this “food fight” played out in so many families, and after talking to so many women that are facing the same food struggles in their homes, I wondered if the new generation of Americans are missing time with their children because they are too busy fighting over “healthy eating.” One of my last posts was about giving up the food restrictions that you might have learned from your parents – this post has turned that idea up a notch….give up teaching your kids food restriction and turn tensions and aniexty in the home to natural, normal eaters that are better equipped to maintain their health and weight for their lifetimes, even when you aren’t monitoring every morsel. For more about this idea from a dietician point of view, read Marsha Hudnall’s previous post, Getting Over Candy and her more recent Taking Healthy Eating Too Far.