A Child’s Diet: Let Them Lead The Way

p>When Bug was a newborn, the nurses brought him to me to breastfeed.  He would nurse like a champ!  After the difficult nursing experience I had with Buddy, I was thrilled to have a child with an appetite and the milk supply to keep up.  Usually, a breast feeding mom has to work their baby up from 5 minutes each breast to 10 minutes each breast to 15 minutes each breast.  It’s been a long time but I think that’s it, right?  30 minutes of nursing?  I don’t remember anymore.  I do remember though that the nurses were much impressed because Bug was nursing 10 minutes at each breast by nightfall. 

Bug was a bigger baby than his brother and he was a bigger toddler.  His bum did not quite fit in his diapers.  Bits of butt would hang out of either side.  I’d gently pinch those little bits and affectionately referred to them as his Love Chunks.  When it was time to switch to underwear, we opted for boxer briefs in order to contain those little Love Chunks too! 

Bug’s appetite was much larger than Buddy’s or other children his age.  I recall cringing at a party when a parent cheered that Bug was on his 3rd hotdog.  I was mad.  Who the hell is giving a toddler 3rds?!  And of a hotdog no less?!  So many children have the opposite problem of never wanting to eat that other adults are always quite amazed and even pleased to find a child who loves to eat.  The thing is, Bug would eat three cucumbers too.  He used to walk around the house, munching on a whole cucumber like it was a pickle.  Still does.  Grandparents were enthralled as well.  I recall picking Bug up from a visit with his Grandparents.  They filled me in on their visit with the boys.

“We took them to McDonald’s,”  (a real treat for my sons as I can’t STAND the food there) “They each got a Happy Meal and then Bug wanted a second one.  I couldn’t believe that he could eat TWO whole Happy Meals!”  his Grandpa crowed.

I can’t believe you LET him eat two whole Happy Meals!!!

Bug had an unusually large appetite and I began to worry.  He was wearing the same size clothes as his brother who is two years older than Bug.  I would argue with myself about what was something I perceived as abnormal and what wasn’t.  Then one day, my mother had the boys while grocery shopping and a man approached her about getting Bug (age 3)  involved in football.  Apparently he was a high school football coach and he asked mom what district we lived in and what high school Bug would feed into.  A similar incident happened again when he was 4.  We were at Buddy’s soccer game and a parent of another player began to ask about Bug’s age.

“I coach at _____ high school.  What school will he feed into?  You might consider getting him into “ball” now.  I’d love to have him play for me when he’s ready!”

This was all based on my son’s size.  It had nothing to due with his athletic prowess, which is nil.  Bug started digging around in the coaches duffle bag.

“Do you have any snacks in here?” he asked.

The coach laughed and said, “That’s what I’m sayin’!  He’s just like my players!”

That same year, Bug and I were at his pediatrician for a Well Check.  He was a new doctor for us (can’t recall why).  He measured Bug,  weighed him, gave him a clean bill of health and then handed me forms regarding the immunizations he had received that day.  He also gave me a few forms regarding diet.

“Bug is above average on the growth chart for weight but slightly below average on the chart for height.”

“It’s something I worry about…”  I confessed.

“Well, childhood obesity is a concern.  Bug needs to be more active,” he said while Bug spun in circles beside the doctor.

Bug age 4, when the dr. said he was headed toward obesity.

Bug age 4, when the dr. said he was headed toward obesity.

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When we got home from the appointment I announced to Bug that we were going for a bike ride, something he loved to do.

“We need to be more active!” I declared.

Bug was thrilled!  He got his helmet on, hopped on his bike and headed to the end of the driveway.

“Which way, Mama?”

“Which ever direction you’d like,” I said.  “You lead the way!”

“We’re going….left,” he decided and steered his bike in that direction.

“Are we riding to Nana’s?” I asked.

“Nope.  We’re riding to Whataburger!” he said.  “Won’t they be surprised to see me ride up on my bike at Whataburger!!”

I cringed and stifled giggles at the same time.  I’m sorry to say but there’s nothing funnier than a fat kid obsessed with food!  However, this is exactly the opposite of why I wanted us to be more active.

A few weeks ago, Bug was sick.  At the doctor’s office they weighed him.  I was shocked to hear the number.  I could see that Bug was struggling with it himself.

“Hm…that’s an odd number…and it’s the same forwards as it is backwards…” he said aloud as he broke the weight down to a number. 

Which is it all it is.  A number.

“You OK?  How does that make you feel?”  I asked.

“It’s too much,” he said looking at his shoes.  “It makes me feel really bad.”

Damn it.  Damn it.  Damn it all!

I called a dietician.

JR met me at Starbucks (I struggled with that!  Let me tell you!)  We met with out Bug-O.  I shared our story.  I told her that I was so frustrated because none of his pediatrician’s are ever concerned about it.  I’ve only had two doctors ever express concern.  I told her that I know a child should not diet so I don’t restrict his food but I do work on his portions. 

“I think portion control is a real problem for Bug.  The whole family eats the same food and we’re not overweight but we don’t eat and eat and eat like Bug does.”

“You say you aren’t restricting his diet but controlling his portions IS restriction,” she pointed out.  She gave me a plan to take the power away from food.  It’s just food. 

“Stop moralizing food.  There isn’t ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food.  Bug hears that as, ‘I’m a good boy if I eat this or a bad boy if I eat that.’  You’re job is to provide the food and to give a regular schedule of eating times; breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.  He gets to choose how much he eats.”

Pain leaped to my chest as I recalled the toddler who could eat 3 hot dogs and still ask for more.  Let THAT child decide how much he eats?!  But really, I did that just the night before.  We ate dinner and he wanted more and I told Bug he was welcome to more salad or he could have a piece of fruit.  That was providing the WHAT to eat and letting him choose how MUCH he eats.

“Sounds to me like Bug has a bigger appetite than others and that he’s going to be bigger than other kids.  That’s fine.  That’s how he’s made to be.  He’s not wrong for that.  If Beyoncé and Cameron Diaz were put on the same diet with the same exercise routine they would still not have the same figures.  Society tells Bug two things right now:  One is that being the fat kid is cute and funny.  The likable sidekick getting all the laughs is the fat kid.  Bug gets laughs and big smiles when he voices his food obsessions.  Society is also telling him that being fat is bad, that small and skinny are healthy and beautiful and that he needs to lose weight.” 

JR recommended a book called Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming by Ellyn Satter and told me to call her if I needed help with anything.

That night for dinner I made spaghetti with wheat pasta and meat sauce and a kale salad with a homemade dressing of olive oil, lemon and spices.  I served everyone and we sat down for dinner together.  I had not yet had a chance to talk to Man about my meeting with the dietician.  We shared about our days and Bug raved about how delicious dinner was.  He loved the kale salad!  Buddy did not.  Both boys ate their spaghetti first and then started on their salads.  Buddy excused himself part way through.  Then Bug announced that he was full.

“You have to finish your salad, Bug,”  Man said.

Eek!  No!  He gets to decide how much to eat.

“But I’m full,” Bug said.

“That’s OK.  Salad doesn’t take up a lot of space and it’s super good for you,” Man said.

“Bug had a pear after school today and so he very well may be too full for anything else,” I intervened.

“A pear!  Great choice, Bug!  Proud of you.” Man cheered.

Stop moralizing food.  He’s not a good boy for eating “good” food.

I excused Bug and had a private conversation with Man in the bedroom.  I told him what the dietician told me and about my observations at dinner. 

“Maybe if we want the boys to eat more veggies than I should just serve the salad first and when that’s done, THEN bring out the main course,” I said and Man agreed.  “Also, Baby, you didn’t make BUDDY eat his salad.   You just told Bug that HE had to.  That sends the wrong message to both boys.  Just because Buddy is skinny does not mean he’s healthy.  Healthy is not a size.”

Man agreed.  I think he was pretty happy really because he’s been Team He’ll Grow Into It all along.  Still, there is some damage that I’ve inadvertently caused spurred on by a good intentioned doctor and friends and family.  This weekend it was just Bug and I and I observed…

He split a few meals in half, at a buffet he got his salad and noted that it was so wrong for them to put the salad bar and dessert bar together.  On another night when he did get dessert he cut it in half.  He cheerfully announced one morning that he was not going to eat breakfast.

“Yes you are,” I get to choose what and when he eats.  “How about you have a hardboiled egg?”  But honestly, I don’t know if that was right to do either.  Kids will eat when they are hungry.  Whatever Bug’s motive for not eating that morning is unknown to me but if I’m going to retrain our thinking regarding food than I have to let him lead the way.

Ellyn Satter also has books on children who won’t eat.  You are not a restaurant.  Your child does not get to choose what they eat.  You make a meal and if they want to eat it, great.  If not, with out a fight or argument, you let them be excused.  When they are hungry they will eat.  Furthermore, they will eat what YOU have provided, not what they are ordering. 

The book JR had recommended arrived yesterday.  I’ve been reading it, anxiety gripping my chest.  The gist of it is (and I’ve only read chapter 1)  that a child instinctually knows how much to eat and how active to be in order for them to grow.  There are studies that even show if a child is eating lots of junk and fast food they still develop into a healthy child even more so than a child who has food restrictions.  When you say “no” to a certain thing (food or otherwise) endorphins are released in us and we’ve gotta have it!  Caren told me her mom used to cut up vegetables and then set them on the kitchen table where they were doing their homework and say, “Don’t eat these.  They’re for dinner.”  In no time, the plate was empty!  So restricting what they eat or how much they eat causes several problems.

1.  It makes you want those things more and consequently you eat more of it than you ever would’ve if no restriction had been put in place.  Therefore, you gain more weight.

2.  Telling a child that they need to eat this “good” food or this is “more healthy” or “you need to be more active” or “eat less” tells a child “You’re fat and you need to fix it.” 

I would never, ever tell Bug that he’s fat or that he’s not anything but perfect!  Unintentionally though, I have been saying that and it causes stress when it’s time to eat.  And eating when stressed causes overeating as well.  The goal is to make meals a pleasure.  It’s a time spent as a family eating yummy things and not about how much we’re eating or if it’s the right foods or not.  This is not to say “anything goes” and we can have a fast food free for all but it does mean that when we do eat fast food or cake or anything like that, than it’s no big deal.  So what?

So I have a major thinking and speaking over haul to do on myself.  I wish I could get everyone else in the world on board.  Bug hears it from everywhere.  Once I had to take the boys to the salon with me because I couldn’t get a sitter.  They sat in the waiting room together.  There was a bowl of candy at the counter. 

“Can I have a piece of candy?” Bug asked the receptionist.

“Pftt!  Not surprised that boy wanted candy!” chuckled an older man that was also in the waiting room.

At a school party, when Bug was 6, there were all sorts of foods provided; a veggie tray, hard boiled eggs, cookies, cupcakes…  Bug announced that he’d like seconds.

“Of course you do!” giggled another mother.

I came to Bug’s side and said loud enough for other parents to hear that “You can have seconds on the fruit or veggie’s Bug but you know we don’t allow seconds on sweets.”

It’s ridiculous that I have to feel like a jerk when I take my son out for ice cream.  I can see people looking at us and I know they are wondering, why in the world would a mom allow her “fat” kid to eat ice cream?

Bug came home from the dojo one night last year and said that his sensei told him he needed to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Well intentioned I’m sure but what that tells me son is that he’s fat.  There is also an implication that his parents are not feeding him well. 

My mother has recently lost a ton of weight.  She’s the smallest she’s been in decades.  She told me over the phone how much she had lost.

“Yeah, Man said he could tell you’ve lost a lot, when he saw you last week.”

“He did?!  Why didn’t he say anything?!”  she asked.

I wondered why as well and then I wondered, “Why should he say something?”  It’s really rather tacky of us as a society that we comment on one another’s weight and size.  Really, it’s gross and rude.  “Wow!  You look great?  Have you lost weight?” implies that you looked like crap before…you know…when you were a fat ass.  I can think of lots of truly beautiful women who are “over weight” by our standards.  Queen Latifah and Adele are the first two that come to mind as truly stunning women who are large.  We have got to change our attitudes regarding food and weight.  It’s a serious, serious problem.

Also, high schoolers should NOT be dieting.  Period.  Children who diet in high school tend to end up fatter than the ones who didn’t and also tend to struggle with yo-yo dieting the rest of their lives.  Um…that would be me!  We should not comment on a child’s body ever.  Not to the child and not to the parent.  I remember always being referred to as a chubby child.  When I look back at pictures I don’t know why.  I was skinny!  I had a belly but lots of kids do.  When I was in high school I remember a family member saying to me, “It looks like all the weight in your belly moved up to your chest.”  I was horrified.  I hated my belly as a child and as an adolescent (and an adult) I moved that hate right up to my chest.

I plotted Bug’s weight and height on a growth chart.  Just like when he was 4, his weight is above average and his height is just a touch below average.  The arc of both weight and height are perfectly on track.  No major peaks and valleys.

Bug age 9.  The boys loves bacon.  A fat kid in a bacon shirt is funny!  I don't care who you are.

Bug age 9. The boys loves bacon. A fat kid in a bacon shirt is funny! I don’t care who you are.

  I looked at a picture of Bug when he was 4.  I remember being worried about his weight then but looking at the picture now, he looks like a perfectly proportioned child to me.  I would so like to go back to that day when we decided to be “more active!”  I would like to take those words away.  I would like to put him on his bike again and when he asked me which way I can let him choose again.  “You lead the way!”  And we would ride all the way to Whataburger.  

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About buddyandbug

Man and I moved from Texas to Colorado with Buddy and Bug. This blog is a chronicle of our adventures as we deal with homesickness and adjust to Mountain Living. “If you are a dreamer,come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” ~ Shel Silverstein
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One Response to A Child’s Diet: Let Them Lead The Way

  1. Ali Andrade says:

    What a sweet post. I enjoyed reading about your boys. I adore my three. They are not overweight by any means, but my 4 year old is built differently than my 6 year old. My 6 year old is a bean pole. My 4 year old is an oak tree. My 19 month old is looking like he’ll grow into a bean pole as well. Because I struggled with my weight, I try to never compare or shame or criticize their differences. I have recently been on a quest to lose weight, but that’s because I was unhealthy and unhappy. That’s different. And the truth is, I wasn’t eating correctly. I found that when you have healthier choices at home, you don’t need to look elsewhere, and I totally get what you’re saying. At home, I do try to buy what is healthy for them regardless of how much they do or don’t want to eat. I have a different eating and feeding style than my mom used with us. You try to do your best as a parent, and sometimes you make mistakes. I ask my mom to not “make them” eat anything and when they’re hungry, they will ask. And if my big boys eat the same thing, how dare I tell my 4 year old to stay hungry because he has already had the same amount as his big brother? It’s such a hard road, this parenting thing. I don’t treat any of my kids equally. They are three different people, so I treat them in three very different ways. So what if they don’t fit the mold? Just realize that people will judge and talk and criticize you no matter what you do…just keep on being the loving, wonderful, sweet Mama to your two very different, very unique, very perfect boys! Wish you were still here! Hugs to your Buddy and Bug!

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