My son has begun to come home from his weekends with his father terrified of certain foods. Fattening foods, mostly. Unhealthy foods
In a country where childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years, and where one in three Latino children are obese (according to the Centers for Disease Control) you’d think this would make me happy.
It does not.
My son is five feet tall and weights 85 pounds, giving him a BMI of 16.6, officially “underweight.” Yet after visiting his dad he comes back convinced that he’s “getting fat,” a view his father astonishingly shares. (Not too long ago his father causally mentioned to me in front of our kid that “Alex is getting a little pudgy.” It was absurd.)
The other day, my son and I were in the grocery store and I went to grab a pint of my son’s favorite lowfat frozen yogurt.
“No, mom!” he cried, agonized. “I’m getting fat.”
A woman passing by us looked over at him, alarm registering on her face. She looked at me as though for an answer. I didn’t know what to say.
It’s not hard to see where the fear is coming from. My son’s father is a runner, nearly vegan, and very fit, bordering (in my opinion) on manorexic. He has been extremely controlled and careful with his eating for all 14 years I’ve known the man, because of a family history of diabetes that he has reasonably done his best to avoid.
But as a recovering bulimic (I had the disorder for nearly 15 years), I know full well how harmful food obsession can be when taken to an extreme, and it pains me to see my child internalizing his father’s worries.
We hear about girls developing eating disorders at alarmingly early ages, and I’m starting to think it happens to boys, too. According to the National Eating Disorders Organization, 1 in 10 people who end up seeking medical treatment for an eating disorder are males.
Our children are listening, even when we think they aren’t. They are learning from our examples. I know that my own almost obsessive drive to lose weight in recent months probably isn’t helping, so I’ve begun to take an “all things in moderation” approach, in hopes that it will wear off on my kid.
After the incident at the grocery store, I took my son out for a burger. He seemed uncertain, and tried to get a green salad for his side, and I suggested, firmly, that he get the fries—which he used to love.
“I can’t do that!” he gasped.
“Why not?” I asked.
“My dad never eats fries. And he’s the strongest man in the world.”
I bit my tongue. I ordered a side of fries, and as I ate a few I explained to my son that extremes of behavior are not the best approach, especially with eating, and that for a growing boy of 10, who is underweight and actively involved in several sports, a French fry now and then is a good idea.
He seemed to believe me, for now. But I can see that this will be an ongoing issue. What about you guys? Do you think your kids have negative food attitudes? How do you handle different food attitudes between you and your child’s other parent?
For more information on boys and eating disorders, please click here.