By Devon Acou, D.C., B.S.
I have had some questions on how I get my 4 year old to eat so well. To be honest, the idea of how my child would eat happened long before I became a parent.
The first big turn towards healthy parenting actually came during a class in undergrad, when we were required to watch the documentary Super Size Me, a documentary about a man who tried to live on McDonald’s alone for a month, to discover the health consequences. In the few short weeks he was on the diet, Morgan Spurlock became quite ill, and it took his health more than a year to recover.
To me, the major takeaway of the movie wasn’t that McDonald’s is bad for you (duh!), but the idea of a negative association with certain eating experiences. At one point in the film, Spurlock says, “When I have kids, I’m going to punch them in the face every time that we drive by or see a McDonald’s.” Even though Spurlock didn’t mean it literally and wasn’t condoning child abuse, that statement was still too harsh. However, he’s right. If you have a negative association with a restaurant, you won’t crave it.
From my daughter’s first bites of real food, I used the “negative association” method. Every parent uses repetition to teach their child (from proper manners to washing your hands after using the restroom), and I simply did the same thing for food.
From the time Addison was a baby, I would point to the brightly colored candy in the grocery store checkout line and say “Addison see that candy? Candy is yucka, we don’t eat candy,” and make a face of disgust.
When Addie started talking, she would point to candy on her own and say “we don’t eat candy, it’s yucka,” and scrunch up her face in mock pain.
NO, IT’S NOT “MEAN”
Which is why my child is almost 5 years old and has yet to have a piece of candy. You would be surprised how many parents get upset at this, and act like I’m “depriving” my daughter.
Sugar is not a need. It detracts from health. And it’s addictive. Sugar causes a similar brain reaction as shooting heroine. And for kids, it’s even worse. Studies have found a link between heavy sugar in-take in children and alcoholism later in life.
Has my child ever had sugar? Yes. We waited until she was about 2 years old. For birthdays and special occasions, we would provide a gluten free treat.
Despite the school of thought that says that kids will binge if they’re not indulged in sugar, Addie has zero interest in going off the deep end. She honestly doesn’t even eat the entire dessert when it is given to her, there is always some left over every time.
“WHEN YOU’RE NOT AROUND THEY’LL EAT SUGAR.”
Maybe. I’m not an expert on child or teen behavior. All I know is what I’ve seen.
We have really gone into the details of the effects of sugar to the body, and Addie knows she gets a little wound up from eating sugar. Last Halloween, my parents got Addie some apple cider…a very rare treat. After a few sips she asked for water. Addie explained to my dad that she “didn’t’ want her blood sugar to get too high. At Trader Joe’s, she politely turns down samples by saying “No, thank you, I don’t eat candy.”
“WELL WAIT UNTIL SHE GETS OLDER…”
Ok, you got me there. I don’t know the future. Just like I don’t know if in every social setting when she gets older will she make the best choices for her body and her well-being. But what I know if you set up the really solid ground work then hopefully she will make good choices.
What has made what we do with Addison a huge success is the cooperation of those around us during that first 4 years of her life. Babysitters, staff members at her preschool, grandparents and of course my husband have all been on the same page for Addison.
Seaweed was a favorite snack at one point. Salmon for breakfast as a toddler. She will eat beef, chicken, and fish. Eats a wide variety of vegetables including broccoli.
IS IT WORTH IT?
What’s the reward for eating well? My kid’s emotions for the majority of the time are pretty balanced, resulting in very few temper tantrums. She comes down with the occasional cold, but nothing serious. She has never had an antibiotic or a prescription drug. She can focus and concentrate for over an hour on a project, like a 100-piece puzzle or a 6-12 year old Lego set with no help from an adult. She is doing work in school 1 to 2 grade levels above her age, and goes in every day to work hard at school.
The results are great, but I don’t want to make this sound easy. Addison’s attitudes about food happened because of consistent conversation and follow through of choices for years. It’s so much easier to teach a child these things before bad habits take hold. Wherever you are, you can always start over and explain the new choices that you want to make for the entire family, regardless of the age of your kids.
Dr. Devon Acou has been serving children and their parents in the western suburbs of Chicago. Having a child of her own has helped her to really understand parenting struggles that we all face. It is never to late to change your lifestyle and realize that your goals are Within Reach.
Visit Dr. Devon Acou on her webiste, here