Friday, March 23, 2001
Setting a revolutionary table for healthy eating
Which of these methods encourage children to develop a healthy attitude towards food?
A. Snacking any time any one feels like it.
B. Serving dessert at the same time as dinner.
C. Exercising after excessive meals.
Made your choices?
If you chose A or B, you are a good influence on healthy eaters. If you chose C, you are normal, but may inadvertently encourage abnormal eating behaviors, according to psychotherapist Alice Rosen, MS Ed., LMHC. She has worked for 20 years with women who are preoccupied with food and body image issues.
"When I first heard Alice speak, I thought she was from another planet," admitted Kathy Bowen, Concord health coordinator for grades K-12. In the two years they have known each other, however, Bowen has become a Rosen supporter. In fact, Bowen introduced Rosen's lecture for the Center for Parents and Teachers in Concord on March 13 entitled, "Body Intelligence: Helping Your Child Develop a Healthy Approach to Food."
Bowen is very concerned that children in our community are not exhibiting healthy attitudes towards food. She has good reason. Based on the recently released results of a Youth Risk Behavior Study conducted by Emerson Hospital with data collected from local school systems last year, 41.2% of Concord-Carlisle High School students are currently trying to lose weight. Other towns participating in the study included Acton-Boxboro, Dunstable, Groton, Littleton, Maynard and Westford. The aggregate sample came in slightly lower with 40.9% of the kids dieting. Based on random data sampling by the Massachusetts Board of Education, weight-conscious children throughout the state average higher at about 44.4%.
At the Concord-Carlisle High School, 5.8% of students reported vomiting or taking laxatives in the month previous to the survey. A surprising 7.5% took diet pills without a doctor's advice.
Not just a female problem
Rosen lives in Concord and has three teenagers, ages 19, 17, and 15. An accomplished speaker and current president of the Alcott Toastmasters organization, Rosen frequently delivers talks on prevention and the early intervention of disordered eating.
"A healthy relationship with food is a cornerstone to health and well-being," said Rosen. "A healthy eater doesn't make second guesses about food choices. A normal eaterthe average eaterwants to be thin." She described a continuum that spanned from healthy eaters, normal eaters and disordered eaters, to those with diagnosed eating disorders. Rosen stated that seven million women and one million men have diagnosed eating disorders in this country today.
Rosen puts the film, television, and print industries at the root of the problems. She showed a 100-year-old advertisement that promoted tapeworms as a way to "banish fat." She showed numerous current clippings from women's magazines that promote starvation as glamorous, as well as a wide variety of articles featuring diet after diet. Rosen believes that too many people unrealistically strive for an ideal body type that "only five percent of the population can achieve."
Of the 29 people that attended the talk, only three were men. However, of the local Concord-Carlisle sample, boys made up an alarming 40% of those trying to lose weight through exercise.
"Exercise is something you do for fun or to improve your cardiovascular system," said Rosen. She does not believe it should be confused with a way to counteract unhealthy eating behaviors.
Local parents are concerned. Carlisle attendee Melissa Weiksnar has three children in public school, ages 16, 15, and 12. She was amazed at the large number of students dieting at the high school, and believes that based on her personal observations, most students are thin or normal in weight. "These issues are so serious," Weiksnar said, "And there is such little support."
This year Carlisle will conduct a survey of middle school students to probe attitudes toward diet, according to Bowen.
Consider a different approach
Rosen stressed allowing kids to have input as a fundamental to developing long-term good food habits. For example, insisting that a child eat everything on the plate before having dessert may result in excessive eating. Instead, Rosen suggests serving all the food choices at once. When empowered to make decisions themselves, kids make surprisingly sound nutritional choices.
"Hunger is the key to eating," said Rosen. "It is important to help kids differentiate between nutritional hunger versus emotional hunger." When a child asks for something to eat, Rosen suggests finding out what they are craving. She encourages having nutritional snacks readily available so that kids can eat whenever they are hungry, even if you are in the middle of preparing dinner. Denying a child food when she or he is hungry may result in gorging later at mealtime, as a deprived body will try to stuff itself and store food.
Rosen recommended two books for interested parents: Solving Your Child's Eating Problems by Jane Hirschmann and Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert. She believes it's definitely time for parents to try something new, because the existing approaches are simply not working.
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