Open thread: Follow the rules?

Shapeling RedSonja has a question that we think you all can answer better than we can. Let’s play collective Aunt Fattie!

Here’s the situation:

My boss was telling me the other day that his sister and her children are coming to visit. Apparently she felt both fat and ostracized in high school (I say felt, because he indicated he didn’t get that from that time period AT ALL) and, in an effort to prevent that for her 3 daughters, she has begun food restricting them. (Their ages, BTW, are 7, 5, and 3) He has been instructed that, while they’re visiting, they can’t serve desserts, the girls can only have 2 carbs a day, stuff like that. He’s concerned for his nieces, but wants to respect his sister’s feelings. Any Shapeling suggestions on how to do this? Also, when I asked him, he felt that she would be more likely to be responsive  to anecdata than to studies. Any guidance any of you have would be appreciated!

What do you all think? Should the uncle follow the rules? Should he confront his sister? Should he put delicious bowls of ice cream right at kids’-eye level? The man wants anecdata, so have at it in the comments.

182 thoughts on “Open thread: Follow the rules?

  1. I truly have no idea what kind of advice to give, but 2 carbs per day?! That’s far too low and can impair brain function. I feel truly sorry for those children. Sounds to me as though mom needs some serious therapy.

    Could the boss serve something like fruit for dessert? I get that fruit is carbs in diet-speak, but it seems like a reasonably compromise…

  2. Pardon me while my head explodes. Maybe he should call social services? Who puts a 3 year old on a diet?

  3. I assume slapping the shit out of the sister isn’t an option? Because it should be.

    Otherwise I’d help him find all the information he can on the harms of food restriction for children, and the social risks of body criticism for little girls, and have a bit of a “come to Jesus” talk with dear ole sis.

  4. What she is doing is laying the foundation for disordered eating in her children.

    Restricting food at such a young age can make a child’s very food-centric. Their hunger will control them, and make food a much bigger issue than it ever needs to be. In addition, it could be sending them any or all of the messages that a) they are fat, b) fat is ugly/undesirable, c) they must be thin to please their parents, d) their parents do not love them unconditionally.

    As for anectdata, my mother was constantly on a diet. She did not restrict my food per se, but there was never anything in the house but Fruit and Fiber cereal and rice cakes, and we had skinless chicken breasts with plain green beans for dinner.

    As a result of this, I definitely learned that being fat was undesirable. I also became obsessed with food. My friends would lure me into doing things with promises of chips or candy. My mother’s diet absolutely did NOT keep me away from junk food. I stole money out of her purse to go to McDonalds with my friends. I ate junk food at friends houses constantly. I learned that skinny was pretty and fat was gross, but also that junk food was forbidden fruit to be prized and gobbled immediately (mostly in secret). I got fat.

    Luckily as an adult, I have a pretty sane relationship with food (thank you so much, FA community!), but for years I practiced a lot of disordered eating.

    This man should first and foremost talk with his sister and recommend that the best way to ensure healthy eating in her children is to set an example of NORMAL eating (not dieting or orthorexia), and provide food that is healthy and plentiful (with a treats sometimes, too). She should absolutely not make any issue out of food. And, above all, she should love her kids fat or thin, and make sure they know it.

    If she still wants to restrict the food of young children like that, I’d just ignore her rules and make sure the children get the nourishment and love they need while on my watch.

  5. If she wants anecdata, there are THOUSANDS of personal stories to be found around the intertubes about those of us who had to suffer food restrictions and body shaming as children. It sucks, it hurts, and it does NOT prevent fatness if the child is meant to be.

  6. I went on my first diet when I was 6, with my mom, and I was SO proud of myself that i lost weight. However, I was hungry all the time. Eventually I fell off the diet and stopped dieting but my parents continued to restrict my food intake. I began sneaking food when they weren’t around because I was hungry ALL THE TIME. And I felt bad for being hungry all the time I was frequently told by my father that there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t stop eating (event hough I was growing 3″ a YEAR) all the while watching my mother continually fail at dieting. I am still struggling to get back to a better relationship with food.

    Kids are growing, they need to eat food. What will make them feel fat and ostracized is feeling like if they eat they are bad people and that their mother thinks they are fat.

    His sister needs to stop projecting her food issues onto her children. He should encourage her to seek counseling. At no point is it right to force a child onto a strict diet. If one suspects they have issues with binge eating or some other unhealthy eating patterns then it is reasonable to seek out psychiatric help, however, it is not reasonable for young girls who are still growing and need nutrients to be limited in their food intake.

  7. I think the boss needs to have a talk with his sister and gently explain that her attitude may actually be harming her kids’ perceptions of food and eating.

    Here’s some anecdata for you: I grew up with a parent who forced me to diet and policed my eating right up through my teen years. And I am still fat. I would have been fat either way, because it’s genetics. However, if I’d had a more supportive family environment, I wouldn’t have had to go through years of yo-yo dieting and self-esteem to figure that out.

    Basically: your kids will be who and what they are whether you like it or not. So why not let them eat ice cream once in a while?

  8. Those poor kids. :*(

    And, restricting carbs from children? Why not restrict calcium and protein, since you’re at it. Live on Flintstones vitamin pills and water! That’d be a great way to nourish a growing body!

  9. Tell her that calorie restriction ruins your metabolism and makes you FAT!!! Maybe scare her by talking about kids who eat entire cakes as soon as they can get out from under their parents’ thumb becuase of the “forbidden fruit” factor.

    And if that really is 2 carbs and not a misprint, then yeah, call social services because the kids are going to get brain damage.

  10. This is a toughie — how to balance his sister’s wishes (and his relationship with her! Because if she pulls away because she feels her concerns for her children are being dismissed by him, he doesn’t have any opportunity to be a positive influence on her or them) with what’s best for the girls, which we all know is not being freaky-controlling about food.

    I’ll leave the sis-management advice to others, but I will say he can be a wonderful uncle to the kids by engaging directly with them: being interested in and inquiring about their lives, praising their accomplishments, and providing unconditional love without judging their size.

  11. If I were the uncle, I would try ti find a doctor to discuss this with. Perhaps a meeting between the mother, the uncle, and the doctor could be arranged? I suspect she would be more willing to listen to a doctor than her brother, and there’s no way eating like this is even safe, let alone advisable, for growing kids.

  12. A useful comparison can be made with toilet-training. In toilet-training, parents/caretakers want kids to listen to their bodies, realize when they need to relieve themselves, and even that they will soon need to relieve themselves, and take responsibility for meeting their body’s needs. I think we should try to trust kids with the same responsibilities for food: deciding when they are hungry, what they want to eat (limited by what we have served them, perhaps) and how much.

    But also, one reason that child-abuse happens is that parents have inappropriate expectations of what their children ought to be able to do at some age – basically from ignorance. And thinking that such young children can do well on a restrictive diet is such an unrealistic expectation. Kids are growing, and they need energy. They favor high-calorie food, because it is less work to get the energy they need. And they need snacks. Suggesting the sister investigate the nutritional needs of small children could be a start.

  13. I’ve seen kids that age steal junk food out of bins in a playground even when they’re not hungry, because it’s forbidden. I am not kidding.

    My sister had her gallbladder removed at age 20 because a crash diet she went on, restricting her fat intake in her growing years, meant her body de-learned to process fats and almost killed her. She was an underweight vegetarian at the time the pain started and lost a lot of weight before they diagnosed her. Underweight young vegetarians are not the prime candidates for multiple massive gallstones.

    The myelisation of the brain, which requires fat, is not complete until the child is at least six years old. Children are better off creating/harvesting the fat they need from a wide range of foods, rather than eating fat pills to make up for the fact that their diet is inadequate.

  14. Surely there are some scary web sites on “failure to thrive,” complete with pictures? At the very least, I highly suggest he Google “failure to thrive” and see what might get through his sister’s head.

  15. Trying to put kids on a diet and restricting calories enough that they lose weight is child abuse. Don’t care how “fat” they are. It is very normal and healthy for children to get “fat” right before a growth spurt, and trying to interfere with that natural and healthy growth cycle is dangerous for the kid.

    It is ok and sensible for a parent to say “no, that is not food that will help you grow, you can’t have it for dinner”, especially to small children. Kids have a very hard time learning to parse the differences between feeling full, feeling hungry and feeling sick, and the sugar crash after cookies or ice cream can make that worse. That doesn’t mean *no* treats, just that meals should involve a variety of foods. And meals should include enough fat, protein, carbohydrate and vegetables that the kid has the energy to grow, and doesn’t need a multivitamin.

    (speaking from experience here… to me as an 8 year old, being hungry in the morning felt a lot like nausea, and I’d often feel dizzy just like I did when I was nauseous. even at that age, I’d refuse to eat if I was nauseous because not eating would often make it go away… trying to put me on a diet would have been very harmful!)

  16. I agree with much of what’s been said-growing children hav e certain (non-negotiable) nutritional needs in order to get the requisite vitamins/minerals/nutrients they need to be healthy. Beyond that, yes, the mother is setting up her daughters to have an unhealthy relationship with food, but I guess I don’t really know enough about the situation to label it child abuse.

    In terms of advice for the boss, I would say that he should talk to his sister beforehand and establish some ground rules: either he won’t follow her restrictions because of x, y, and z, or if she is really so concerned about the way her children eat she should be in charge of their meals (at a hotel or something). He should voice his concerns pre-visit; not saying anything and then just serving normal food is a passive agressive approach that is sure to stress everyone out, not to mention make his neices ill (depending on how restrictive their diet really is).

    I would also encourage the boss to speak to his nieces privately when they visit, to determine how their “diet” is affecting their lives; maybe that’s the kind of anecdotal evidence the mom needs to hear.

  17. A similar question came up on another site a couple of weeks ago (I’m so sorry I can’t think which one), and I have to say the same thing here. A person’s food intake and their choices about their children are their own business. We fat people don’t like it when someone tells us what to eat or how to take care of our own kids, and we should not be doing the exact same thing. I’m all for getting better health information out there, but as information available to individuals to absorb, not as a weapon to force others to follow my rules instead of their own.

    He should respect her choices and follow her rules if they are important to her. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling out whether she has an interest in talking about body and diet issues, and offering helpful suggestions if she seems to be unhappy, but telling her that she’s misinformed, disordered, harming her children, etc. really seems to be disrespecting her as an adult human being.

    Peace, love, respect.

  18. How amazingly fucking rude! I’m willing to cook around food allergies and the occasional vegetarian, but that’s an unreasonable amount of food prep to require when your kids are someone’s guest.

  19. Good point, Sskipstress… she’s not just endangering her children’s relationship with food and their bodies for potentially the rest of their lives, she’s also expecting a really unreasonable amount out of her brother as a host. I’d love to hear Miss Conduct’s take on this…

  20. While not to this extent, my mother did the same sort of thing to my sister and I. My brother was exempt because he never had “a weight problem” The fact that he developed an eating disorder is a whole ‘nother conversation.

    My mother used to say things to me like “if you only ate what we saw you eat, you wouldn’t have a weight problem.” She would buy things for my father’s lunch – granola bars, pudding cups, regular bread (I got Pepperidge Farm “extra thin” white bread) and hide them. I learned to climb. I stole money out of my mother’s purse to buy snacks and hid them in my room. My mother still has not forgiven her mother-in-law (dead now 33 years) for keeping treats at her house for her grandkids despite my mother’s strict instructions that she wasn’t to give us “garbage.”

    My sister and I grew into overweight teens and very fat adults with major issues with food and body image. We’ve had to do a lot of work as adults to retrain ourselves to have a healthy relationship with food, physical activity, and mom.

    I think people who food restrict their kids are trying desperately to retain control over their kids lives in an attempt to keep them “safe” from the big bad world. You can’t do it. Better to give them the tools to make choices themselves.

  21. This is making my stomach hurt. Kids need nutrients and calories in order to be healthy and active as kids are supposed to be. And the 3 year old especially? I know that at least until my daughter was in kindergarten I was being told by doctors not to worry about calories or fat, just to let her eat because her body needs all the help it can get to develop. Not that I was worrying at all but that’s the standard speech, I presumed.

    I wish I had advice for this person. My initial reaction is to slap the shit out of her for being so stupid that she’s endangering her children.

    Not to mention the food and body issues she is setting them up to have for the rest of their lives. Gah.

  22. This is very tough because she IS harming her children, but she is an adult. Lecturing/berating her will accomplish three things: it will drive a wedge between them, question her autonomy as a parent, and harm his relationship with his nieces.

    So. Starting off the conversation with “you’re projecting your own pain on your daughters, ignorant of nutrition, and guilty of child abuse” is probably not a good idea. Even if those things are true. Especially if those things are true!

    He is, however, fully within his social rights to say, “I will serve whatever food I want in my own house, and you, sis, just have to deal.” He can also have open, honest conversations with his sister and his nieces about food and weight. It sounds like he could stand to learn a little bit about his sister’s experiences in high school. I bet her daughters would benefit from hearing that more than anything. It might help them understand her food restrictions later in life and heal the damage, like many of us on this forum have so courageously done.

  23. He should respect her choices and follow her rules if they are important to her.

    Hmmm. On the one hand I agree that he may discover this isn’t his problem to fix. As you say, he can always look for opportunities for loving dialogue, without necessarily setting out to police her policing, fix her, make her see the light.

    On the other hand, I think it’s reasonable to draw the line about what you’re willing to do and the lengths to which you’re going to go in your own home.

    And, you know, if he has moral qualms about being an accessory to what he thinks is a disordered diet… or heck, even if he just thinks “Geez, what a pain in the ass to have to accommodate the intricacies of these eating rules… well, could he not say something like: “Hey, you know what? I know that the eating plan is really important to you. I don’t think I’m willing to monitor what your kids eat. I’ll be cooking [X, Y and Z], all good and nutritious meals. You can join us for as many of those meals as you like. And if you need to make other arrangements – bring food, cook your own stuff, etc. – then that’s your business.”?

    Because it seems like she’s trying to make him a partner in something he’s not comfortable with. And while there’s a time to accommodate weird family members, there’s also a time to say “No, I’m not going to go along with you on that; and if the relationship suffers as a result then maybe there was a problem with it to begin with.”

    What a difficult situation, though.

  24. Though I understand the slapping impulse, Aunt Fattie would say (and has said) to remember that moms live in the world too. They’re constantly getting messages that it’s physically dangerous and socially disastrous for kids to be fat, and that dieting is how to keep them from getting that way. Though this mom seems draconian to me too, restricting your kids’ food to protect them from ill health and ostracism is actually a perfectly rational response to the messages moms get in this culture.

    What she needs to understand is that THESE MESSAGES ARE LIES. Putting your child on a diet will not make her thin. It may make her fat; it will certainly destroy her relationship with food, and probably with you. Being fat will not ruin her life — feeling like her mom is her enemy WILL. And depriving her, policing her, and turning her against her body — that does make you her enemy, even if you think you’re doing it for her own good.

    (Also, special note to moms who think they were fat when they were kids: YOUR DAUGHTER IS NOT YOU. THIS IS NOT YOUR SECOND CHANCE AT THE CHILDHOOD YOU THOUGHT YOU WANTED.)

  25. Wow, where to begin with this one…lots of good stuff here said already.

    First and foremost, I would have Boss-Person talk to Nuts Sister and sort things out WAY before they arrive for their visit; no arguing about this in front of the kids (it will only make them feel weirder).

    The “two carbs” thing is just so astonishingly A Bad Thing, especially for the youngest one.

    A compromise would be to say that you’ll only feed the kids Healthy Food, and agree what constitutes that and Treats, perhaps (vs. “forbidden” or “bad” food).

    Not sure what to do if Sister says “my kids my rules.” I for one would not feel comfortable enforcing those rules. I have no idea what the family dynamics are between Boss and Sister, but unless a kid had a specific food allergy (ie no peanut butter or she’ll die) going on, I can’t imagine restricting kids’ food that much.

    FWIW, I thought that 3 years of age was when you were usually trying to get kids to eat MORE DIFFERENT things, for variety, not restricting their food universes.

    Good luck with this. If I was Boss in this case I’d reject the visit until some healthier ground rules could be established, but I realize that every family is different and this may not be possible.

  26. A Sarah and demimonde have very good practical advice, since yelling (as I am doing here) is not going to help at all.

  27. Yea, that was my initial reaction where I was actually clenching my teeth with anger thinking about how she is starving her children out of her own fear of the fat. I would not actually slap her and I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to either.

    I have made mistakes with my own children and most of those stem from my own dysfunctional childhood and just not having the knowledge and tools to do better.That is truly what I believe this woman needs, not a slap. Though, like I said, that was my initial teeth-clenching-in-anger response.

  28. Yeah, I would like to imagine slapping her, for sure. Mostly in a “snap out of it, woman, can’t you see this is insane??” kind of way.

  29. I wonder if that “2 carbs” a day is 2 carb choices (which would be 30 grams of carbs) or 2 grams of carbs. If it’s 2 carb choices (30 grams), that’s what some people with type 2 diabetes try to limit themselves to in order to control their blood sugar. DH has type 2, so I deal with carb choices on a daily basis, and I can tell you that trying to cut a meal to 2 grams of carbs is impossible, even most vegetables have more than 2 grams of carb in a serving. And keeping someone to less than 30 grams of carbs a day can be almost as difficult, unless all you eat is meat/veggies, no fruit, no bread/pasta/rice/corn, let alone desserts, treats, or junk food (and even an 8 ounce glass of milk, whole, skim, or 2%, has 12 grams of carbs). Her expectations of the number of carbs her kids are allowed is unreasonable, but convincing her of that may well be impossible. I wonder if she reads the labels on everything she buys and knows what the carb counts per serving actually are, because if she does, and she limits her kids on the amount of food they can eat, and the number of carbs they can consume, she’s setting them up for hoarding food, and possibly binge-ing whenever they’re away from her. Once kids get to be of an age where you don’t have control of them 24/7, you can kiss good-bye being able to control how much of what they eat (been there done, thanks Mom).

  30. Hm. I think he should say to the sister that he’s really uncomfortable with the way she’s dictating how his family is to live while she’s there, and by the way, what doctor and nutritionist are her kids seeing? Admittedly, some doctors are crazy, but I can’t imagine any doctor limiting a child to 30 g of carbs? Maybe 2 SERVINGS of carb-heavy foods? It really sounds very confusing.

  31. This could be really unhealthy – it could be not so much.

    Assuming she is not restricting their calories or making them live on skinless chicken and plain carrots – I think it depends mostly on how you present it to the kids. If they are calorie-restricted, body-shamed, constantly reprimanded for wanting ‘bad’ foods, and told they are on a diet to keep them from becoming fat, it’s horrifically unhealthy.

    If she wants the family to eat a certain way and just doesn’t keep food in the house that she feels is unhealthy, but they eat a balanced diet including fats, protein, fruit, veg and some whole grains, than not such a big deal in my book. Some people might find the low-carb thing really freaky.. I know people that feed their families this way (little sugar or flour but a balanced diet, plenty of fat and protein) and they seem mentally and physically healthy and happy. I know some people feel it is cruel and unusual not to buy kids treats. I think it’s absolutely a bad idea to not allow them to partake at a birthday party, school or any other place where it’s a normal thing for kids to be doing, but what the kids eat at home is the parent’s decision and nearly everyone has some rules.

    As for the man in question – I feel for him. I do think she’s asking a lot of him as a host, and he would be in line to discuss this with her and tell her if he feels it’s inappropriate. To ask his family to change their meals and give up dessert just because they are there is ridiculous.
    But ultimately I think he should respect his sister’s choices and DEFINITELY not try to deliberately tempt the kids with foods she doesn’t want them to have. That’s just a recipe for a family row.

    I think body-positive comments, and perhaps gently bringing up his concerns in private with her, would be the most helpful.

  32. Bonnie, but can you imagine that someone who just wants her kids to have a balanced diet would lay out for her host what they may and may not offer the children to eat? That just screams pathology to me. Requesting that, for instance, vegetarian food or healthy snacks be available is to me a very different thing than saying “while I am a guest in your house, you are not to feed my children dessert.”

  33. Honestly I am afraid that when he sees exactly what is going on with this family, it will turn out it’s very bad for the kids. But I just don’t think this is enough information to go on – the original statement doesn’t indicate to me that they aren’t getting *enough* to eat.

  34. I would tell the uncle: Don’t follow your sister’s emotionally abusive RULES. There are no rules here. There is only abusive, fuck-up-the-kids minds bullshit. I’m telling you, sometimes you just gotta call bullshit by its proper name. And this bullshit? Is bullshit. Kids need sane adults to step in sometimes.

    SHEESH

  35. Vesta, I actually assumed it was 2 carb choices (ie 30 grams of carbs) and that’s still extremely low, especially for someone so young. The information I’ve gotten from several nutritionists has always been that under 100 grams/day can mess with concentration. But I know nothing about diabetes, which is a totally different issue.

    While I agree that the sister is an adult and has the right to raise her children as she sees fit, it sounds as though what she is doing to her children in terms of food will potentially be damaging to them both mentally and physically, which does merit some sort of intervention.

    Aside from that, I agree that it’s incredibly rude to dictate what another person serves in his/her own house. My vegetarian friends have never expected me to serve only vegetarian food when they eat at my house, just as I don’t expect them to serve meat when I eat at their houses.

  36. My mother did some similar things with me as a child and I too snuck food, hid it in my room and generally developed a very disordered relationship with it. If the sister is a reader, I would recommend Ellyn Satter’s books, especially, Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming”. This is the Amazon product description:

    “As much about parenting as feeding, this latest release from renowned childhood feeding expert Ellyn Satter considers the overweight child issue in a new way. Combining scientific research with inspiring anecdotes from her decades of clinical practice, Satter challenges the conventional belief that parents must get overweight children to eat less and exercise more. In the long run, she says, making them go hungry and forcing them to be active makes children preoccupied with food, prone to overeating, turned off to activity, and likely to gain too much weight. Trust is a central theme here: children must be able to trust parents to provide as much food as they need to satisfy their appetites; parents must trust children to eat only as much as they need. Satter provides compelling evidence that, if parents do their jobs with respect to feeding, children are remarkably capable of knowing how much to eat.”

    It’s a book I wish my mother had read because I now know she really had my best interests at heart, she just didn’t have the knowledge or tools she needed and it’s taken a long time and lots of expensive therapy to get to this place.

  37. Good point fillyjonk…

    I guess to me there are two possibilities – she’s overly controlling and a health-nut, or she’s eating disordered and in the process of passing that on to the kids. I don’t think being a health-nut is abusive. It might not be the best thing for the kids but it’s not nearly as bad as fat-shaming and actual calorie-restricting.

    Thinking more about my reaction – I have a bias. Low-fat for kids seems insane and dangerous to me. No refined carbs seems perfectly reasonable. But that’s my shit!

  38. Here’s an anecdote, not anecdata, but it came up during a discussion about the ‘junk food’ container MeMe Roth makes her kids use at school. A friend just told me about a girl she grew up with whose mother would not allow her to eat any sugar and as a result the girl started compulsively eating cherry-flavored *chapstick.*

  39. If you want an anecdote, I would recommend reading Andre Dubus’ short story “The Fat Girl.” It’s about a little girl whose mother is very thin and very preoccupied with her weight and appearance. The mother does not allow the little girl to have any candy or sweets, because she tells her, “You’re like me, if you eat that stuff, you’ll get fat.” So what does the little girl do? All she thinks about is candy and sweets, and she begins hoarding them and eating them in secret, and lo and behold- becomes fat. Nobody knows what she’s doing, and nobody understands how she got fat, until she gets to college. She has continued the hoarding and secret eating even as an adult, and her roommate catches her in the act one day. Her roommate is the first compassionate person she’s really ever met, who tells her, “If I help you, will you try to lose some weight?” With her roommate’s help, she stops eating candy, she begins exercising, and she loses A LOT of weight. Only after she loses tons of weight does her mother tell her she’s beautiful for the first time, and actually encourages her to date. She meets a wonderful, successful man who falls in love with her. They get married, and shortly thereafter, she gives birth to a baby- and gains back a lot of weight. And suddenly, her husband is not so interested in her anymore, and her mother is not so nice to her anymore. And she has to PLEAD with her husband to help her lose the weight again. Whether or not he does (you don’t find out), it’s clear that this woman’s perception of weight is warped. She learns that you can only gain love and acceptance through weight, and that eating is punishable and taboo. She sees no distinction between being fat because you’ve gorged yourself on candy your whole life and being fat because you’ve just had a baby. It’s all the same kind of shame. It broke my heart to read it, and it might give this man and his sister a wake-up call.

  40. I truly wish I could give some great advice on this but I can only think of one thing….it’s nice that MeMe Roth is going to visit her brother.

  41. As someone who now has a pretty much non-existent relationship with my brother because of weight/food issues, I’d say let it be. Maybe find some well-written resources, like Junkfood Science, and mention to her once that he doesn’t agree – look here for more info, and then keep quiet. If she’s made up her mind, trying to sway her is NOT going to do anything but harm.

    I might tell her that her dietary restrictions are not the way food is dealt with in his house, so she’ll have to be responsible for prepping and serving her kids meals, and leave it at that.

  42. The brother said that she FELT fat since there is no indication that she was actually fat or ostracized.

    The issue therefore is the emotion, not the body. A child who was brought up in the mindset of diet restrictions and body obsesions will more likely one day follow suite and cultivate body obsessions and unhealthy realtionships with food for themselves. They are also more likely to believe that they are fat and judged because of it (since fat is apparantly the worst thing in world).

    A child brought up in a more healthy environment (both physically and mentally) will probably also develop some body hang-ups, (how can anyone not?) but they might not be as severe or crippling as this woman experienced it. If they are tought that fat is just fat, then they won’t be tempted to believe that it’s the end of the world.

    So she is in effect teaching her girls to believe they are ugly, while at the same time trying to prevent them from actually being it. What she will have in the end are girls who look fine but believe they are horrendous, and I think this is what she wanted to avoid in the first place.

    Her actions are completely counterproductive.

    She needs to worry about these girls’ PERCEPTION of health and their own bodies, rather than the way OTHERS perceive it. It’s a mental thing, not a physical thing, and someone needs to make her understand that a healthy mindset is much more important than a body that no one will be able to make fun of.

    And then let me add all the other stuff like kids need carbs, self-esteem is not a sin, who the hell cares what other people think and can someone please call welfare?

  43. Normally I’d say stay the hell away from a parent’s choice of what to feed hir child, but this is different because the children are actually in physical danger – not imminent, but it’s still danger. Especially if the 3 year old’s fat intake is also restricted.

    I think the brother should first talk to a pediatrician or an RD who is familiar with the nutritional needs of young children. Then, if the pediatrician/nutritionist confirms that this is dangerous to the childrens’ health, the could talk to his sister about the children’s nutritional needs; perhaps he could even offer to pay for a trip to the nutritionist for her so she can learn what to feed her children.

    While they’re staying with him, perhaps they could work out a compromise – no desserts (that’s not going to physically hurt the kids), and little to no refined sugar/ refined grains (again, whatever you think about the effect of this kind of restriction on the kids’ mental health, it shouldn’t hurt their physical health). But, let the kids eat as much fruit, whole grains (whole grain pasta and bread, too), nuts, avocado, etc. Focus on foods the mom believes are healthy, but make sure the kids get enough calories.

  44. Wow, this is a toughie. That mom is clearly setting up her children to have a very disordered relationship with food, and being soooo restrictive with carbs and fats can be very harmful to little children, who NEED those things for normal growth. The potential for harm here is very high.

    OTOH, you have to empathize with where she is emotionally. She has the best intentions; she is trying to spare her children the pain she felt as a fat child. This is where most parents who perpetuate dieting and fatphobia start….they truly have good intentions, they want their child to be healthy, they want them to be happy. They simply don’t realize that what they are doing actually makes things WORSE instead of better.

    I agree with the other commenter that the best thing to do is to give the mom a copy of some of Ellyn Satter’s books. I have yet to read the one recommended above, Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming, but if it follows along with the rest of her work, it should be sane and reasonable and not about restrictive eating at all. She really is a very sane writer.

    When you are a fat parent, how to feed your children is one of the most difficult and emotionally-wrought parts of parenting. Even those of us who strongly believe in HAES and FA struggle with it at times. It’s just way more complicated than it seemed when I had no children and was a parenting expert. :-0 When you actually get there and have to walk the walk, the decisions seem a lot less clear sometimes.

    Ellyn Satter’s books represent one of the few voices of reason out there on the topic and would be an excellent starting place for this person. It would meet her where she was, acknowledge her good intentions and concerns, but gently present the idea that perhaps what she is doing may end up doing far more harm than good in the long run. It will also give her concrete ideas on how to feed her children in emotionally positive and physically healthy ways without being restrictive.

  45. (Also, special note to moms who think they were fat when they were kids: YOUR DAUGHTER IS NOT YOU. THIS IS NOT YOUR SECOND CHANCE AT THE CHILDHOOD YOU THOUGHT YOU WANTED.)

    You can cut out the bit I’ve struck through and paint this on the walls of every maternity wing in every hospital the world over.

  46. If the boss often talks to his sister about parenting or shares parenting resources, maybe he could recommend a book or something? I haven’t actually read any of her books yet (my kid is still a couple of months away from solids) but I’ve heard Ellyn Satter has a non-crazy approach to kid-feeding, and if food/weight is an area of concern for this mom, I don’t think it would seem automatically meddlesome for the brother to be sharing a source of tips for more things she could try. (I apologize if my impression of Ellyn Satter is mistaken and would greatly appreciate recommendations of better books.)

  47. Thank you all for the input! A few clarifications – I suspect the 2 carbs thing was 2 carb exchanges, rather than 2 grams. So perhaps not as atrocious – as well as, I may have misunderstood/this may not be an accurate representation of the requested diet.

    Also, something I forgot to mention – doting uncle has 2 boys of his own, 7 and 5ish? (I feel badly that I can’t remember their ages, sorry SS!) So this may alter THEIR usual eating habits dramatically as well.

  48. I can’t believe this type of restriction is even remotely necessary! The only type of food issue I remember from being that age was being forced to eat green beans. This may be an issue of parenting styles, but I always ate what was set before me. I wouldn’t have even thought to ask for certain foods. If you prepare a healthy, yummy meal and set it before the child they will eat it. They may not like some of the things in it (my case with green beans), but then next time you just make a different meal with a different veggie.

    Aaagh. I just finished my thesis on a nutrition monitoring application; one that is about balance and this situation shows why we (as a society) have such a distorted, imbalanced view of food and nutrition. They are called food groups for a reason and the USDA didn’t just make the food pyramid up for shits and giggles (while I do recognize it has issues, for the most part it is correct). When they say you need 6-11 servings of grains and breads, there is a reason for that. Though I’m not sure what the recommendations are for young children, it is certainly more than two. Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy for your body, young kids need lots of energy because they expend lots of energy.

    Sorry for the length, but after having immersed myself in the abstract data and come to the conclusion that an ideal of balance is what is missing, and thus causing many a disordered eating scenario across society, to be confronted with a situation that directly feeds into that is immensely frustrating.

  49. See, if it was my family, the appropriate response would be to say, “You either cook what you want for your daughters or they eat what the rest of the family eats, we are not changing our eating for your crazy”* emphasized with lots and lots of junk food just laying about, going OM NOM NOM TWINKIE do you like sea food? SEE! FOOD! as often as possible in front of sibling, sneaking snackyfood to the kids, lessons in baking cookies, and chasing tackling adult sibling, holding hir down, and squirting whipped cream straight in hir mouth.

    But that’s appropriate for our ethnic and familial culture.

    *said exactly in those words

  50. This is a tough one for me. I’m the Adult Daughter of a WW Leader (ADWWL), and my mother counted the apples in the fridge when I was growing up. She wanted me to be thin so I would be safe, when all it would have taken was knowing she thought I was beautiful exactly the way I was. . .

    Maybe a copy of the AED Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Programs would help?

    Or a copy of Marianne Kirby’s, “Love your fat child, don’t shame them,” on guardian.co.uk? Her advice is good for the parents (especially frightened parents) of any child of any size.

  51. Here’s a positive anecdote about how I grew up to have a healthy relationship with food:

    My dad loves running. He also loves pie, salads, and just about every other kind of edible. Growing up, my dad did most of the cooking in our house, and he always made healthy, balanced meals. Our house was always stocked with tons of fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, and lots of milk. And no body-shaming. My parents encouraged me to try lots of different foods, but they never restricted my eating in any way (I remember having HUGE bowls of ice cream almost every night after dinner). Yes, I was a little chubby growing up, (I still am). And I’m pretty sure that even without all that ice cream, I would have been a little chubby. My dad runs marathons, and even when he’s in top shape, he still has some tummy fat, so I think that’s just the way our bodies are.

    Starting at around age 14 I dabbled in dieting – I bought low-fat frozen desserts and used my mom’s WeighWatchers materials to keep track of what I was eating. My mom never tried particularly hard to convince me that I wasn’t fat, but she never pushed me towards dieting either. When I told her that I had started a new diet she would quietly say “okay” and then leave me to it. And when I stopped dieting, her reaction was just about the same. She understood that it was something I had to figure out for myself, so she didn’t interfere (I’m sure she would have if it had gotten unhealthy though). She let my diets run their course, and I knew that she loved me regardless of my weight.

    My parents provided a varied and healthful array of foods for me, and modeled healthy relationships with food without ever pressuring me to eat or not eat certain foods, and without ever judging or shaming my body. They gave me the tools that I needed to have a positive relationship with food and with my body.

    It’s great that the sister is so concerned about her children’s health, I just wish that her mothering energy could be redirected and broadened. Making food a big issue is probably the number one way to start your children on the path to disordered eating. She needs to realize that it’s more important for her children to be happy with themselves and their bodies than for them to be skinny. Having a mother who loves and supports you unconditionally is a good start on the path to a physically and psychologically healthy adulthood.

  52. This is difficult for me, as I’m an Adult Child of a WW Leader (ACWWL), and my mother used to count the apples in the fridge when I was growing up. She was trying to keep me safe, but all I needed was to know that she thought I was beautiful exactly the way I was.

    Maybe the AED’s Guidelines for Child Obesity Prevention Programs might help her realize that she’s clutching way too hard?

    And Marianne’s great article “Love Your Fat Child, Don’t Shame Them” form the Guardian has wonderful advice for all parents of children of any size.

    They might give her something to think about, anyway . . .

  53. I’d buy Boss a copy of something like HAES, and then tell him to tell his sister that her crazy rules don’t apply once they’re under his roof.

    Kids remember what stands out. So, if they remember being allowed to eat what they wanted when they wanted, even if only for a short period of time, and that the world didn’t end, it’ll do some good.

  54. Hm. I guess I’m coming from the other side of it. I was raised by two health nuts who didn’t care so much what I weighed, but DID care that I never touched refined sugar/carbs/junk food while I was still an infant. As I got older I was allowed to have a little of it but not during the school week. Seem to have come out of it fine and with a taste for all things fruit and vegetable…and junk food? hell. no. Never developed a taste for it.

    Anyway, my point is that ice cream *isn’t* great for a three year old, and you *don’t* need to be giving your children more than 2 refined carbs (white bread, sugary cereal etc) per day. Now if the mother is making it about their weight, that’s no good. But she might simply be concerned about them having a healthy diet, and it is the brother who is body- and mother-shaming HER.

  55. “A person’s food intake and their choices about their children are their own business,” is a disgusting load of rubbish.

    Children -are- a community responsibility. If we see somebody raping their children, it is NOT their own business. If they are beating their children, it is NOT their own business. If they are failing to provide appropriate nutrition for their children, it is NOT their own business.

    Child Protective Services, no ifs ands or buts. Ice cream remains optional.

  56. I’m not clear on whether this is a question about how to intervene or a question about manners.

    It seems to me that it might be more effective to handle it as a questions of manners. I would never restrict the food of my guests, even children: they are welcome to whatever I serve. At the same time, she is their mother, and I think (however hard it is to watch), he needs to not get in between her and her daughters. Yes, there are times when we do: but this is a battle perhaps not worth fighting openly, by undermining the mother–many children that age will side with their mom until they’re teens anyway, won’t they?

    So, I say, model politeness by always being clear that the girls are welcome to whatever they want and by not undermining their mother. But ALSO show healthy eating by ENJOYING your food–not performatively, but naturally and honestly.

    My aunts and uncles were powerful in my life, but because of how I saw them living…the other lives they modeled for me… not because of any debates they had with my parents about how to parent. So, be a model, and enjoy your food!

    In terms of how to influence the sister: ah, tread carefully! AND, I usually find that a gentle, honest response when the other person brings up an issue is enough. Truth and health are powerful things.

  57. Whoa whoa whoa. My hackles are being a little raised. We don’t know that she’s stupid, selfish, unreachable, horrible, or even having bad motives. We have been carefully taught to think that about mothers, but not fathers, you know? Fathers are allowed to be clueless about childrearing but it’s ho-ho-charming-because-aww-shucks-men-and-kids-lol. Seriously, she may just be informed. Her mind may be easy to change. At the moment she seems to be 100 percent responsible for the feeding of the kiddos, btw, and that’s real work – whether she’s doing it poorly or not – and also, it’s not like she cooked this idea up herself that any false step — er, bite — will spell doom and a loveless existence for her kids forever.

    Also, Bookwyrm, I’m really nervous about the equations you’re drawing. I think it’s fine to say restricting your children’s eating in unhealthy ways is restricting your children’s eating in unhealthy ways. Raping your child is raping your child. Beating your child is beating your child. I’m not sure there’s much to be gained by lumping three very disparate – though all differently harmful – activities under the heading “Things That Are Wrong To Do To Your Children, Which Therefore Means That If You Do Them That The Problem Is Entirely You, Which Means You Either Need Fixing or Banishment, Which Therefore Means You Forfeit Any And All Interpersonal Boundaries That We Normally Give To Adults.” That’s very similar to the move that people make to say that fatties shouldn’t adopt, or that it’s fine to insult a mom in public just because you’re there, you know?

    And admittedly I’m sensitive about mother-blame right now. The other day I was at the library and my kid ran ahead of me. I said “Stop please” and he didn’t right away. “I hope he listens better when he’s in DANGER!” snapped a man nearby. “He’s too independent!” Shit like that happens ALL THE TIME. Because people love to say “Children are everyone’s business” when it means that they get to criticize a parent. People don’t so much like to say “Children are everyone’s business” when it means putting up with a kid’s noises on an airplane, or in a restaurant, or a movie, or.. or.. or… etc.

  58. Anyway, my point is that ice cream *isn’t* great for a three year old, and you *don’t* need to be giving your children more than 2 refined carbs (white bread, sugary cereal etc) per day.

    See, I think you can’t possibly know this, though. There’s no theoretical ice cream and no theoretical three-year-old; there’s only actual ice cream and actual three-year-olds and actual circumstances. Ice cream might be great for a three-year-old if the three-year-old has been playing outside all afternoon and it’s hot and the ice cream truck drives by and OH MY GOD HOW EXCITING BECAUSE WOW ICE CREAM TRUCK and oh, look, we have three dollars because we didn’t end up getting to do putt-putt golf the other day and gee isn’t it great that there are still ice cream trucks?

    Seriously, I just really think that it’s fine – and maybe great, actually, if it works for your family – just to kind of make parental decisions about food on the fly like that. Not if it violates your deeply-held beliefs (I mean, if you keep kosher and the ice cream truck isn’t kosher, then obvs. no ice cream right then) but criminy, it’s like anymore you *have* to have these very particular ideas about how your children may eat. I find it works fine to just sort of go “Oh, hey, yeah, ice cream. Want ice cream, kids?”

  59. I think everybody is on the right track. My mom was (is) not as bad as this man’s sister, but still from a very young age I knew that it was not ok to be fat and that food could be the enemy. I am an adult now and am fat, my sister is not, but we both struggle with a dysfunctional relationship with food. My sister is always amazed and her husband’s family’s attitude toward food: no one obsesses over it. When he was a child nothing was off-limits, therefore when he wants French fries he has them, eats what he wants, and doesn’t go crazy, like we would.

    I hope this man has a good relationship with his sister and can have a heart to heart. I think she desperately needs help with her eating disorder. Oh lord, I hope she gets it before her daughters are irrevocably damaged. Going through life being obsessed with food and hating yourself is not fun.

  60. I wrote: Seriously, she may just be informed. Her mind may be easy to change.

    Whoops, meant to say “misinformed.”

    Aw, thanks, Sweet Machine, I totally love you too.

  61. Hey LivingTheQuestions, as long as we’re spreading the love around, I love your comment too. We cross-posted, so I didn’t see it at first.

  62. I’m still reading through all the comments, but I just want to add to this: I came to FA through its intersections with feminism and have seen how vital it is, but primarily as an ally. I am lucky enough to have a very good self-image and sense of my own worth, and have always suspected that I’m pretty damn awesome. I don’t think this is on account of anything I did, but because of the fantastic job my mother did. A friend of mine told me that she feels the same way, and she attributes it to the fact that she never ONCE heard her mother say anything negative about her own body, her daughter’s, or anyone else’s. The same is true for me. It’s a huge blessing that not everyone gets, but a model to try to live up to, I think. Just hearing that (self)criticism can change a little girl’s whole life.

  63. Food restricting three young girls, all under the age of 10, the youngest being 3? Wow, the mom clearly has some food issues that she’s projecting on her daughters. I’m so afraid for them, so afraid that unless something changes, they’re going to develop an eating disorder.

    This guy really needs to talk to his sister; something like this can’t go on for very long without bad consequences. Putting very young girls on a diet is a cause for alarm.

  64. Hmmm. Maybe sis didn’t make cheerleader because she was 10 pounds heavier than the other girls who tried out and never got over it. That could explain why her brother never thought of her as “fat and ostracized.” People have different ideas of what that means.

    Now, about this situation. Hooboy. I would second Vesta, it’s likely the restriction is two carb servings, not two carb grams. Two grams of carbs means no fresh fruit at all — probably a medically necessary restriction for someone with diabetes who gets huge blood sugar spikes from eating it, but not for anyone else, and certainly not for non-diabetic young kids! I would find it hard to believe she’s restricting THAT much if there’s no medical reason for it.

    So, two carb servings only, and no desserts (assuming fruit doesn’t count as a “dessert.”). Boy, that’s a toughie. As tempting as it is to tell her she’s out of her tree — and she probably is — telling her off might well backfire big time. So I might start by asking her, “What exactly happened in high school? Sorry for being dense, but I never knew people picked on you for your weight. I had no idea that was even possible.” Maybe then I’d find out exactly what it was that was freaking her out, and it would be out in the open for both of us. (If she was willing to talk about it, that is.)

    Next, I’d say, “Look, I’ve given this a lot of thought, and this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to serve three meals that I consider to be balanced, nutritious, and tasty, and try to make them as something-for-everyone as I can. I’m willing to tell you exactly what I’m going to serve, and you can decide whether you want to partake or not. If not, you’re welcome to make your own meals or go out. But monitoring your kids’ intake is up to you. I’m not going to restrict what *I* eat, or what everyone else in the house gets to eat, based on your own restrictions. My vegan friends don’t get to tell me to throw all my eggs in the garbage, even if they personally don’t want to eat them. It’s the same thing here.”

    There. Now it’s up to her to decide if merely watching someone else eat dessert is going to be too psychologically damaging for her and her daughters. (If so, I wish them all luck.)

  65. I think it IS fair to assume that it is not going to be as easy as saying “hey, sis, you’re off-track, read this book/blog” to change her mind.

    The VAST majority of people in this world do not read blogs like this. They haven’t read Kolata or Campos or heard of HAES. The only information they ever hear about “the obesity crises” and how its “killing our kids” is from the mainstream media. It’s been drilled into all of our heads for decades.

    Most of the readers/contributors/authors of this blog took years and years and years to realize what we now know. It took most of us decades of “failed” diets, yo-yo-ing, and “falling off the wagon” to realize that maybe, just maybe, the conventional wisdom wasn’t all that wise.

    I’m at an age where most all of my friends/colleagues have children ranging from infants to teenagers. Virtually all of them only serve organic, only whole grains, no candy, no dessert, no pop, etc. It’s the “right” way to feed your kids these days.

    And who knows what the sister means by “two carbs”. My mom is super concerned about carbs, but she doesn’t count fruits and veggies as such. When she says she’s limiting carbs, she’s referring to things like toast, bagels, pasta. If that’s the case, 2 servings of “carbs” a day might not be that terrible of a thing.

    I still advocate for letting her do her thing, but not doing it for her. Then when the *actual* event occurs, reacting appropriately. If, once the sister arrives, it’s clear the kids are malnourished or something, then escalating to taking some action. But offering unsolicited, highly critical advice, especially about parenting and “wacko” ideas like fat might not be all that bad, will likely NOT have the intended result.

  66. Mary Sue, your approach would make the world an infinitely better place to be. I completely and utterly change my vote.

    See! Food! *giggle*

  67. ugh. clearly this is going to damage those kids’ minds, if not their bodies.

    my humble opinion? boss-man should decide how much he’s willing to accommodate her and communicate that; stock up on carrots/baby donuts/whatever, or tell her to provide her own food if it’s that far out of his comfort zone. see how things play out. if she’s obviously fucking with her kids in ways that he’s not ok with (cos it is his house his rules, to an extent) or committing outright abuse, i don’t think it would be out of place to call her out on it – in private, the kids are experiencing enough already. and definitely provide as much support/sanity for the kids as he thinks is needed/appropriate.

    this is tough. i don’t doubt at all that these children will end up damaged in some way from their mom’s treatment. but his place in it is quite a bit stickier. i wish him luck.

  68. When I was younger, my best friend was ‘chubby’ – not hugely overweight, just a tendency towards being a bit heavier, plus her face shape is naturally rounder which added to the perception of her having excess weight, because of course she didn’t have the very sharp cheekbones and so on that are part of many standards of ‘beauty’ as per the media. Her mom was a naturally thin type (who also smoked a lot) so my friend got a LOT of hassle about her eating choices and wasn’t allowed to have sweets, snacks, etc. She was also made to feel bad about wanting to participate in sports type activities because she was ‘too heavy’ for them.

    By contrast, I’ve always also been a bit heavy for my height (I carry a lot of muscle) and my mom has had weight issues herself out the wazoo, but the approach to food in our house was that while we didn’t routinely buy a lot of ‘junk’ food type items, if we were out and I wanted a soda or a candy bar or what have you, that was fine. (Most of the food related lectures I got revolved around taking huge portions and then leaving a lot, with the point being to just take smaller portions and have seconds or thirds – not ‘clean your plate’ but rather ‘don’t put so much on your plate that you won’t want to finish it.’)

    Anyway, what happened was that when we went out, if sweets were available my friend would ALWAYS take them, even if we’d just eaten, because for her they were an item of scarcity and that increased the desirability of them. In contrast, because I knew that I could have a chocolate bar or soda if I just asked, I only ever had them when I legitimately wanted it. It was not at all unheard of for me to turn down a candy bar or milk shake or something in favor of a salad just because I was hungry for fresh vegetables, not something sweet. It just wasn’t a big deal to me. I ate what I was hungry for.

    I honestly think setting things up as ‘you can never have it’ for kids is just a bad move. It’s much better to teach your kids to determine how to listen to their own bodies and figure out what they actually want.

    Plus, in the particular circumstance mentioned, I really feel that a qualified doctor should be involved, because like some other people, I would be really highly concerned about the health effects of food restriction on growing children, in both the short and long term. Her guidelines sound really bizarrely restrictive for kids where there are no health issues which require a restricted diet (like allergies or something.)

    I mean, I know for a fact that when I was growing I went through cycles of being a little heavier than normal (for me) directly before a growth spurt, before I’d shoot up several inches and go back to being normal for me.

    (I want to also add that, like I said, as per the scale I was frequently in the ‘overweight’ category by a bit, but I was actually fairly slim – I just had a LOT of muscle from being active and I think genetically I’m prone to putting on muscle mass easily, as my dad does the same thing. So if someone had looked at my weight alone and put me on a diet, I think I would’ve gotten quite unhealthy quite quickly, because I simply didn’t have that much excess bodyfat, even though my weight was higher than ‘average’. This was even confirmed because I went to a school that was part of a university and so they frequently did studies, and one of the studies involved measuring the bodyfat percentage of everyone in the school, and mine was well within the acceptable range for my age and gender. So I always worry about people who freak out based on what the scale says.)

  69. If I were in this situation, I’d pull a trick from my very own mother – my house, my rules. It’d be unfair to the brother to have to make multiple meals (with questionable restrictions) for his kids versus her kids and her, if she eats something separately. It’s not fair to his kids to suffer under her restrictions, nor would it be fair to her kids to watch the other kids get to eat their normal meals and snacks without being able to partake. I’m not very tactful, so I’d probably say something like ‘My house, my rules, my food. They eat what I serve them, which I promise will be both healthy and delicious and adequate for growing bodies. End of discussion. If you’re not happy with that, then you should find somewhere else to stay while visiting me.’

  70. Child Protective Services, no ifs ands or buts. Ice cream remains optional.

    This is another thing that raises my hackles. Do people who suggest this have any idea what it is they’re suggesting, by calling CPS? Do you really believe that this woman’s children would be better off if they were taken away from their home and their family and thrown into the foster care system? By invoking the threat of CPS, that’s exactly what you’re saying.

    CPS doesn’t just send a nice person to knock on your door and kindly suggest better parenting techniques. They send a caseworker, yes, but sometimes they send the police out too. They can *take your children away* on the spot, with no other authority than the caseworker’s decision, and put them in foster care for months or years. They can kick you right out of your own house, and forbid you from having any contact at all with the children or your spouse. They can keep your information on file until all of your children are 18, and something as innocuous as a trip to the ER for an ordinary accident can start the investigative process all over again.

    I agree with everyone else that controlling children’s food unnecessarily is a bad idea, but I think there are lots of better ways to communicate that than, y’know, threatening to take away someone’s children forever. That’s killing a housefly with an elephant gun. Restricting carbs may not be the best idea for long-term mental and physical health, but it’s not like she’s locking the kids in the closet without food for days on end. Calling CPS is, IMO, a hugely disproportionate response, and almost certainly will not help the situation at all.

  71. This touches on a couple different questions.

    Child endangerment: Are the food restrictions such that the children are in danger of stunted growth or death? It’s not clear if this is another Rebecca Long-type case or the more typical MeMe Roth-like mom who causes eating disorders in a way that is totally accepted by the culture form.

    Etiquette: What is appropriate to ask when you are a guest in someone’s home? If ingesting seafood puts a guest into anaphylactic shock, then providing another option for the guest seems appropriate. But it’s also appropriate for the guest to have an Epi-Pen just in case. Serving Kosher food to a Kosher guest is gracious, but may not be possible (depending on the requirements you have) if the host is not already Kosher. And so on.

    Parental control: If the mother was insisting on a feeding her kids a vegetarian diet (with appropriate supplements to ensure good nutrition) or a Kosher diet, most people would not complain. But if she’s traveling then it’s her responsibility to get the kid’s buy-in and not assume her brother is going to “protect” the kids from other food choices.

  72. Especially since Boss has kids himself, I would think that getting a copy of one of Ellyn Satter’s books and telling her about this great parenting book that he’s been reading and that she might be interested in would be the way to go. Try for more of a “this is cool and I’m trying to do it with my kids” instead of a “you suck and should do this with your kids” vibe.

  73. I think we all need to face the fact that an actual doctor may be advising her to do this.

    I have a close friend with a four-year-old daughter. Absolutely beautiful little girl, not that it matters, who is slightly above where the BMI chart says she’s supposed to be. The doctor told my friend to put her four-year-old daughter on a diet.

  74. I’d like to second the other people who have called out the fact that this *may* be mother-shaming rather than something actually Oh So Terrible. It’s impossible to know.

    A Sarah– Shrug. I don’t know that I won’t do just that for my own children, but I was IN that very hot day ice cream truck situation. At that age my parents usually just brought me inside and gave me something sweet but not the size of my head. I was also one of those kids who wasn’t allowed to keep their Halloween candy or to have sugary treats at school (my parents gave me money in exchange). Sure, I was annoyed sometimes, but it didn’t give me an ED or anything.

    Point being, I didn’t grow up with a screwy relationship with food or hating my body, etc–and I think that assuming these children will, without knowing more, is a little premature and reflects our tendency to judge mothers harshly.

  75. My mother used “healthy food” as a disguise for food restriction (only for me, not my brothers, one of whom is skinny, one fat) for years. She would restrict one food group after another, and I would steal food (like low-fat cheese slices) because I was so hungry between tiny meals that I wanted to vomit. I was not, at the time, fat. None of my other relatives did this, and it was always such a relief to stay at someone else’s house and just go along with their meals, and casual eating – none of them had junk food, either, but it was nice to have, say, peanut butter, or two pieces of toast, or yoghurt.

    I think the brother should just go along with his regular routine, whatever that may be, and stay calm. His sister seems to have a disordered attitude about food, but confronting her is likely to ruin a haven for her kids. He may be able to intervene at some stage, but he should tread carefully – obviously this is a fraught subject for his sister and probably, by now, for the daughters.

  76. Just to add, though–

    I do think expecting her brother to cater to her whims is rude. She can just as easily tell her children not to eat the dessert or junk food, or present it to them as a vacation where they will not be getting this food once they return home.

  77. I have a problem with the argument that this is clearly damaging the kids, and thus she needs a talking to, not following her rules, calling CPS, etc… Because what the MeMe Roths (and other more reasonable people) are saying about junk food and fat is the same: this is going to damage the kids, who are going to become fat and die young, so we must talk to these fat people and show them the right way. I don’t like it, and think we should respect her choices. If she seems interested in / open to hearing her brother’s opinions then he should share them, but not otherwise.

    That said, I agree that he doesn’t need to put a lot of effort into fulfilling her rules, given he thinks they are bad and damaging. I think A Sarah’s advice was good: informing her of what you will cook, and giving her the option for arranging something alternative instead.

  78. Oh and one last thing: of course if you see a child raped you help, and not say it’s the parents’ business. But the situations are not at all analogous.

  79. I grew up in an orthorexic household, and we had some pretty bizarre food ways. My mother told everyone I had “allergies” to all kinds of foods she just didn’t want me to have, and everyone helped her police my food intake. It was hell. Part of it was fat fear. my mother was fat, and didn’t want to be fat, and certainly didn’t want to have a fat daughter (I wasn’t a fat child.) All I can say is thank God for the families I knew who had other ways of eating. I think Meowser’s suggestions fall closest to my inclinations. The sister’s food ways may or may not be disordered, I would suggest he let her police the food intake, and simply offer what he normally offers. They are family. He can ask about the food ways — he can ask her why so much restriction. But until he really has a full view of the situation, I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions. Maybe there is some medical reason why. Maybe, like in my case, the reason is bogus. Even if the Mom is MeMe Roth level food crazy, the kids will meet other kids, see other families with other food ways, and as they get older they can make their own decisions. Now my mother was crazy and abusive, but you just can’t go around assuming every mother who does it differently is abusive. or motivated wrongly. Besides I agree, if he sets up a confrontational situation, or undermines her food authority without really understanding the whole picture, it could lead to drama or even a cutoff of communication — both of which are likely to not be helpful to her kids in the long run.

  80. Being a person who tackles issues head on, I say talk about it with her. My first thought, after reading that she “felt fat and ostracized in high school” was this: DONT PROJECT YOUR ISSUES/PAST/FEARS ONTO YOUR KIDS.

  81. Being a person who tackles issues head on, I say talk about it with her. My first thought, after reading that she “felt fat and ostracized in high school” was this: DONT PROJECT YOUR ISSUES/PAST/FEARS ONTO YOUR KIDS.

  82. A. Give her some information on children’s nutritional NEEDS.

    B. Call child protective services. Starving children is illegal.

    Seriously, the children could DIE from this.

  83. Basically EVERY time in my life I’ve encountered children whose parents controlled their diets to extreme levels (like flat “no junk food or soda, ever” rules), the kids went COMPLETELY INSANE the second their parents were out of sight. When I was little, we would stare open-mouthed as our cousins gobbled down sweets and chugged soda like there was a shortage when they visited us, because they weren’t “allowed” such things at home. As others have pointed out, having such extreme policies makes “bad” food into a literal “forbidden fruit.” Kids need to learn MODERATION more than anything else. They need to learn that they don’t HAVE to wolf down a pint of icecream because they can have a scoop tomorrow if they want (and not because they cleaned their room/biked for an hour/did all their homework).

    Especially with the toddler, this eating plan sounds dangerous. Kids that young have NO sense of what the hell this woman is doing and will just know that they are deprived and hungry. And, I don’t know.. There’s healthy eating, and then there’s 24/7 dieting. This sounds like the latter. I feel like kids NEED carbs and some fats to burn through; grilled chicken and green beans sounds pretty harsh. I bet she has them on skim milk, too? People on diets are concerned with losing pounds, not fueling their bodies, and kids need fuel way more than we do. :|

  84. Also, I would shy AWAY from tales that go: “This kid I knew was deprived, then he went crazy, then he got FAT.” That just reinforces the idea that FAT is a horrible thing and something to be avoided at all costs. It’s literally scaring this woman into changing her behaviour by using her own irrational fear. Rather than focusing on whether her children’s diets will MAKE THEM FAT!!1!!, she should be focusing on ensuring their HEALTH and instilling HEALTHY eating habits that they can use their whole lives – and I mean healthy as in the kind of healthy eating we talk about, not “grilled chicken and green beans for every meal” healthy. She may still feel the scars from her childhood teasing, but maybe you should ask her – if she’d been teased because she was too short, would she be making her kids take growth hormones? Or if she’d been pimply, would she be scrubbing their faces obsessively multiple times a day? I doubt it. (Unless she’s actually the mom from Carrie.) She needs to stop making assumptions about what body types her kids will have (and how they’ll feel about it), stop sending the message thatbeing fat means being bad and unloveable, and stop taking such extreme measures to try and ensure her kids have the best APPEARANCE at the expense of their health. :|

  85. Additionally, (since I hit the submit comment button too soon) this sister needs to address those fears/issues/etc. for HERSELF so that she can prevent her kids from having self image problems.

    Being a sister myself, I know this is easier said then done and may not come off well coming from a brother who had no clue as to her percieved issues during that time. It concerns me a little that he had no idea this was how she felt. Maybe he isn’t the right person to tackle this issue with her, maybe it should come from his wife or another sibling. The focus should be on the sister’s issues being dealt with, the kids developing healthy attitudes about their own bodies, and preventing projecting Mom’s fears onto their psyches.

    Kid’s arent’ clones doomed to repeat the life of the parents. Everyone has their own unique experiences that help shape the way they view the world. I believe it’s my job as a parent to guide. If my opinion is asked, I give it, but I don’t try to force my child to view something, someone, or an experience in the same manner as me. Example: My 9 yr old daughter asked during election time “Who are we voting for?” my response was that I was an Obama supporter for these reasons, but others support McCain for these reasons, and left it up to her to decide who to vote for in her mock class election. I also don’t tell my kids who they can be friends with. I WILL tell them that I don’t support certain types of behavior, but ultimately I let them decide if they want to be that person’s friend. If safety is involved, I discuss the rules I expect my child to adhere to and trust her to make the best choice.

    Anyway….that’s my long winded take on this situation. In my opinion, this mom is projecting her own fears…and fear is rarely a good reason to base decisions on.

  86. @living400lbs- That Rebecca Long story is ATROCIOUS. I don’t know what is more nauseating, the fact that the woman actually restricted the girl’s WATER intake (water!!!) as a punishment, or the fact that the father never intervened because he “thought they were working it out between themselves.” Denial much???

    I have to concede that the situation described in the post is not necessarily a panic-button situation. While my radar would certainly go up if I met a parent who was that preoccupied with food, and I would certainly resent being told by an outsider (even if they were family) what to cook and prepare in my own house, I don’t think the letters “CPS” need be uttered whatsoever. Because as previous commenters have said, CPS is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

    It’s neurotic to deny your children desserts no matter what or to make chicken with skin taboo, for sure. It definitely messes with kids’ minds and their relationships with food. But that kind of behavior is shades away from what could really be called child abuse. To play devil’s advocate, even, at least it displays some iota of concern for what goes into her kids’ bodies. Get a load of these “vegan baby” stories (http://naturalhygienesociety.org/diet-veganbaby.html) or of this horrific case from a few years ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/11/nyregion/11starve.html), for an idea of what it really means to restrict food from children, or worse, to be flat-out careless about the food your child eats, having the narcissism to think, “What’s good enough for me is good enough for them.” NOW we will talk about CPS.

    *drinks non-diet Dr Pepper*

  87. I’d call DCFS and deal with the rest later. If I did when my father was threatening/doing voilent stuff to me and my siblings, when that disgusting old man at work threatened to slam this little 2-3 year old girl’s head against a wall, when I saw another disgusting man pull a girl’s hair, whenever my sister projects her behavioral issues and takes them out on her children, every time I hear MeMe Roth’s name…I would be a much happier woman. Honestly, people will never learn until they face the appropriate consequences, which are harsh, but children are part of the community too. And they are NOT property.

  88. “A. Give her some information on children’s nutritional NEEDS.
    B. Call child protective services. Starving children is illegal.”

    Please, don’t ever do this. I have heard heartbreaking stories about other vegan families (I don’t have kids myself) who have had children stolen from them by the state because their accusers believed OMGZ teh chilrenz wil starv!!!11! and bought the long-disproved myth that kids ‘need’ milk or meat or whatever. (The fact that vegan children sometimes have lighter-than-average body weights only compounds the danger of such intervention, in spite of HAES’ insistence that body weight does not demonstrate health/illness.) Seriously, for those of us who are followers of non-mainstream foodways, just as for those of us who are fat — or, like me, are both — the knowledge that either one of these can be used to justify the government kidnapping children from loving, healthy homes is terrifying.

    But, definitely, the brother should make use of the opportunity to ‘casually’ ask the kids (when their mum’s not around) if their food situation at home is okay (e.g., are they often still hungry after meals). They’ll have the best sense of whether they’re being adequately fed.

  89. I’m a little concerned about the way some of the commenters are finding ways for the no desserts/2 carbs thing to be OK. Or saying “…well if they can have whole grains…” What’s good for adults is not necessarily good for kids. My little girl can’t eat whole grains. Her system can’t handle them. One serving of brown rice = days of pain and grossness. Whole grains have a lot of substance to them that lacks caloric content. I don’t think it’s a good idea to make little bodies work that hard for to get the energy out of the food. Kids are just really, really NOT little adults.

    I assumed it was two carb servings a day (not grams) and that is just really not enough, anyway you slice it. Even if “carbs” just means the obvious white foods, not counting milk, veggies etc. Kids need those white foods. My experience has been that they just need a lot of everything, in general. I’m just not comfortable with winking at restrictions because they superficially match adult-oriented cultural messages about “healthy” food. And I definitely think that if he says “well, ok, what if I just make brown rice and whole grain pasta, so at least they’re not *refined* carbs?” that would just be playing into her script.

    There’s no way for him to know how crazy this is in practice until he sees it. There’s a good chance that, no matter what “approach” he decides on beforehand, he may get caught in the middle between her and a hungry child. I think he has to prepare himself, in whatever way seems personally appropriate, for that scenario. I just don’t think an ethical person could allow themselves to be complicit in withholding food from a legitimately hungry kid. There may be no way to avoid having it out in front of the kids if this situation arises. That’s far from the worst thing the kids could experience. I mean it’s not pretty and it clashes with our cultural ideals about sheltering children from adult conflict, but if she’s restricting them to the point that it comes to a head under his roof, it may be a lifesaver. They’re going to rebel against food restrictions one way or another; I personally think “But Uncle Tony said kids should eat bread!” is healthier than secret bingeing.

    I don’t think psychoanalyzing her or turning her on to HAES is a winning proposition. It’s not academic like that.

  90. I can see why the mother doesn’t want her children to think they’re fat and worthless, whatever she teaches them they’re going to grow up in a society which tells them they’re fat and ugly (no matter how big they are). The problem is, the odds are these kids are going to grow up with body image issues no matter how big or small they are. Nobody is the right weight, or if they come close enough for most people not to criticise then their breasts will be too small, or too large, or their face will be ugly, or their hair will be wrong, or their thighs will be too fat, of their voice will be grating. Society always criticised women no matter how they look and I understand that by teaching her children to diet she’s trying to equipt them for that but teaching them to try and change themselves to meet the beauty ideal will only hurt them as they will never meet that ideal.

    Personally, I think the best thing you can do for your child to minimise the chances of them hating their own bodies is to be open and honest. Don’t disparage other people’s bodies in front of them, be open and honest (example, kids will sometimes point at a fat person and comment that they’re fat. Instead of telling them “shush, that’s rude” or whatever, tell them “Yes, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people are big, some are small and all bodies are amazing”), take the subject on. Never ban them from any food, because the food you’re not meant to eat is always the most tempting, they’ll probably binge for a while on fat and chocolates, but when they calm down they’ll probably pick a more sensible relationship with food. But this also requires you to respect their wishes a little and recognise that sometimes they’re going to want chocolate as well as fruit. I mean, it’s ok to suggest other things, say if you kid asks for chocolate say “Sure, but there are some really delicious bananas in the living room which are just perfectly ripe today. Would you like one of them instead?” as long as you don’t do it in a judgemental way (“Oh, you don’t really want chocolare, why don’t you go have a banana instead” makes the chocolate forbiden and desirable and the banana a punishment).

    For the uncle, I’d think dealing with the sister rather then going over her head to the children is definetley the way, if he does he risks setting up forbidden fruits. If it was my sister I’d sit her down and explain to her that she’s hurting her childre, both in the physical sense and in that she’s setting them up for the kind of body hatred she’s trying to avoid by teaching them that their bodies are only acceptable if they conform to a certain version of physical beauty.

  91. Don’t undermine parenting in front of the kids, but he needs to give her a good talking-to and perhaps beg her to talk to a pedatrician about how she’s feeding her kids. Not giving kids sweet crap is a good idea, but restricting calorie intake without a REAL medical health reason is fucking abuse.

    Also: his house. He needs to draw a hard line about what kind of child feeding practices he will and will not tolerate. I wouldn’t allow someone to feed their kids nothing but cheese puffs in my home, nor will I allow them to starve a child for shits and giggles.

  92. I’m also wondering to what extent the brother is expected to restrict his children’s food for the duration of the visit. My kids are dairy intolerant and it’s miserable when they are at, say, parties, and all the other three-year-olds have icecream and they don’t. I try to bring something for them but that’s not always welcome either.

    BUT I also don’t like the idea of the brother feeding the kids foods their mother doesn’t allow. I get annoyed when people give my children drinks with aspartame, for example. Not annoyed enough to say anything, but I wish they wouldn’t.

    Maybe if he starts by offering everyone whisky and cigars, the mashed potatoes and sponge pudding will seem harmless by comparison?

  93. As a mom, i automatically wrinkle my nose at the word ‘diet’ and ‘children’. As a hostess, i would ask more questions, because i would honestly have no idea what she was talking about.

    I guess before i made any firm opinions one way or another, i’d have to ask her more questions. ‘What do you mean by two carbs daily?’ ‘What is your idea of a healthy meal?’ ‘What do you mean by no junk food/treats?’

    I’d like to hear what she means first, and then if i felt like it was unreasonable, i would simply say so. ‘No, sorry, these meals aren’t what i consider realistic, or even balanced for my growing kids. I’ll cook this meal instead, and if that’s not okay, feel free to stay elsewhere. Oh, and if you make any comments about getting fat in front of my kids, you’ll be asked to leave.’

    (The latter is a blanket rule in my house. Sadly, my mother, after watching my daughter have *gasp* two pieces of toast, told her that eating that much would make her ugly. So yeah, i actually now have to spell out what people can talk about, sigh…)

  94. chava: Point being, I didn’t grow up with a screwy relationship with food or hating my body, etc–and I think that assuming these children will, without knowing more, is a little premature and reflects our tendency to judge mothers harshly.

    Yeah, I totally agree with you there. And, incidentally, I do take you at your word that you don’t have a screwy relationship with food. I certainly don’t think you *have* to be as lackadaisical as… er, well, as I am…. to have kids that grow up knowing how to eat in ways that are healthy and enrich their lives. I just think it’s possible to be a parent and not enforce some special way your family eats, and have kids that are fine.

    I mean, if you *want* and *believe* in having a specific way to eat — even one that others disagree with as though it’s any of their beeswax — then I think that you should be allowed and not second-guessed by the public at large as long as your kids are basically nourished (which, obviously, is the sticking point here. Exactly how endangered are these kids?)

    And of course “the public at large” is a very different audience from “family members who actually love your children and may have strong opinions if they see you doing something that alarms them.” And I guess in that situation, one just hopes that the grownups will act like grownups and try to maintain some boundaries, and not embroil the kids in some kind of grownup power struggle.

    (For that matter, I also think it’s possible *not* to screw up parentally and *still* wind up with kids who DO have food issues because not every facet of a kid’s environment is controlled by the parents!)

    I guess I just heard a hint of blame, coming from the other direction, in your “ice cream isn’t great for a three-year-old” comment. But maybe I was wrong, in which case — er, sorry! Sore point for me, as I said. In general, I’m trying to balance my sense of “Geez people, it’s just young human beings eating, everybody chill!” with my attendant sense of “Geez people, it’s just adults parenting in a different or less-than-perfect way than you might like, everybody chill!” But that’s in general. In this specific instance, it seems crucial to know whether and how much these kids are actually suffering, short term and long term, physically and mentally. And what Boss’s relationship with his sister is. And I just don’t know those things.

  95. Oh, and if you make any comments about getting fat in front of my kids, you’ll be asked to leave.’

    M, that’s awesome. I’m totally copying you.

  96. Ailbhe: My kids are dairy intolerant and it’s miserable when they are at, say, parties, and all the other three-year-olds have icecream and they don’t. I try to bring something for them but that’s not always welcome either.

    The hell?! Why would someone frown on your bringing your own treats? Maybe now I’m the one lapsing into drive-by parenting and mother blame, but that just seems downright inhospitable. Do they give any rationale?

  97. Controlling? Let’s see – she wants to co
    ntrol her kids, her brother, his family and what everyone in his house eat? Does the brother have a So? Is he/she on board?

  98. A Sarah–

    I think a better way I could have put it would have been “a 3 year old doesn’t physically need ice cream or white bread, so depriving her of it doesn’t make you a bad parent.” “White stuff,” as one commenter put it, isn’t necessary for children as far as I know (perhaps it just sits badly with her child).

    It’s a sore spot with me in the other direction–teachers and other parents CONSTANTLY assumed I was “anorexic” or “starved” as a child when I ate everything in sight, just because my parents had some non-traditional food ideas (no sugar pre about 6 years old, whole grains, no milk, dessert *sometimes* but not all the time). We always had plenty of calories around, though. The only lasting effect on my psyche is a deep and abiding hatred of soy cheese and margarine. Ugh.

  99. This sounds like a concerning situation. She means well but banning dessert sounds like ovrerkill, and doctors disagree on whether carb restriction is healthy or effective. Now, I don’t have any anecdata about the effects of carb restriction in young children because when I was young everyone was counting fat grams. However, I do have experience with parents obsessing over their children’s bodies. I hit puberty at a somewhat young age. By the time I was 11 I had become very shapely and a little heavy, too. My mom and sisters, on the other hand, have naturally slim bodies and small figures. My parents acted as if something was wrong with me for being so “shapely.” My food was never officially restricted but my parents gave me dirty looks when I reached for second helpings, rolled their eyes when I snacked, lectured me on how I needed to lose weight, and employed every passive-aggressive method they could think of to convince me to stop eating. It didn’t work- at first. It led to emotional eating and then dangerous dieting in my teen years. I eventually realized that I simply had a different body type than my immediate family, and that no diet could change that. Now that I’m not eating to spite my parents or under-eating to fix myself, I actually feel like I’m much healthier- even though I’m still bigger than my siblings. The moral of the story is that my parents’ concern gave me an unrealistic and unhealthy attitude towards body, and didn’t stop me from becoming fat.

    This man’s sister has good intentions, and he should have an honest, respectful conversation with her about this. I know he said anecdata would be more effective, and I hope my story helps, but I think referring her to a nutritionist would be a good idea too. A nutritionist could help the mother plan meals around her childrens’ nutritional needs. It’s also wonderful that he’s so concerned for his nieces’ well-being, and that in itself will be invaluably helpful to the girls.

  100. I don’t usually do this, leave a comment without reading through ALL of the comments, but I have just a sec before I dash off to work.
    My family has all kinds of weirdness around food. As a host, it’s much easier if someone says, “can you be sure to have X on hand?” than it is to comply with “don’t have X on hand.”
    From a “staying with family ettiquite” perspective, I think the mom would do well to relax her rules a bit when saying with her brother.
    Regarding the actual request, I would say, it’s possible to say, “my boys are healthy and growing and need plenty of carbohydrates to fuel them, so I’m not going to deprive them of these foods while you are here” — and make sure to have plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, cheese, and other things as snacks, and let the mom do the serving at mealtime for her daughters. I think having this uncle in the picture is more important for the girls than having a strict boundary between the sibs that prevents them from interacting with him.
    I could see this sort of thing happening in my own family (with me in the uncle role) or with friends’ kids — in fact, we are way more permissive about food than our neighbors are, and it has led to some conflicts. I hate conflict, and I don’t want my daughter to feel left out because kids can’t play at our house because we have foods containing (gasp) sugar in them on hand. It’s a pain all around, and I feel like I need to keep the big picture in mind — I want my daughter to be happy, have friends, play — and if it means adjusting what I serve as snacks, it’s not that big of a deal.

  101. Putting your child on a diet will not make her thin. It may make her fat; it will certainly destroy her relationship with food, and probably with you. Being fat will not ruin her life — feeling like her mom is her enemy WILL. And depriving her, policing her, and turning her against her body — that does make you her enemy, even if you think you’re doing it for her own good.

    (Also, special note to moms who think they were fat when they were kids: YOUR DAUGHTER IS NOT YOU. THIS IS NOT YOUR SECOND CHANCE AT THE CHILDHOOD YOU THOUGHT YOU WANTED.)

    I really wish this is something someone would have said to my mother. Though I can’t imagine she would have listened.

    I remember my mother’s anecdotes from high school about how “fat” she was and about how hard that was and how she just didn’t want that to happen to my sister and I. She didn’t go as far as the mother mentioned in this post, but even before fully learning about “good” and “bad” foods I learned at a very, very young age about “good” and “bad” bodies. (incidentally, pictures of her from high school prove she was actually quite “normal” but that hardly matters)

    Strangely enough, I didn’t start to turn into a chubby little girl until I started “dieting” at age 8. I was always a little stout, but really pretty “normal” up till that point. No, I wasn’t counting the calories or all the other complicated things associated with “real” dieting, but I tried to limit my intake. I could never do it for long, because heck, I was hungry and so I’d break and then assume I wasn’t like those more petite girls in my school because I just couldn’t stop stuffing my face.

    My sister didn’t start to get chubby until she tried dieting at age 10. I don’t know for certain, but I assume her experience with dieting at such a young age was similar (read, equally horrible) to mine. We both developed eating disorders in high school and carried on disordered eating into college. We both got thinner temporarily when we had our respective eating disorders, but both also gained all the weight we’d lost back, plus some once we finally went back to somewhat “normal” eating (which for both of us that only meant less restrictive eating within a still pretty restrictive diet).

    I’m only just starting to try to view my body as a friend and not as an enemy. My mother… well, that’s been harder. My sister, who’s been having a pretty rough three years, still doesn’t seem ready to try to say “my body just might be ok the way it is” and retains a strained relationship with our mother.

    Now this isn’t to say that there weren’t other issues involved. Our mother was also physically abusive and always gave the impression of a bomb about to go off which of course didn’t help us to see her as someone to trust or as someone who loved us unconditionally. Our father wasn’t much of a help because he was constantly always either just trying to stay out of our mother’s way or just wasn’t helping her to raise us (which I suspect, was where a lot of mom’s temper came from). And of course we got the “fat=bad” message from school, tv, etc. I’m not saying that my mother’s entirely responsible for the development of my disordered eating or for the hatred of my body. Heck, I’m not even saying the restriction was entirely responsible for the development of my inbetweenie body (after all, both my parents are pretty solidly built). But I AM saying that my reaction to the fat hating culture we live in might not have been so severe and I’d probably have a better relationship now with my parents had I seen home at least as a place where people loved and accepted me unconditionally, regardless of my body size. I am saying that had I grown up in a more body positive, or at least, body neutral household, both physically, and mentally, I’d probably be in a better place right now.

    How’s that for anecdata?

    One more thing, where’s the dad in all of this? Much as my dad was always usually pretty silent about dieting and body issues, I know for certain he never would have allowed for my mother to restrict us to only two carbs a day, especially at such a young age. Also, it sounds as though, as others have said, that she’s shouldering full responsibility for their food needs which is stressful enough even without such a perverse, fat hating culture. If she’s a single mom, does she still have contact with the father? Do the children visit him at all? If so, it might be good to suggest the mother try to work with him on this sort of thing. After all, he has just as much a right to try to nurture his kids as best he sees fit as she does. And if they’re still in contact it should be something they both work together on anyways. It’s not fair to assume the mother should be solely responsible for the food intake of her kids.

  102. Growing up in a situation where food was not restricted, I can’t get behind the mindset of parents who severely limit their child’s diet for unnessecary reasons.

    If the brother is concerned about what to feed his nieces, he needs to tell his sister that either the girls will eat what is in his house while visting, or she must provide the food during their stay and educate him on how she feeds her daughters.

    Giving her this ultimatium may not be such a problem if she is as strict as he says and doesn’t want her daughters to have a lot of carbs or dessert. If she asks why she should provide food, he should be honest and say that due to her food rules, he feels unsure of what to prepare, or if they go out during the visit, what the options are for restaurants. If I had to face this situation, I would probably do the same thing.

  103. “Kids need those white foods.”

    This seems a bit extreme to me. Sugar and white flour didn’t exist until a few hundred years ago, and are still not available to a large proportion of the world’s population (other ‘white foods’, such as dairy and potatoes, are also not eaten in many cultures). I think it’s important to remember, what we Americans consider a normal and healthy diet is based on what is available and widely eaten here, and also by the current climate in our culture. Since we are in agreement that nutritional science seems to be pretty damn wrong about fatness and health, I think it’s odd that so many people here believe they are 100% right about the food pyramid. There is a lot of other information out there, and a lot of people have alternative beliefs about nutrition and health that aren’t snap judgments or because they fear and loathe their bodies (including me). The mother we are discussing has emotional issues stemming from her weight, but that might not be the whole story. It’s conceivable to me she is very much informed (just in disagreement with the mainstream) and is trying to keep her kids slender AND healthy.

    Kids will survive and even thrive eating in many different ways.. what is important is that they have enough to eat (and also enough fats, which really are necessary for human’s to live). And if these kids do, I consider it to be their parents personal choice.. I don’t see much difference between judging a mother for ‘not caring what they kids eat and buying them junk all the time’ and ‘being obessive and controlling about sugar’. There isn’t any way to feed your kids that is going to make everyone happy.

    I would love for every child to be raised in a food-and-body-positive, non-fat-hating home, but it’s just not possible. People raise their children their way, and that’s the way it should be.. barring severe abuse or neglect. I see and hear things every time I am around children and parents that make me cringe internally, but they aren’t my kids, and my opinion is just that.

    I am really appalled that people here would recommend involving CPS in this situation based on the information we have.

  104. This is really about controlling a child’s body. As said above, it cannot be done successfully but it can do great harm.

    I got into IE when my daughter was about 3. Before that, I was a failed member of the cult of healfful eating. I realize I am on the more permissive end of the scale but I let my daughter eat pretty much what and when she wants. We are an untraditional family when it comes to food and eating. DH and I have always been independent about our food choices. I can barely cook. DH never liked my food. Could it be because was tasteless and unpalatably healthy as he once said? He didn’t like my binge foods either.

    This has lead to my daughter becoming an independent eater as well. She doesn’t always eat breakfast; I pack her a healthy lunch with cookies and snacks. Her dinner is either something I make or she grazes. I do worry that she eats too much sugar. Way too much. I keep cookies and ice cream in the home. She hates McDonalds and loves Subway. I provide the food I know she will eat and never force anything on her. I sometimes feel guilty that we don’t have a traditional family dinner every night but it just doesn’t work for us. Her school also lets kids set their own time for snack if they are hungry and choose to do so. They have a class lunch time because it would be too unwieldy otherwise but snacks are considered personal. Although it is not a rule, they are highly discouraged from commenting on other people’s bodies.

    Despite her huge carb consumption she is a tall, skinny, very active kid. Her dad’s family has lots of tall skinny kids so it is obvious what genes she got in the body department. But I honestly don’t know if I would be so permissive if she was clearly overweight or if I would blame myself for allowing her to make poor food choices. I would like to think I would let her be but I probably would have toned down the sugar as I would see that as the source of her problem. I think skinny kids get far less scrutiny and are given the benefit of the doubt about nutrition. This comes directly from the belief that skinny = healthy. I realize I would have been very wrong and hurtful if I didn’t feed a larger version of my daughter the same way I do now. It would have been a difference of degree than the way sister is acting. I need to let that soak in.

  105. Whether or not one wants to call it child abuse (and personally, I do), the mother’s behavior will damage her children’s emotional and physical health. She is setting them up for eating disorders that will haunt them for the rest of their lives and ultimately cause the problems she is trying to prevent.

    Parents do have an obligation to provide nutritious meals to their children including protein, fruits and vegetables, healthy oils and carbs. Are sugar and white flour necessary and nutritious foods? Absolutely not. That’s not the issue here. Putting very young children on a diet is the issue. Plenty of research shows that diets harm adults in the long run. Think of what this kind of restriction does to children.

    The mother is using her children in an effort to repair her own childhood wounds. If she truly cared about her children, she would get help for herself and not project her own self-hatred and body loathing onto her children.

    If I were her brother I would be direct and say something.

  106. My personal experience suggests that if the boss is fat, anything he tries to say to his sister about the food the kids eat will be ignored. If he is fat and doesn’t have kids, than what he says will be ignored X2.

    As for the request that the brother not serve desserts, limit carbs, etc., I’d tell my sister frankly that if she wishes to limit what her kids eat to that extent, that’s her business, but I wouldn’t change my routine to suit her rules. I would, however, find out what the kids ARE allowed to eat and make sure that there’s plenty of it around, so that she can at least try to stick to her requirements. Hopefully, that’s enough of a balance to suit Miss Conduct!

    The other thing I’d do is shower those kids with as much positive reinforcement about themselves — particularly positive reinforcement that has nothing to do with their bodies — as possible. Growing up with a mother who sounds like she’s so obsessed with their appearance could create a whole other set of issues for them.

    I’ve always tried (especially with my nieces) to focus on how great they are for reasons other than how pretty they are. If they realize that they are smart, athletic, musical, artistic, whatever, that may help them get over whatever craziness about their looks their mother (and society) create.

  107. I think it’s worth finding out what she thinks a carb is. People often overestimate serving size. Canada’s Food Guide recommends three servings of grain for 2-3 year olds and and four servings for 4-8 year olds. If his sister thinks one bagel and a decent sized bowl of pasta is “2 carbs” then there may not be a problem.
    If the kids actually aren’t getting enough carbs, then it’s a hard thing to approach his sister about. We get energy from protein, fat and carbs. Too few carbs will likely result in compensation with more protein or fat. Too much protein is possibly not good for you and neither is fat if too much is saturated. It’s too bad the “everything in moderation” message seems hard to get across. People don’t seem to realize that carbs are the first source of energy we go to. A few people mentioned refined carbs but there’s no hint she’s only talking about those. I think whole grains would be a reasonable request. Lots of people like those better anyway if that’s what they’re used to.
    As for dessert, maybe he can give them some strawberries and vanilla yogurt or show his sister the health benefits of dark chocolate.

  108. “I’m just not comfortable with winking at restrictions because they superficially match adult-oriented cultural messages about “healthy” food.”

    On the other hand, I’m uncomfortable with how the foods marketed to kids on TV and in “kids meals” seem to be the most unhealthy foods–fries, hotdogs, hamburgers, and other foods with no vegetables. It seems that trying to feed children differently than adults is a pretty modern thing and I question it. The nutritional label says brown rice has just as many calories as white rice but a bit more fiber. I hope my future children will eat what adults eat most of the time. I don’t want to cook a separate and probably less healthy meal for them.

  109. The danger sign* for me is not that she avoids feeding her child refined carbs. In fact, there’s no mention of refined carbs vs. whole grains in the question at all. But assuming that is the case (obviously, serving only two carbs at all is a much bigger problem, as pointed out), her serving brown rice and whole wheat bread wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. But there’s a big difference between cooking those things at home and controlling your childrens’ diet to the extent that you have to call ahead to people who are being nice enough to host you to make sure forbidden things won’t be on hand.

    First, I’m wary of “healthy eating plans” not based on medical intolerances or ethical or religious restrictions that are so tight that they can’t be relaxed on vacations. It’s not scientific, but I’ve found that “It someone still counting every calorie while traveling?” is a good benchmark to separate the kind of casually disordered eating are culture lauds from really serious disordered behavior.

    Second, it evinces a desire to control EVERYTHING about her children’s environment. She doesn’t even want dessert offered! That takes the controllingness a step further, IMO.

    Those two things really make me think this isn’t a simple case of mother shaming (unless, of course, the facts as transmitted through several people are different from what we see here) or someone who just likes her kids to eat whole grains most of the time.

    * Obviously, I don’t know the family and it’s just hypothesizing, so hopefully this doesn’t sound like I’m trying to be too definitive.

  110. It’s a sore spot with me in the other direction–teachers and other parents CONSTANTLY assumed I was “anorexic” or “starved” as a child when I ate everything in sight, just because my parents had some non-traditional food ideas (no sugar pre about 6 years old, whole grains, no milk, dessert *sometimes* but not all the time).

    Oh, wow, I can see why the sore spot. Yeesh. That sucks.

  111. On a side note, can someone explain to me why we, as a culture, are simultaneously convinced that (a) white rice is a horrible, processed carb and (b) that we’d all do well to emulate people in (popularly assumed to be) much thinner countries like Japan where it is a staple of the diet?

  112. Please can people stop with the ” Call child protection services” bit?

    In our household we aimed at a healthy diet , foods such as sugary, highly coloured drinks, cereals sweets and puddings were not ” banned” but more nutritious alternatives were available in our house and yes, I made it known that I prefered the girls not to have additive laden foods and drinks on a regular basis. But no restrictions were ever placed on food in other people’s houses at parties picnics or sleepovers. They were not “On a diet” in any way . We just believe that growing bodies, indeed all bodies, need good fuel , that sweets , fast food etc are treats to be enjoyed rather than staples and that chemical addtives are a bad idea.

    And there was another issue too

    One of my beautiful daughters ” failed to thrive” . From birth ,she had difficulty digesting certain foods and was always underweight. (Her sister had no such issues.) It was vital that vitamins, fats, proteins and carbs were balanced to counteract her fast metabolism and issues with poor absorbtion in the gut.

    I lost count of the times that well meaning people would give me well meaning advice on how to feed my child , or upset that child by telling her that she was “a skinny little thing who needed feeding up”. They would point to our well filled fruit and veg racks and wholemeal bread and accuse me of being “faddy”.

    At the time doctors were running all sorts of tests to try and find out what was going on. We were frantic with worry and trying not to communicate that worry to our daughter. And then some idiot took it upon themselves to decide that we were bad parents or that our daughter was traumatised in some way and called child protection. Luckily one visit was enough to convince them that we were not starving our child.

    Now, as an adult she is still very, very slender but very healthy… She does not have, and never has had, an eating disorder. She eats a good, balanced diet,that is deliberately higher in calories, carbs and fats than most .she just can’t put on weight. She gets hurt and upset when people offer well meaning advice about anorexia. She gets as upset by people saying that
    ” Real women have curves” as I do when I see unattainably low body weights promoted as the ideal on the grounds that fat is “ugly.” No matter how hard I’ve worked to instil the belief that beauty and heath come in all sizes a young woman’s self esteem and self image can be a fragile thing and easily shaken.

    Now obviously the issue with Red Sonja’s bosses sister is not the same kind of issue and I’d heartily advocate a talk on the folly of putting children on diets.

    But we don’t know all of the facts and I’m very, very wary of calling “Poor parenting” on another woman without knowing all of the facts.

    It’s just that the whole ” Call child protection” thing is pretty triggering to me.

    Sorry for the rant.

  113. In terms of etiquette, this really doesn’t strike me as a complicated problem.

    Since she’s given advance warning, evidently in some detail, it’s reasonable for Sister to expect Brother’s family to accommodate her dietary restrictions. However, it’s *not* reasonable for her expect Brother’s family to *also* abide by those restrictions, especially if they’re complicated.

    So, making sure her children abide by her dietary preferences is Sister’s job, but it’s Brother’s to make sure there’s food on the table that everyone can eat. I’d probably do what I do when my spice-phobic mother-in-law comes to visit, and prepare everything as simple dishes to which seasonings can be added, or not, at the table.

    Whether or not Brother wants to interfere, that’s his call, though I’d advise him to observe the kids first, and if they seem to be healthy and active … hold his horses. I liked the advice someone gave upthread, to try and talk about how Sister felt in school, and feel his way from there.

    Oh, and I grew up with health-faddists too, but was also taught that it was polite to eat what was put in front of me (I had no food allergies, so that wasn’t an issue). My folks just reckoned, that a few unhealthy meals weren’t worth being rude about, and it wasn’t like it would do me any lasting harm. Personally I think it did me a great deal of good, since it contributed to the development of an adventuresome palate.

  114. @deb
    ” lost count of the times that well meaning people would give me well meaning advice on how to feed my child , or upset that child by telling her that she was “a skinny little thing who needed feeding up”. ”

    It is rude when people make unsolicited comments to a parent but it is beyond rude (stupid, arrogant, don’t know th

  115. sorry for the cut off – There is just something plain wrong about adults who scare kids by telling them what is wrong about them and how to fix it. What a clod – what if the child was very ill or on chemo? Would she hand out medical advice? People like this need to be told off in no uncertain terms.

  116. “It’s a sore spot with me in the other direction–teachers and other parents CONSTANTLY assumed I was “anorexic” or “starved” as a child when I ate everything in sight, just because my parents had some non-traditional food ideas (no sugar pre about 6 years old, whole grains, no milk, dessert *sometimes* but not all the time).”

    I had a similar experience. My parents were also confronted by people who ‘meant well’ (often expressed by comments on my weight and calling me sickly, or trying to sneak me the foods I didn’t eat often) on a regular basis – and it’s not like they denied me in public. Compounding the situation is that I have some food sensitives and things like candy or MSG could affect my mood, make me feel sick or even trigger a severe migraine. Thank god no one ever called CPS on us but it was an ongoing issue. At one point my mom started picking me up for lunch in elementary school so she could take me home and feed me to ensure I was getting enough at lunch too.

    I’ve also been having a really hard time recently with other people judging my eating. I changed my eating habits drastically in the last two years (after I moved out of my parent’s house I had a ‘standard American’ diet and lived on take-out for quite some time). A lot of it doesn’t ruffle my feathers too much, people get concerned because I am underweight and while it gets old fielding personal questions, they mean well. A lot of it is very mean-spirited, assuming that I am anorexic or just obsessed with my appearance and diet, making negative comments about my body and weight and telling me I shouldn’t be eating what I do (whatever they see me eating at the time – it’s not like I don’t ‘eat a burger!’ sometimes, it’s just that I don’t pack them in my lunch to bring to work).

    So yeah, sore spot for me to. It sucks to be judged for your weight and eating habits. Even if someone does have an eating disorder (or is giving one to their children) telling them they are doing it wrong in any but the kindest, gentlest, most tactful way isn’t going to help things.

    That said, I absolutely think RedSonja’s boss should discuss his concerns honestly with his sister, try his best to help his nieces if the situation is unhealthy for them, and set some boundaries so he feels more comfortable as a host and uncle.. I’m interested in hearing how this plays out.

  117. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is try to follow the sister’s rules THIS TIME. I’m guessing that this is the first time the family have stayed over with the boss, certainly the the first time on this diet?

    If he tries to provide what the sister has asked for, whilst providing his family their normal food (easy, I know) he’ll get to see how the kids are doing. Do they look longingly at his kids’ spaghetti hoops? Do they try to steal ice cream? If so, he’ll have some ammo to take to his sister at another time.

    And by keeping a good relationship with the sister, he’ll hopefully be able to talk honestly at a later date about what he’s seen of her daughters.

  118. I want to defend my comment about “white foods.” People started refining grains, and prefer refined grains to this day, because they’re easier to digest. There’s some evidence that this can be too much of a good thing, inasmuch as a lot of refined bread can lead to sluggish digestion and other problems. (I have heard the claim that a bit of roughage helps prevent colon cancer, for example.) But that’s outweighed by the huge advantages of giving large numbers of people easy access to food energy.

    “Easy to digest” is a GOOD thing, especially for the very young. (I was thinking particularly of the three year old, because I have a child the same age.) Their systems aren’t fully developed, and the tubes are shorter. Infants get a diet of milk/formula, rice cereal, and the like, because if you fed them “real” food you would tear up their insides. As they get bigger, they can handle more, but it’s a gradual process, and it’s really fallacious to assume that kids should be able to eat anything adults can.

    Whole grains have less calories per volume – that’s why they’re a staple of weight-loss oriented “healthy eating.” But that’s dangerous when applied to a kid. Kids, generally speaking, need all the calories they can get.

    The cultivation of easily digestible carbohydrates is the reason we have civilization at all. Outside of the modern west, there’s just not enough of the other stuff to go around, at least not without counterproductive levels of physical effort. Most of the population of the world would just up and die if you took away their barley, cassava, rice, barley, maize, wheat, potatoes, etc.

    Carbohydrates are not poison, not for kids and not for adults. I understand that people who were raised on the “no refined foods” system don’t want to see their parents slammed. That’s totally understandable, but loving parents’ good intentions doesn’t mean the nutritional ideology itself is correct.

    I am seeing a level of good food/bad food talk that would already have gotten totally smacked down if we were talking about ourselves as adults, instead of children.

  119. Oy vey.

    My knee-jerk reaction is for the bro to have a talk with the sis and ask her to think back to when she was 3, 5 or 7 and how she would have felt if their parents had put her on such a diet. If she’s got any memory of her childhood left, she may be able to understand what kind of effect it will have and is having on them.

    Here’s my anecdata: I read somewhere (and yeah, maybe it was a study, but you don’t have to tell her that) that kids, left to their own devices, will eat a balanced diet over time. This made me curious, so I started observing the kids I knew who had unrestricted access to food, and damned if they didn’t eat healthier than the kids who were on ‘special diets.’

    One kid in particular would eat nothing but cookies one day, nothing but carrots the next day, nothing but steak the next day — etc. At the end of the week, he’d had a perfect ‘nutrition pyramid’ diet, averaged out over the week. It was really extraordinary. Naturally, his mother was freaking out until I pointed out my observation, at which point she relaxed. Today the kid is 12 years old and has good eating habits and is healthy and average weight for his size/maturity.

    In contrast, I know another kid who was on a ‘special diet’ who is now in his ‘teens and has a host of food and body issues, in addition to other psychological problems. He’s also ‘overweight.’ I’m not saying that this is solely the result of the diet, (his parents are both big people with food issues of their own) but it’s an interesting contrast to the ‘free-feeding’ kids I know, who, by and large, tend to be mostly healthy, well-adjusted, and appropriately-sized based on their genes, age and development.

    Finally, a suggestion: when people come to my house, I’m happy to adjust my rules for legitimate purposes. This is not a legitimate purpose. This is the brother’s chance to make that clear to the sister. ‘Sorry, but at my house we eat a balanced diet. If you want to starve your kids, you’ll have to do it elsewhere. If you come to dinner here, there will be carbs available and they will be served to everyone.’

    And finally, finally, I have a criminal mind, so I would be the kind of aunt who would take the kids out without their mother and buy them ice cream. I totally would, and damn the torpedoes.

  120. It might be a good exercise for the brother to ask himself how he would feel about it if the children in question were boys and/or if it was a male parent imposing these restrictions.

  121. Hi Elizabeth – I don’t agree with most of the conclusions you’ve come to in your above post, but I understand what you’re saying. I hope you didn’t feel attacked by me quoting your post above-thread.

    “I am seeing a level of good food/bad food talk that would already have gotten totally smacked down if we were talking about ourselves as adults, instead of children.”

    That might have something to do with the fact that there is only one mod on duty right now..

    But I think it’s okay for people to mention health in reference to their own eating habits. Personally – I eat a ton of saturated fats. They taste great, they make me feel and look my best, and I also think they are ‘good for you’. This is my personal choice, I don’t think it’s a moral issue and I don’t judge other people who restrict their saturated fat intake or have different opinions about them re:health. I think this is okay to write at SP.. if anyone disagrees let me know.

  122. Elizabeth–I see what you’re saying about easy to digest being good for the very young (though I’m not sure how young is very young). I’ve tried to google the rest though and I just don’t see it, especially refined grains being necessary for civilization. Of course grains seem necessary but I was under the impression that at first white bread was only for the rich. Somehow it has now become cheaper than whole grain bread. People also seem to desire what they grew up on though things do change. Most people whose eating habits I know prefer who grain bread. I’m interested in where you get your information just because I’m interested in nutrition and knowing if there are important things I’ve never heard of because certain things aren’t publicized as much as other things.

  123. Lyndsay, the agricultural revolution is considered the basis of all civilization. With systematic agriculture you get a lot more calories per unit of labor, which means a lot more people can live together in one place, which leads to increasingly higher levels of economic and cultural activity.

    The “refining” of grains already started when hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists selected the grains that had a lot of edible substance relative to the thickness and toughness of the husks. A certain amount of “refinement” (threshing) is also necessary to get even “whole” grain from the fields to an edible form. AFAIK people take their grains as refined as they can get them, with the limiting factors being labor and technology. That is why white bread was traditionally for the rich.

    I’m not saying that whole grains are bad for you – but consuming a lot of indigestible fiber is neither a panacea nor an indication of how “healthy” one’s habits are. I personally prefer whole grain most of the time and I had to reexamine my assumptions when I had a child. I thought I was being the better sort of mother by feeding her brown rice, for example, until I saw how it shot through her.

  124. Here is my “anecdata” if the brother wishes to share it with his sister: Restriction is a dangerous thing. Hunger can have a profound effect on a child.. I was hungry from around age 9 and never got over it. My mother truly believed she was helping me when she began to restrict my diet around 9 years old. However, this corresponded almost exactly with the inception of my pattern of hoarding food and binging whenever possible. I literally dug a hole in the wall in my closet to hide the stolen food for my binges. I stole from our own pantry, from friends, neighbors, grandparents, church socials, snack time at the Girl Scouts, anywhere there was food available, I took it. There was no mistaking my parents’ belief that I was not OK as I was. It was almost 30 years before I really began to believe that I had any value as a human being even if I wasn’t thin. I started smoking at 12 years old to manage my hunger. (and by the way became a little felon to get the ciggies, too). I still deal with the urge to hoard food, and though I am no longer smoking, I have to be careful with hunger because it can spiral into a binge if I am not mindful. At 46, I still get very anxious if there is an empty shelf in the cupboard or fridge, it might mean that someone is going to prevent me from eating…. ! I feel strongly that restrictive diets are dangerous for children. It’s one thing to control the quality of a child’s nutritional intake, but please think twice before restricting quantity of food. Please.

  125. That might have something to do with the fact that there is only one mod on duty right now..

    Whoops, yes it most likely does! I must admit I’m in the middle of dumping the contents of a diaper (yes my laptop was by the diaper pail, why do you ask?) so I’m not sure to which comment you’re referring. Let’s all just watch the good food/bad food talk, and I’ll catch up on this thread a bit later.

  126. Of course I wasn’t implying any criticism, A Sarah! I haven’t found any of the discussion on this thread to be inappropriate.

    Elizabeth, that’s interesting about your daughter’s problems with brown rice, etc. Your own experiences are the most important thing which is why I think we should all feel free to feed ourselves (and our children) what we wish. I weaned at 1 year old, my mom fed me what she ate (she cooked right out of Diet For A Small Planet when I was little) and the only thing in my life that has ever given me indigestion is white flour (bloating and horrendous gas from both ends).. but it took me until age 22 or so to realize what the problem was, because white flour was in nearly everything I ate.

  127. Here’s my anecdata: I read somewhere (and yeah, maybe it was a study, but you don’t have to tell her that) that kids, left to their own devices, will eat a balanced diet over time. This made me curious, so I started observing the kids I knew who had unrestricted access to food, and damned if they didn’t eat healthier than the kids who were on ’special diets.’

    One kid in particular would eat nothing but cookies one day, nothing but carrots the next day, nothing but steak the next day — etc. At the end of the week, he’d had a perfect ‘nutrition pyramid’ diet, averaged out over the week. It was really extraordinary.

    This is exactly how I was when I was younger. (I unfortunately developed some poor eating habits when I hit puberty early and started having body-image issues due to being teased about having breasts and so on, because of course society says that controlling your eating is how you make your body more like what you want. I’m still working on that now.)

    As I said in my other comment, my parents were fairly permissive about my eating habits (nothing was ruled out, I was encouraged to try new things but didn’t have to eat them if I didn’t like it, etc.) and so I was free to make my own choices from the food available. Quite frequently this didn’t result in every meal being balanced, but over the course of several days everything would balance out.

    I’m struggling now to try to become more aware of my body so I can get back to being able to do that, as I think I was much healthier then.

  128. Some kids will refuse to eat much other than bread and rice if you don’t draw a line about how much of it they can have.

    Yes, some kids will cycle out of it after awhile, but others seem determined to subsist on white bread and juice for months on end.

    This would bother me, as well– it’s irritating even if it isn’t harmful; I’m not a short-order cook, and if a five-year-old declares baked chicken “icky” and issues a demand for buttered noodles, she’s obviously not that damn hungry.

    Maybe the mom is trying to head off that kind of thing. (and of course, that kind of rule has to become a “house rule” in a multi-kid household to prevent squabbles.)

    I don’t let my preschoolers eat unlimited saltine crackers, say– I tell ‘em they can have a cheese stick or a boiled egg or some soup, but crackers are all-done for now.

    It’s not a restriction of quantity, but a requirement that they eat some variety, especially while their tastes are being formed, and that they at least make an attempt to eat the OTHER things lovingly prepared at the table.

    And yeah, if my childless brother had the gall to issue me a lecture about how I’m “starving my kids” he’d live to regret it. Taunt the Mama-bear at your own risk, Unc.

    Snort.

  129. Oh, none taken, Bonnie. I will need lots of elbow nudges and pssts this weekend if anything needs attention. :)

  130. Oh. My. God. Eating disorder, eating disorder, eating disorder. The mother will cause her children to develop eating disorders. I didn’t read all the comments, but the idea that the sister should be respected and left to her own choices is bullshit. The brother needs to intervene and tell her sister to stop or she could eventually kill her children with this kind of restriction. I have a PhD in a mental health field, and I beg the brother, please tell her that she must stop this madness and go to individual therapy to address her eating issues before she kills her children. Family therapy could be very helpful as well. Feel free to send him my email address, and I could get her an eating disorder expert in her area. Please. Stop the madness.

  131. The brother needs to intervene and tell her sister to stop or she could eventually kill her children with this kind of restriction.

    I will concur that the prohibition is neurotic and will probably backfire eventually, but whether it’s actually deadly (i.e. will get the children hospitalized for malnutrition) is not really clear from the information given.

    For example, what does she consider to be a “carb”? Is it white flour and white sugar products only? Does it include vegetables like corn and potatoes (which used to fall under the rubric of “starch” when I was a kid)? Kids do need carbohydrates, that’s for sure, but there are many potential sources for them. Whether too many of those sources are being cut off without justification probably can’t be known without up-close observation.

    But I’m figuring that these are kids who are very sheltered and have probably never even seen anyone dig into a slice of chocolate cake and murmur in ecstasy, let alone tasted it themselves. That’s a state of affairs with a built-in time limit, for sure. Eventually the kids are going to ask themselves (even if they dare not ask their mother) what-all is so toxic about the stuff that they must never even be near it.

  132. I will concur that the prohibition is neurotic and will probably backfire eventually, but whether it’s actually deadly (i.e. will get the children hospitalized for malnutrition) is not really clear from the information given.

    I think the logic is that even if the restriction now is not, in itself, necessarily going to cause malnutrition, in the longer term many people do die from eating disorders, either directly or indirectly (because of an illness contracted due to weakened state, for example.) So behavior which is highly likely to cause an eating disorder may well be behavior which is indirectly likely to kill them?

    Btw, as far as kids subsisting on one particular thing for long periods of time – I recall a news story once wherein a kid would only eat Marmite sandwiches. (White bread, butter, Marmite – a sort of yeast spread thing popular in the UK.) His parents were all freaked out, and tried all sorts of things, and then doctors finally examined him and decided that he was doing okay and while he should be given the option of trying other things, if he REALLY REALLY wanted only a Marmite sandwich, go ahead. He eventually grew out of it.

    I mean, if I had a kid who really was restricting their eating dramatically, I’d probably take them to be checked up on to make sure there wasn’t some problem that needed to be treated (for example I could see that behavior developing in response to a food intolerance – specific food item is the only thing that doesn’t make you feel sick, of course you’re going to only want that item, because it’s ‘safe’, right?) but so long as they were healthy as per ability to function, growing properly, and blood tests, I don’t know that I’d get terribly wound up about it or force them to eat something else.

  133. If I were the brother, I would start by telling her that I was sorry that I never realized her pain when she was in highschool. That woman has also some wounds to heal and it does not seem as if her family had been very helpful for her. After aknowledging that, it might be easier to reach her with critic about how she treats her own childrden.

  134. When I said deadly, I meant that the children could develop eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

  135. I don’t think you can really GIVE someone an eating disorder. I know a lot of people with EDs and all they have in common is a somewhat anxious and perfectionist personality. I’ve known people that grew up in abusive, food restricted environments who never had eating problems, and those with good parents and healthy attitudes about food, who did..

  136. OK, so I’m a bit of a dumbass and typed in the wrong email address, putting my comment into moderation. You ladies can ignore that, I’ll just repeat myself:

    I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already been covered. It’s a sticky situation because the mother will, I promise, immediately get super defensive if her brother tries to talk to her about it, no matter how he approaches it.

    I do think he needs to intervene, I just don’t know how. His safest bet might be to take the rudeness-of-the-insane-request track and just say that he will do his best to cook healthy meals, but if that’s not enough she can provide all their own food. Though someone ought to say something more at some point.

  137. I understand what you ate saying, Bonnie, but I respectfully disagree. There is a lot of research on the characteristics of families of a person with an eating disorder. One element of such families is an overt focus on food restriction and an overemphasis on being thin. Also, new brain research indicates that restrictive eating can cause seretonin increase. So children starting severe restriction early in life can screw with brain chemistry and behavior patterns. Basically seretonin can make a person feel better, so if a child is used to restricting her eating to feel good, she will do this behavior to cope with being distressed as she gets older. Plus, she will never learn how to trust her own feelings of hunger.

  138. What you are saying, Bonnie, not what you ate!!! I hate typing on an iPhone sometimes.

  139. Not only that, Marianne from Cali, but there’s a much higher incidence of eating disorders in families where girls are constantly pressured academically and pushed to be the best no matter what. These girls rarely are allowed to make any decisions for themselves, and food and their bodies become a last-ditch attempt at self-control. There doesn’t even have to be any food restriction or any issues about food in the house at all, just a largely restrictive atmosphere in general. Joan Jacobs Brumberg wrote about the connection between academics and food issues, saying that for the most part more middle- and high-school-aged white girls will develop eating disorders than non-white girls, but when women of color get to college, that’s where their food issues begin, in part because of the intensity of academic life.

    Let’s also not forget that bulimia and compulsive eating can also be byproducts of incest and sexual abuse, much for the same reason.

  140. *deep breath*

    My family’s issues are not mine…
    My family’s issues are not mine…
    My family’s issues are not mine…

    My body is mine.
    My body is mine.
    My body is MINE.

    *deep breath*

    I’m sorry, this is just… ARRRRRRRGH.

    Tell your sister she’s teaching the kids not to trust themselves, and that it’s okay to let other people make decisions about their bodies, and that she’s setting them up for a lifetime of disordered eating, inability to understand their own rights or say no, and to be the perfect patsy for a slew of emotionally and sexually abusive relationships. If they’re lucky, they’ll eventually discover feminism and stop hating themselves and slowly, painfully begin to grow a backbone, but the effects will be damaging, lifelong, and they’ll never be able to reclaim those years of wasted self-hatred.

  141. Anecdote 1: My best friend growing up had a “junk food drawer” in the kitchen full of chocolates and sugary candies. They kids could take what they wanted whenever they wanted. My friend and her sister took perhaps one treat a day; they new the goodies were always available so the drawer didn’t carry much allure. But I, who had been put on a diet at age 6, could think of nothing BUT the drawer.

    Anecdote 2: At the suggestion of a nutritionist, a good friend puts dessert out for her 3-year-old daughter at the same time as the main course. I have personally witnessed the child eat a few bites of cake, push it away, and move on to her chicken and vegetables.

  142. In regards “don’t undermine parenting: I grew up with an emotionally abusive mother. I’m pretty sure the worst of it didn’t happen when other adults were around, but when I tried to talk about it, all I got was “you should respect your mother”.

    Having the idea that there weren’t any adults on my side wasn’t at all good for me.

  143. I have to admit this conversation confuses me. I read several comments and I still don’t know what I’d do if I were in this brother’s place. When I see parents – often mothers – restricting food / obsessing on childrens food it makes me feel terrible. I think of all the weird obsessions / sneaking / “good food” vs. “bad food” that gets set up. (like Sarah in Israel’s junk food drawer story).

    I started to write that I think I would take Eucritta’s tactics. After all, I honor anyone else’s dietary requirements with politeness – vegan, allergies, dont’-like-olives, whatever. I simply love cooking for people and love hearing what they like / want.

    But then – what am I saying: I *did* take this tactic. I had a friend and her daughters over for a visit recently. The friend is a pro-diet person, who recently yo-yo’d some weight (off and back on). Under the guise of health she manages her kids’ food quite a bit. Mostly this amounted to lots of talk about cupcakes or treats – the kids, especially the oldest, relatively obsessed with these treats. And as hostess I simply allowed that to be her business, but proceeded the way I do in my home (more on this in a bit). You know, even though I feel pretty good about how I do it in my home, part of me felt like a “jerk” that, by being permissive with my kids (letting them eat as many hard boiled eggs and then, however many pieces of cake, or whatever) I was making her job harder. But whatever. Managing your kids’ diet – especially the older they get – IS a hard job, and she is choosing that route.

    So my household. I have two kids 5 and 7. I literally let them choose their own food with one caveat: I require they eat their dinner first before the, oh, pint of Ben & Jerry’s. My oldest child (and slimmest, and most athletic) is able to pack down the candy and sweets at an impressive rate. Her brother is less interested in sweets. Both of my children are adventurous eaters – enjoying tofu, and homemade Ethiopian vegetarian chili, and quiche, and salad with bleu cheese. They help us grow food and raise chickens which also helps their food habits IMO.

    Oh, and don’t be telling me not to have Ben & Jerry’s in the first place, or whatever. You know the old, “Just don’t have anything in your house that isn’t super healthy, and then you don’t have to worry.” We aren’t really a junk food house but A. we are never going to be an all-health-food house either and B. we go out in the world a LOT, and there’s all sorts of food out there! My kids are old enough to start asking for what they want and why shouldn’t I give it to them?

    I am considering even dropping the “eat your dinner first” restriction too. I liked Sarah in Israel’s second anecdote – the idea of putting a dessert out with the dinner.

    I don’t want to raise food-obsessed children. I am also aware children go out in the world all too soon and will have far more agency and license. My kids are healthy, strong, and active (my 7 year old just biked 30 miles of hilly terrain with us yesterday!). And, incidentally, they are very slim. Part of what bugs me is if they were “fat” kids I know I would worry more that I was feeding them (or allowing them to feed themselves) improperly. Yes, I know that’s wrong. But heck they AREN’T fat kids and I still worry. Ugh.

    Lessons From The Fat-O-Sphere talks about “intuitive eating”. Which I’ve just started practicing for myself – and I love it! Should we allow our children to do the same?

    As you can see this conversation is a good one for me to have right now and I would appreciate any feedback. I am pretty new to FA so I hope I haven’t made an ass out of myself.

  144. This would bother me, as well– it’s irritating even if it isn’t harmful; I’m not a short-order cook, and if a five-year-old declares baked chicken “icky” and issues a demand for buttered noodles, she’s obviously not that damn hungry.

    Seriously? If a child refuses to eat something they dislike, that means it’s time to starve them until they’re willing to eat food they detest out of desperation?

    I just got to this thread, because I’ve been out of town all week. I have to agree that there is a whole lot of good/bad food talk here (not the mods’ fault – A Sarah, I’m sure you’re overwhelmed keeping up with so many threads!). I think a good thing to remember is that what is “good” for one person is not necessarily good for another. People’s bodies are all different, and the science behind most nutritional ideas about what amounts to a good diet vs. a bad diet is very inconclusive, which is why nutritionists don’t come close to agreeing about these things.

  145. If the child becomes unreasonably picky and issues demands like a small spolit tyrant, then yes, you’re within your rights to ignore them (if you can) and they’ll eat when they get hungry.

    If they just happen to have a particular few foods they hate, then sure, they shouldn’t have to eat those foods. They should not “have” to eat anything, in my opinion–but nor should they be able to dictate what the family eats. But I’m not limiting my entire house and other children to three foods one child will eat, nor am I obligated to consume the entirety of my time making made-to-order meals three times a day.

  146. The whole making your children three different meals for three different picky eaters thing is mostly a new phenomenon, to my knowledge, and part of the (excessively?) involved parenting of the last generation.

    Family dinner is an important thing in our house–you sit your butt down, you at least *try* what is served, and you talk for awhile. If you want something like a bowl of cereal after dinner, whatever, but not during. That doesn’t mean I’m “starving” them until they eat out of “desperation.” Please.

  147. volcanista, would you mind quitting the completely awesome and relevant comments? I’m developing an online crush. kthx.

    But seriously. You are correct. But you know what? SO MANY parents do this: “If you don’t want this exact food (or these three I’ve made), then you aren’t hungry, you are just PICKY.” I used to do this to my kids, long ago. This thread is curing me of the remnants of that thinking.

    Here’s the thing; non-parents should be picking up that this can often go beyond food / diet / size issues. I think some of these comments showcase the fear of raising the spoiled child. P.S. I have found a high correlation between parents who worry about a spoiled, “entitled” child and parents who at some level resent children for being CHILDREN (guess what, having children means we work our asses off and they don’t always do what we like, or like what we like). Add all of the work we mothers (and fathers and guardians) put into planning, shopping, purchasing, working for, cooking, and cleaning up after food – and you can have a big power struggle looming.

    Take chava’s recent comment: it seems riddled with fear of the “picky child”, who is “demanding”, “spoilt”, “unreasonable”, a “tyrant”. Somehow this child is so powerful with its wants that it is possible it has the power to limit what EVERYONE ELSE eats too! I don’t mean to pick on chava per se, at all. I have seen this sort of thinking before in many iterations. “I won’t be a short order cook.”

    OK. So, I am not a short order cook. But isn’t it my job to also try to fix food everyone likes? Would I ignore what my spouse likes to eat and just make him food he loathes?

    I grew up in a household that was all about putting children in their place. “I made this and you’ll eat it,” or “kids are so selfish for having their own desires and personalities”. I feel like I’m recovering from this kind of thinking. And as I change my parenting, it seems my children and I are having a better time.

    My husband and I had a great talk this morning. We discussed how we’d treat household guests, in regards to food. We’re now thinking of putting out the dinner on the table (including dessert if we have it). The kids can eat what they want. If they want something from the fridge they are free to get it – provided A. they clean up after themselves, and B. it isn’t slated for another specific meal or person.

    The more freedom I’ve given my children with food (as well as the fact I cook wholesome stuff, we garden, and we try new things all the time) the LESS “spoiled” my children have been, and the more adventurous they’ve been. Do they have preferences? Um, yes. Don’t you and I?

    I really am appreciating this thread and this discussion, which is timely for me.

  148. I haven’t weighed in on this because I wasn’t sure what I thought. Still don’t, but here goes. The bottom line is I think you have to focus on what your ultimate goal is. You have to be strategic about how you offer information. Confrontation and threats probably won’t help.

    First up is to acknowledge your sister’s past pain. I’ve had adults tell me that things I went through as a child were “no big deal” or that I’ve blown them out of proportion, and it’s very hurtful. Regardless of his perspective, her pain at feeling fat and ostracized in the past are real to her. Acknowledge that.

    As far as the request, I would probably do as others have suggested and tell her that I will be providing x,y & z and she needs to be the one to make adjustments to her children’s diet as needed herself. But I’d work with her as much as possible – to a point. If my sister asked if we could use chicken instead of sausage in the spaghetti or something along those lines, I would comply. I would not eat dessert in front of children who can’t have it, but I also wouldn’t revamp my entire food system/regular menus for them either.

    At some point during the visit, I might sit down with my sister during a quiet moment and after telling her all the things I think she does great as a mother, after acknowledging her fears about her children’s health and safety, I would express my concerns along with some information from experts. Then I would let it be.

    I have had total strangers, co-workers and well-meaning family and friends tell me what to eat many times so I know what it’s like to feel criticized for my own food decisions.

    Years ago, I had a conversation with my own sister who did not allow her children to snack between meals. Her daughter was begging for an apple, and my sister said no. I asked her to explain her reasons, and I told her why I disagreed. My sister kept her policy, her daughter is now by all accounts a well-adjusted 19-year-old, and our relationship is intact. I’m not sorry I raised my concerns with her, but ultimately this really was her decision, and I had to respect that.

  149. Kelly–

    I SAID the child should not be forced to eat anything in particular, all they have to do is taste it, and I’m flexible even on that.

    And I’m not talking about making them eat only food they loathe–which is why I said that if they had specific preferences, I’m more than willing to cater to those within reason (as I do to my husband, he doesn’t like broccoli rabe, for example (shame!)).

    Say I put a perfectly reasonable and nutritious dinner on the table. Child screams, cries, otherwise throws fit. Appropriate response is not to make child mac and cheese. Appropriate response is to wait, ask child to calm down and explain what they don’t like about it, ask them to try it, and then if they really hate it, they can have something with no prep time involved that is still reasonably healthy, after I finish eating.

    Yes, children have preferences and they are entitled to express those in a calm and non-dramatic manner. The adult (in my house, anyway) then takes those under consideration as part of the group’s needs. I only have time to cook one dinner–if my child has developed an unreasonable hatred of all vegetables, I am not going to cook nothing with vegetables in it, sorry. Ruling out entire food groups is a no-go.

  150. Just to clarify—if they’re able to get said food for themselves, they aren’t obligated to wait on me to finish dinner.

    Also, there are children for whom food becomes a huge control issue. Kelly, this may be where you are coming from–for a certain kind of child, the more you try to “force” them to eat something, the more they will self-restrict their eating. A friend’s child stunted his own growth doing this, where a “normal” child would not have. I think most relatively feisty children have an issue such as this–when I was a child, it was punishment of any kind (“yeah, you want me to go to my room?! well I’ll do something that will make you want to ground me for a MONTH! Take that, suckah!”).

  151. chava, that wasn’t a quote from a comment of yours, but still, I think we do disagree about what makes a child some kind of spoiled brat. Disliking chicken is not one of them. Picky eaters aren’t picky because they want to make their parents’ lives miserable, or because they’re never happy — people’s tastebuds are just crazy different. Some kids like very bland and simple food, and want the same thing every day, while others love trying new foods. Hell, my sister was eating spicier food than either of my parents could handle by the time she was a young teen — who knows where she got that from. Your and friendly daughter’s language about children who are picky eaters really does surprise me — it’s like you resent kids who don’t like a wide variety of foods, as though they just have those tastes to make your life difficult. Also, there’s a huge difference between making reasonable accomodations of your child’s likes and dislikes, and being a short-order cook. It did not take my parents really any noticeable extra time or money to keep a little bit of ground beef or noodles or rice on hand for my littlest brother while they were making dinner, or to put a bit of the chicken the rest of us were eating aside for him so it didn’t get any sauce on it. And since they valued their children actually ever eating something, that was a reasonable thing for them to do. Because really, he would not have eaten enough if only presented with food he hated. It’s not like a little kid is always logical about that sort of thing.

    Maybe times have changed. But I have no interest in returning to a time when social protocol was such that parents set strict rules and children followed them without making a peep. And picky eaters are picky eaters – you can’t bully that out of them. I absolutely wouldn’t make an elaborate second meal just for one child who dislikes my meatloaf, but I also would shrug and not mind if they wanted something else in the kitchen that requires no extra work on my part – like, say, a bowl of cereal. If it’s not costing me extra time and effort, why the hell not? It’s not like it’s intended as an insult to me if they don’t want my food and would prefer cereal. It’s just taste.

    Also, Kelly, hee, thanks. :)

  152. Wait, who said anything about throwing fits? I was just talking about not wanting to eat something. Once they get beyond 2 or 3 most kids won’t throw a fit, they’ll just not eat.

  153. volcanista—

    What “friendly daughter”? I am confused…

    And I specifically mentioned cereal as a viable alternative. The chicken was just an example the other poster gave between two bland foods. (chicken and buttered noodles).

    Look, part of this is probably cultural. I’m Italian-American, and yes, being a picky eater *is* somewhat looked at askance and frowned upon. If I didn’t want something as a child, my parents assumed I probably wasn’t hungry. As I got older, if I didn’t want it I could get something for myself later/have a bowl of cereal if I ate some vegetables, etc. Worked fine for us, and I’m *very* sure they didn’t resent me for being a child.

    Look, we have a basic conflict of parenting styles. I think that my children need to realize that they may not always get to dictate what’s for dinner. That’s (in a larger woo-woo kind of way) part of the grand scheme of life. I also that that for most children, if they’re hungry, they’ll eat, that simple. It sure as hell doesn’t mean that I somehow resent them for being children or am starving them. It also doesn’t mean I think they don’t get to “make a peep” about their preferences–just that they should do so in a respectful/calm manner (though they may need a nap or a glass of juice to do so first).

  154. I assumed the “throwing fits” business because the poster you are responding to seemed to imply it (if she makes X and the child demands Y).

  155. friendly daughter made the comment I quoted here.

    It’s pretty acceptable in my Italian-American family, fwiw, but sure, families vary in their social norms.

    I think a major argument being made in this post is that maybe what children have access to is a problem, and just not being willing to cook two dinners at once is very different from and kind of tangential to real restriction of options. But I’m also really not sure why not wanting to eat what you cook, and preferring to go hungry or just picking at it instead, is the same as dictating what should be for dinner.

    I also that that for most children, if they’re hungry, they’ll eat, that simple.

    This might be the reason we disagree. I think this is really untrue for many children, at least until they get way too hungry (like, just skipping dinner and not eating until the next day), unless we’re talking about food they normally like and maybe just weren’t totally in the mood for that day.

  156. Bahh I apologize for the bad editing in the above comment. Should be “I also think that,” not “I also that that,” and starting both paragraphs with “Look” wasn’t confrontational, it was bad editing…

    To return to the OP’s point–if I were the uncle, and this were my sister and her children, and we’re taking him at his word that the sister is very food conflcted and is putting her children on a diet, what would I do?

    Well, I would certainly not alter my family’s dining habits. I would go through the trouble to provide options the children COULD eat so they wouldn’t be hungry. Women are inundated with criticism of their parenting, so I probably wouldn’t say anything like “You know, you’re going to give them an ED,” I think it would bounce right off.

    I think that if there were significant nutritional issues (i.e. I believed the three year old was in danger) then a more serious family intervention would need to be staged, with a potential option being to sue for custody if there were no other option.

    If it were more a question of “Come on sis, lighten up,” then I would probably just try to make the children aware that they are beautiful and accepted no matter what they eat or their bodies look like. But sneaking them ice cream or other forbidden foods could a) cause them to be punished and b)cause the sister to break off relations, cutting off any positive influence the uncle might have been able to have as the children grow up.

  157. Oh, sure, but the rest of that comment sounded skeptical enough of childrens’ tastes that I kind of took it to be hyperbole when friendly daughter said “demand.” Even a child being bossy is different from throwing a tantrum. I mean, this:

    Some kids will refuse to eat much other than bread and rice if you don’t draw a line about how much of it they can have.

    Yes, some kids will cycle out of it after awhile, but others seem determined to subsist on white bread and juice for months on end.

    is pretty problematic if you really believe there are no good or bad foods. It might take months to cycle out of something like that, absolutely. Encouraging some vegetable matter or, say, ice cream in there is a good idea, because people benefit from varied nutrition, but you can only do so much before you’re either force-feeding or starving them. And many will really choose to starve for far too long.

  158. And yeah, that would probably be my approach, too. Like many of the commenters above, I would not remove or restrict my own family’s food to accomodate my sister’s restrictive family diet. I’d make what I normally make, and she could join me in the kitchen or get what she wanted. I’m not against a little subversion if it looks like the kids’s choices are far too restricted, since this clearly isn’t an allergy or anything like that, but I wouldn’t blatantly try anything.

  159. Volcanista–

    I don’t know how I can make this more clear. The original poster to whom you were responding gave a situation where the child was dictating/demanding what was served for dinner. That was what you (and I) were responding to. There are children who will try to do this (usually it’s the parent’s fault for having indulged it previously), and no, I don’t think you should engage with that behavior.

    If they don’t want to eat what I cook, they *don’t have to.* I am against forcing my child to eat anything, aside from perhaps tasting the food to try it, and I think I said that several times. Hence the cereal or other non-prep intensive food option.

  160. Eh, wrote that last before I saw your comment. Well, I do believe there are some good and some bad foods for children, so that might be part of the conflict here.

    We don’t have any picky eaters in my side of the family, so I have a limited understanding of it. I have observed that yes, for some children, they do seem to be willing to starve themselves. I always attributed this to the parents having them become addicted to sugar/white/processed foods, but like I said, I do hold some good/bad food ideas, whether they are right or wrong (and they may be wrong)

    That said, I have read some new stuff indicating that pickyness is somewhat genetic and the child truly cannot help themselves in the matter–so who knows, really.

  161. chava, this statement is what I disagreed with:

    if a five-year-old declares baked chicken “icky” and issues a demand for buttered noodles, she’s obviously not that damn hungry

    because 1) it’s factually inaccurate, unless when you say “hungry” you mean “so starving she’ll eat food she hates,” 2) when friendly daughter said “issues a demand” after the previous statements and while writing in such an angry tone it read to me as though it really could have meant “asks for,” 3) five-year-olds saying chicken is “icky” are not throwing tantrums or misbehaving, they are just having opinions and tastes, and 4) the tone of the sentence and of the whole comment is accusatory, and kind of intolerant of children, which bothered me a lot, frankly.

    Your statement that “If the child becomes unreasonably picky and issues demands like a small spolit tyrant, then yes, you’re within your rights to ignore them (if you can) and they’ll eat when they get hungry” seemed to be more of the same – calling children names like “spoilt tyrant” and assuming that children who don’t want to eat what you cook just aren’t hungry enough. What is reasonably vs. unreasonably picky? Though you later clarified that you are only really bothered by bad behavior, at first it really sounded like you were lamenting these evil times, when parents are expected to accomodate vile children who want things — when I had just been thinking about how much better it is now that parents are more likely to try to help out polite but picky children.

    It’s the pairing of “unreasonably picky” (I mean, how is that even a thing?) with “issuing demands like a spoilt tyrant” that might have been the communication problem. Also, “spoilt tyrant” rather got my hackles up, I admit.

  162. Yeah, pickiness has nothing to do with what foods people eat. I was the least picky eater of my siblings, and overall we were not demanding children, but pickiness abounded at the dinner table. And FA is very much in favor of Intuitive Eating, which explicitly denounces the good/bad food false dichotomy, so I can absolutely see why someone might hold to those ideas, but I very much disagree. I firmly believe fats and proteins and sugars, such as the ones in ice cream, are good for children, and also adults.

  163. Okay okay, I admit it:

    I used “spoilt tyrant” because it pleased my inner wordsmith. Probably not the best choice for communicating my intention, though ;-) Apologies.

    Shrug–I do think nutrition knows very little, but I’m also something of a food activist, CSA subscribing, Michael Pollen reading foodie, so I do tend to judge all things processed as bad food. My prejudice and I admit I might be wrong. As far as ice cream, my deal is that I wouldn’t feel cool giving it to MY three year old, but no, it won’t damage them in a serious way.

  164. Volcanista / chava – Great discussion and I’ve been interested to read! I feel like this entire thread has helped me immensely to have some clarity around my own household.

    I have two children. Neither have (nor could I forsee them) ever resorted to “willfully” eating some very narrow range of food out of a bid for personal power. And I have literally never known such a child. I am not saying they don’t exist. My gut tells me such a child is more likely to be created or triggered when the mommy / daddy / whomever is bringing these power issues to play. And is it the five year old’s job to think this through and solve it, or mommy / daddy / whomever’s? Sure, you can dominate a child and win out – for a time. Is that wise?

    volcanista wrote “It’s the pairing of “unreasonably picky” (I mean, how is that even a thing?) with “issuing demands like a spoilt tyrant” that might have been the communication problem. Also, “spoilt tyrant” rather got my hackles up, I admit.”

    I agree, this comment bugged me too!

    I want to be super clear that, in ensuing comments, chava’s position seemed very relatable to my own. However, I did find a lot of loaded name-calling in the original comment about “tyrant”, etc. Even if chava redacts a few of those words or concepts – and I totally get that it’s OK to do – taking it completely OUT of the context of her comments, I have seen many other parents apply this sort of name calling / food shaming / lack of acknowledgment enacted by parents. Just a few minutes ago at a party I watched a mom badger her child about her choice of food. Both mom and child looked miserable.

    Another anecdote: my own mother, who INSISTED I liked onions (I never have) and put them in my food. For thirty years. That’s just not cool and I don’t do that to anyone – my children, my guests, spouse, whomever. (Just to be clear: neither do I “short order cook” in my household).

    Again, I don’t want to straw man some argument that no one hear is actively making. I have just seen a lot of unempathetic, controlling, and illogical behavior by parents in this regard.

  165. Y’all, I’ve got three kids ages four and under. Fixing to have four kids six and under.

    There’s only so much complaining a woman can take before she drives everyone off a cliff. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

    I just haven’t got enough martyr in me to spend hours a day allowing a passel of toddlers to “eat intuitively,” when they aren’t old enough yet to budget, shop, prepare, serve, or clean up after their own snacks.

    Will I feel softer about this issue once they’re old enough to wash their own plates and wipe up their own syrup spills? Maybe.

    Family meals are important, both for social/cultural reasons and for sheer practicality. NOBODY in this house gets to casually graze their way from dawn till dusk.

    Routine and rules are about the only thing separating this woman from the loony bin. ;) And I think they’re good for the kids, anyway.

    Now, if you’ve got some kind of principled problem with that, then by all means, call CPS.

  166. I don’t remember who said it, but someone commented that they tell a child to calm down.

    Does that work? My experience of telling anyone, child or adult, to calm down, is wholly ineffective. Often counterproductive, in fact.

    But since I often ask my kids what they’d like for dinner, I’m probably some sort of downtrodden softie.

  167. I don’t remember who said it, but someone commented that they tell a child to calm down.

    Does that work? My experience of telling anyone, child or adult, to calm down, is wholly ineffective. Often counterproductive, in fact.

    Hah. My personal response to being told to calm down is to rise about 8 points on the rage scale. It’s the complete arrogance of thinking you get to tell another person how to feel! Particularly since the person who feels the need to tell you to calm down is usually the person whose unreasonable behaviour created the problem in the first place.

    And in a parent-child dynamic it very much reinforces the discourse that children aren’t really people and don’t have any legitimate emotions (“You can exercise that option when you’re older.) There is no quicker way to create a frustrated, problematic child, I can tell you.

  168. To be fair, when it comes to children I’m oversimplifying. Many young children won’t have the skills to recognise yet that they are too tired/hungry/dehydrated to think rationally at that point, and might benefit from having food/water/a nap before addressing whatever issues have arisen.

    But for older children, or children who are physically fine but angry/frustrated because their opinions and preferences are being ignored, “calm down” isn’t usually helpful and is a good way to make it seem like the problem is all on their side. (How would you feel if you were consisently offered meals you didn’t like/couldn’t eat but lacked the capabilities to make yourself an alternative? Pretty fucking unhappy, is how I’d feel. And while we can see that there are issues of limitied maternal resources — time, money, energy, ability to be bothered — a child old enough to have and express specific preferences may not get that.)

  169. friendly daughter, I totally see what you’re saying, because yeah, having a lot of small children is completely exhausting. It doesn’t make it TRUE that kids who don’t want to eat what you’ve made aren’t hungry enough, though. Their preferences are real and legitimate things. It just means you can’t accomodate them because you can’t, end of story. You do what you can.

  170. The “calm down” comment was me. I agree it might not work in all situations, or for all children, and certainly not if you say it in a prissy manner. Soothing and “ok, what’s wrong, this is not an ok response, but take some deep breaths” to a temper tantrum (what I was discussing) isn’t an irrational response.

    It works for me, that’s all I can give you.

  171. I think Caitlin also pointed out, as I did in my comment, that a glass of juice or a nap would also be helpful in getting small children to chill out/calm down in most cases. Generally there is a reason they are cranky, but at least I still run through the “allright, relax, we use inside voices here” routine.

    Yes, children have emotions and preferences. Still, it seems to me that there is a trade off that is part of growing older, i.e. more responsibility and control versus less control but more care when younger. My child doesn’t have to *like* everything I cook, but yes, she needs to be polite about it. But then, as volcanista mentioned, I was largely discussing bad behavior, not simple preferences.

  172. omg, haha, I used to think that being soothing and listening and giving a juice box was enough to calm a tantrum, and for many kids it is — but then there was my youngest brother. He taught us ALL a lesson in tantrum behavior. There are definitely those kids with whom you just have to wait it out, and telling him to calm down would never have worked. Though fwiw, I don’t think it is necessarily as patronizing to remind a child that they are worked up and that calming down is a good idea (and an option), not the way it is to tell an adult to calm down. Kids are learning to regulate their emotions and responses, so reminders and words can help.

  173. Lol–in my family it is all very glucose related. To this day, give ME a juice box and I’ll calm down. Downside of that is that everyone, including children, knows to ask if I need a sammich.

    I try to think about it from the persepctive of the child–it is a learned and uncomfortable process to not yell and cry at every damn painful thing in the day. Heaven knows sometimes *I* want to have a breakdown three times a day.

  174. I had an abusive, controlling step-father when I was growing up, who made the rule that I wasn’t allowed to have anything to drink after supper (usually around 5pm) until I got up in the morning, because I was prone to wetting the bed.

    When I stayed with my Aunt, he had her follow the rule. She was definitely uncomfortable about restricting my access to water, and tried to devise ways to let me have something to drink without directly breaking his rule, but it never worked.

    Your friend should give the kids whatever they want to eat. Anything. If they’re going to grow up with the type of person who would put a three-year-old on a diet, they’re going to need a family member who’s on their side to get through it.

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