Sunday, July 8, 2012

French Kids Eat Everything: No emotional eating

My third part in a response to French Kids Eat Everything. Read part one here here and part two here.

Some totally unrelated pictures today

Parts that confused me:
Right off the bat, the book talked about never using food as a reward or punishment (however, as the book went on, it stopped including "punishment" and added things like distraction, pacifier, bribe, etc.) I wasn't sure if that was intentional (i.e., as the author began to better understand French culture), because it seems that French kids are trained to be neat, polite, patient eaters by (generally? exclusively? I'm not certain) removing their food when the child plays with it, or when the child gets loud or messy, etc. Um, isn't that a punishment? And a sort of harsh one? (I guess the assumption is, they are done? Except they are to remain at the table for the rest of the meal, so..?) At the same time, I'm kind of jealous of anyone who can take her kids out to restaurants without wanting to stab herself with a dining utensil. Even if the French are using food as a punishment, at least it is logical. (i.e., you aren't forced to eat something or denied the chance to eat something based on some unrelated behavior, like talking back or not doing your chores. because that seems kind of messed up.) But I just don't know if I have it in me to deny a kid part of their meal just to teach them a lesson.

also unrelated: Maggie judging me

Parts that I like
I can totally get behind the idea of food being entirely for the purpose of nutrition and enjoyment. It should be divorced from feelings of shame. It also shouldn't be confused with love. That makes sense, I mean, right?

Parts that confuse me:
So what about babies? At that age, food is 100% associated with love, nurturing, and comforting. And I don't think that is a bad thing. Feeding a child was designed to be a very nurturing and bonding act (whether by breast or bottle). When a child can't communicate, you need a way of showing/telling the child that they are OK, they are loved, they are cared for, etc. But at what point should that stop and change? Can it wait until your kids are at a better age for reasoning with (between 2 and 4)? Does it need to be more immediate (I'm thinking, earlier in infancy to avoid things like early childhood cavities)? In other words, how guilty should I feel about the way I used M&Ms as a potty training reinforcement? Or used goldfish, Cheerios and sippy cups as a way to assuage a cranky toddler on road trips? Or the way I nurse Maggie to calm her down? 

I like to think that we will be OK as long as long as non-nutritive eating is kept to limited instances? Actually, I like to think that we will all be OK no matter what, in this case. I imagine the vast majority of Americans eat for emotional reasons (perhaps because and in spite of the way they were raised to view food). And because the rate of eating disorders are identical in France and America, this practice doesn't seem to be a crucial component in more complex issues. On the one hand, "OK" isn't really the standard I'm striving for. On the other hand, I hate silly and unnecessary parenting judgments (I'm thinking: stupid blog posts I've read where moms argue about whether toddlers are too young for manicures/pedicures? WHO CARES, LADIES?!) when our time is better spent on more important issues (paid maternity leave, high quality childcare, equitable education opportunities, anyone?). But maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better about my parenting missteps?

Bottom line, I will work on it. But my questions are:
1) At what age should this no food as a reward/distraction/etc kick in? and/or Is there a threshold of acceptable (i.e., limited) use of food for non-nutritive purposes?
2) What do you use as a replacement? This site offered some suggestions. I tend to think that during the early years, you are just in survival mode. You aren't out to break any records. But at some point, you have to acknowledge that you survived and it is time to set the bar a little higher. {for the record, I still don't feel like I'm there yet...those first two years can be brutal}



  1. The food/reward thing is something that I struggle with as well. We have this app that we use for Daniel. We pick behaviors or tasks that he struggles with and he earns a star. One of the many built-in (but editable) rewards was ice cream. It gave me pause. He enjoys ice cream and knows that it is a special treat, but I also didn't want to equate food with a reward. I finally just threw up my hands and left it there. I tend to over think these things anyway. He hasn't chosen it yet, so my worrying was for nothing. He is more into staying up late and watching movies in my bed.

    Your info about France and US eating disorder rates surprised me. It is indicative of a really big problem in my opinion. One that probably has less to do with food and more to do with how bodies are portrayed in the media.

    I remember hearing when Daniel was small that food and sleep are the only two things that kids can control. For them to refuse to eat is to flex their muscle. I hesitate to engage in a power struggle or try and remove that power from them. There has to be a balance, right?

    Wow, sorry that was so long. In short: I agree with you and there is no easy answer. I really want to read this book now!

  2. What app do you have? That sounds interesting.And I totally agree about removing that power from them. It makes me really uncomfortable.

  3. It is called iReward Chart (I think)