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Food Courage Trumps Fear Mongering, Any Day

I’ve had a wild and woolly month when it comes to fear mongering about food. You know, the “this food is bad,” and “that food component will kill you” kind of month.

As a pediatric nutritionist, I have a unique ear on what’s happening in the news. And, boy, there was a lot this week!

Fear Mongering on Social Media

It all started with a disgruntled reader. Apparently, my Breakfast Egg Wrap in Under 5 Minutes recipe did not include enough nutrition. Certainly not the kind of recipe and nutrition modeling this reader expected to see from me. And boy, did she let me know.

That stung.

scared girl; food fear mongering

But, I reminded myself, and I am reminding you now, I am not in the business of setting a standard of food and eating that is so high it causes more stress and a feeling of inadequacy.

Most parents I know have enough on their plate, thank you.

My “former” reader (yes, she left the blog) criticized the “processed” nature of the recipe, specifically, the fact that I used deli meat, what she assumed was processed cheese (it was whole milk American from the deli), and white, refined carbs.

Everything in Moderation

For the record: I do not have time to separate the wheat from the chaff and grind wheat berries to make a tortilla. Nor do I have a chicken coop in my backyard, or a cow to milk. I’m a modern day mom and I use a variety of foods for my family.

Nothing is off limits, and everything is in moderation.

But it gets more interesting, this week of mine…

Pizza in Schools

A post in my newsfeed on Facebook caught my eye. The subject: pizza in school. I passively glanced at the posted comments (which I would love to share with you but I would be hunted down and something bad might happen to me…and then I wouldn’t be able to write this lovely blog for you…)

It amazes me how freely people pass judgment on other people’s food choices. How quick we are to pass a moral judgment on one food choice, keeping our mind so narrowly focused that we neglect the possibility of a wide range of foods offered and eaten through out the day, and even the week.

Food as a Moral Choice

When did food become a moral choice? When did we start handing out badges of honor for perfect food and eating? When did we become so quick to shame and guilt others for their perceived unhealthiness?

I thought about weighing in on the pizza at school subject, but I kept my mouth shut. Generally, my policy is: if you ask, I will give you a science-based, practical response. Otherwise, it’s NOT MY BUSINESS.

Fear Mongering about Sugar

To add to the wild mix of information in my social media channels, a Sugar is Toxic video came up. Out of curiosity, I watched it. I couldn’t figure out who made the video and what the credentials were, or even what science they used to back up their statements.

They used scary and broad statements like: “Sugar is toxic.” “Sugar causes obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

Then, the video took on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). As you can imagine there were more fearful statements.

The point here is not to validate sugar or HFCS as good for you, nor confirm that it’s bad for you.

I will never call it toxic. I will never call any food toxic, unless it really is deadly.

If you follow this blog, you know where I stand–as an informant. Read: Simplifying the New Added Sugar Recommendations for Kids.

And, I will never blame any one food for a myriad of health problems.

Why? It’s just too simplistic.

Weight problems don’t come from eating too much added sugar—issues with weight builds over time.

How Childhood Weight Problems Evolve

I like to compare the evolution of childhood obesity to the building of a home.

The foundation for unhealthy weight is rooted in early nutrition, feeding and genetics.

The structure that underlies this issue is the food and food systems within and outside of the home, food parenting and how limits and boundaries and flexibility with food are managed, and whether a healthy lifestyle is included routinely.

The finishing touches –or what sustains obesity–include food attitudes, every day actions (do you eat healthy food most of the time? do you exercise? do you diet and rebound? are you tuned in with your appetite and body?) motivation, parent education and child learning about nutrition and eating, and more.

The problem with “sugar is toxic” and other finger-pointing approaches with food is what it ultimately produces: fear.

Fear Mongering about Food

I think fear, as it relates to food, is worse than any food could ever be.

Fear of sugar, fat, gluten, carbs or any other food or food property is incapacitating.

Fear short-circuits your brain’s rational thinking—it’s ability to think clearly and have sound perspective. When you eradicate all treats from your home to prevent childhood obesity, you’re parenting and feeding from a place of fear.

Fear creates indecisiveness, which can lead to being stuck in negative cycles, such as pushing your child to take another bite when you know it’s not working, and is creating more strife in your family.

I don’t want you to be afraid of food, or any food nutrient.

Food is powerful, but not that powerful.

Food Courage

The opposite of fear is courage.

I want you to be courageous with food. Open, willing, adventurous and flexible.

I want you to be calm and levelheaded when it comes to nourishing your child. This happens when you have a food system in place and a strategy to execute it.

My intention is never to create fear around food.

And I hope I never, ever do that to you, or make you feel that way.

So, let’s ditch the fear mongering and the fear of food. Let’s show our food courage to our children and food parent from a place of confidence!

Are you with me?

kids eat when not hungry

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  1. I work with low income families and we don’t take any food-processed or otherwise for granted. At the same time, I also work on the food system so that all food becomes more affordable. I don’t have time for food snobs. I once had a psych professor tell me that my families working two and three jobs should grow their own food. So easy to be an armchair quarterback. I’m sorry for people who don’t or won’t see the big picture.

    1. It’s hard to look outside of ourselves; I know that I have been guilty of seeing things through a narrow lens or through an idealistic perspective. We need the views, insight and reflections of all people! Thanks for sharing yours. 🙂

  2. Jill, Thank you for writing this! I am very concerned that food has become a moral issue and I am concerned about children being told that certain foods are poison. As a society, we have forgotten how to enjoy our food. Many believe that food will either kill you or heal you. This message fuels fear, food worry and contributes to dieting and eating disorders. Most of the time my family and I eat foods as close to their natural state as possible without becoming fanatical about it.  It’s about balance. Keep up the good work!

  3. Funny how one of your readers would be concerned with the nutrition or lack there of in one entrée.
    Obviously not one who found it a great accomplishment to get a child to eat anything. I have never believed it to be necessary to take an all or nothing approach to nutrition. Especially considering my first child’s food preferences. With him I had to take the something is better than nothing approach. He is now 19-years-old and he is still alive. In spite of my not covering every nutritional guideline when encouraging him to eat something.

    1. Yes, we all come from a different place and experience when it comes to feeding our kids! Thanks for your comment Bonnie!

  4. Coming from the other side with three children now 27, 24 and 20 years old, one of them a girl, we are proof that parents (my husband and I) can unintentionally be food fear mongers. We are proof that Jill is on target! My husband is an endocrinologist. I found my equilibrium with food was helped by not having sweets/fats around. Together, we unwittingly “Criminalized food”, making at least one of our children’s relationship-with-food journey far more difficult than it might have been had we been aware of what Jill is sharing. Thank you for spreading your wisdom, Jill!

  5. Hang in there – you have become my favorite nutrition blog/author because this is what I feel like you get more than anyone else:
    I do not have time to separate the wheat from the chaff and grind wheat berries to make a tortilla. Nor do I have a chicken coop in my backyard, or a cow to milk. I’m a modern day mom and I use a variety of foods for my family. Nothing is off limits, and everything is in moderation.