Obsessing over Junior’s Diet

Nitpicky parents go nuts over kids' diets

Taking cupcakes out of kids’ hands, banishing all take-out food and even declining play dates in which unhealthy snacks might be present are all part of an obsessive new trend of parents demanding their kids “eat clean.”

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The results of this well-meaning insistence on clean eating? Potentially disastrous, turning food into a religion from which no deviation is allowed. What in theory is a quest for good nutritional health instead becomes a quagmire of food exclusion and social exclusion.

An insistence on healthy eating at all costs may also establish harmful thought patterns in children that spill over into all areas of life. The obsession also may cause nutritional “holes” in diets, and actually put kids at risk.

Parents are now deathly afraid of wheat, gluten, dairy, white rice and processed sugar, among other ingredients, and the lengths to which they will go are scary.

Kristie Wahlquist almost died from clean eating in college after she learned her new friends were into clean eating. She cut out more and more items from her diet, until she was only eating a few raw vegetables a day.

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“It was a self-esteem identity issue,” she told CBN in a video about her struggles.

Within a few months, she had dropped below 100 pounds. She finally recovered with a combination of good medical care and a reliance on her faith.

Parents are now deathly afraid of wheat, gluten, dairy, white rice and processed sugar, among other ingredients, and the lengths to which they will go are scary.

“I was recently on the sidelines after a soccer game played by 6-year-olds, and saw a mom take a small brownie square out of her little player’s hands,” said one New York City mom, who asked not to be identified. “The mom was clearly disapproving, and asked if any fruit was available. It made me so sad to see the child be denied that tiny little celebratory brownie.”

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The obsessive food demands even have a clinical name, orthorexia, which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent and well-intended attempt to eat healthfully but becomes a fixation on both food quality and purity.

Sondra Kronberg, a clinical nutrition therapist and spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association, told LifeZette, “In the past five years, the cultural message has changed when it comes to food — it is now used as a therapeutic agent; its purpose has been sterilized.”

“Now the thinking is all about nutritional value, removing chemicals, farm-to-table, fresh-water fish — the list goes on and on. Parents are overly concerned in general today, but for some, who have some underlying anxiety or obsessive-compulsive issues of their own, this clean-eating ideal becomes dangerous for kids,” Kronberg said.

Is clean eating bad? Like everything else, not in moderation.

Child psychologist Janna Koretz agreed, adding the trend may be even more dangerous for girls than boys.

“Girls are already receiving cultural messages that stress certain standards of beauty, and a rigidity in diet can create longer-term issues of anxiety and a rigidity of their own about multiple issues,” she told LifeZette.

“We are looking for balance, ultimately, and we constantly give our kids the message of ‘be a flexible person, be a person who can manage in life.’ Then, rigid clean eating rules are applied in contradiction to that message, and frankly, can lead to anxiety disorders in the child.”

Is clean eating bad? Like everything else, not in moderation,  Kronberg said.

“The wish to eat clean, as long as it is balanced, is a good one,” she said. “The body is an amazing machine, and in most people can handle sugars, dairy, nuts, and a little junk food. Food is used in so many ways — as a part of fun activities, a social event, and even as part of many traditions. Flexibility is the key.”

She drives home the genesis of the problem: parents’ own thinking. “The mind of the person making the choices needs to be considered,” Kronberg said.

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“Is this person extraordinarily rigid? Is there an obsessive nature to their thought patterns?” she asks. “If it is a parent, it would be important for that person to take a look at his or her own patterns and motivations. There is a rise of the need to be ‘perfect’ as a parent, and this falls in line with that goal. There is also the element orthorexia shares with anorexia — ‘the world is basically out of control, but this, my eating, I can control.’”

So how can parents check themselves to see if they are too rigid with nutrition at home?

“Does your clean eating interfere with your quality of life? Are you constantly cooking special food for your kids? Are you skipping social situations where regular food might be served? These are all good questions,” Kronberg asked.

The best rule for a kid’s diet?

“Flexibility,” Koretz said. “Teaching your kids good nutrition, but also the ability to be flexible, is key. You can’t avoid eating, so you must learn to be aware of the message you send to your kids about food.”

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