In the movie Eat, Pray, Love Julia Roberts, who plays journalist Elizabeth Gilbert, travels across the globe to find herself. She sets out to discover the “word” that best describes what she stands for in life.
Each country she visits symbolizes an important aspect of life. Italy, her first stop, is all about enjoying food. You could say the Italian “word” for eating is “pleasure” and she joins right in, deciding she is “done with the guilt” when it comes to her favorite pastime.
In part 2 of our Managing Sweets Series, we’ll help you pinpoint your family’s unspoken “word” for eating, the beliefs it is teaching your children and whether or not your want to change it.
But first, why beliefs about food matter
How many times do you hear someone say they were “bad” because of something they ate? Or read an advertisement for a guilt-free dessert? How about someone who says they should order the healthy option but really don’t want to?
Most people don’t realize that the judgments they make about food, especially in regards to health and indulgence, have an impact on what and how much they eat.
Take a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. People asked to eat food labeled as “healthy” reported more hunger than individuals asked to eat the same food described as “tasty.” The belief that the healthy food would be less satisfying had more of an effect on physical hunger than the food itself.
Another study published in Food Quality and Preference demonstrates how beliefs can be stronger than facts. People chose 3 slices of bacon (109 calories) as more weight-promoting than a large raisin bran muffin (460 calories) even when the calorie content was printed out for the subjects to see.
Rochelle, a new mom from Palo Alto, is amazed at how differently she and her Eastern European husband, Victor, view sweets.
“In Victor’s culture it is routine to have something sweet following a well balanced meal like baklava or gelato but no one gorges on it,” she says. “It is viewed the same as the main course meaning there is no real judgment on these foods.”
She explains how his side of the family also has no phobia of alcohol or bread. “Alcohol is not to get drunk on and bread is not something you get fat on and BOTH are expected at most meals.”
Take a look at Your Pre-Kid Word
Emily and her husband, who live on a farm, came from very different worlds when it came to eating sweets.
“My brother and I always had well balanced meals, chock full of protein, veggies, fruits — sweets in moderation just kind of came with the package,” she says. “They were never taboo, and therefore, I never felt guilty about enjoying them.”
Emily says that “her husband grew up in a family that treated sweets as the devil, and if you didn’t gobble up the evidence quickly, it would be there staring at you in the face.” He has learned, through his wife and children, that that sweets and other “high density foods” should be enjoyed, not devoured.
A family’s culture of eating comes directly from the parents– they set the tone. So every parent needs to ask themselves whether or not they want to hand down their own food legacy or take steps to change it.
Colleen, a recovering dieter from Baltimore, is working on revamping her relationship with food before having kids.
“I’m trying to accept and love my body as it is and to listen to it,” she says. “If I’m really listening to what my body wants and when it’s full, I don’t have to worry about the depriving/binging cycle.”
She explains how this is a big mental shift for her. “I have by no means gotten this down perfectly yet, but I’m so much happier (and slowly getting healthier) than when I was dieting.”
Choosing your family’s word
Dietitians are notorious for saying all foods can fit into a balanced diet — and it’s true. Instead of teaching kids there are good and bad foods — even healthy and unhealthy ones — they can learn that there is a time and place for all foods. Some are served more (or less) frequently than others but all should be enjoyed.
While there is no one right word to stand for your family’s eating one that comes to mind is balance. Striving for balance between all foods, including sweets, gives people the best of both worlds. And once true balance is achieved, most people don’t want to stray from it for too long.
Stay tuned for the next three posts in our Managing Sweets series where we’ll show you how to achieve an enjoyable balance in your family’s diet.
I’m curious, anyone feel like they have the balance-thing down?
Finkelstein SR. Fishbach A. When healthy food makes you hungry. J of Consumer Research. 2010; 37.
Oakes ME. Beauty or beast: does stereotypical thinking about foods contribute to overeating? Food Quality and Preference. 2005; 16:447-454.