Everyone knows the difference between healthy and unhealthy food right? It’s obvious.
But is it really? When you start to look a bit closer, the clarity starts to fade, and the harm starts to show. And that’s a problem for our kids.
Because we’re teaching them to be black and white about something that’s seriously grey.
Worse still, we’re promoting inaccurate information at best and harming their body image at worst.
Let’s start with inaccuracy.
It is literally (please don’t confuse this with figuratively) impossible to know if a food will enhance or damage someone’s health without knowing two things:
a) who is eating it, and
b) the context in which it’s being eaten.
Let’s take peanuts as an example. Fabulously healthy for me. Full of protein and fiber and fat. Yummy. Satisfying. Will potentially help stabilize blood sugars and aid muscle repairs in the healing process.
The same cannot be said for someone who is allergic…
…and what’s more, peanuts are only healthy for me up to the point I eat so many they make me feel sick. And if I keep going, eventually they will, indeed, kill me too.
Turns out even pure, blessed, ionized water will kill you if you drink enough of it.
See? A perfectly ‘healthy’ food (or drink) can, given the circumstances, turn into a death sentence. So is the food healthy or lethal?
If you just answered, “it depends”, you’d be on the money.
Once you start to think about it, health doesn’t reside in food at all, it resides in the person doing the eating or the drinking. A health-food, then, is a misnomer.
So what should we say to our kids instead?
You could consider using ‘nutrient dense’ — which as we’ve just seen doesn’t make it healthier or better or good — it simply makes it full of nutrients — and our bodies do really well if some of the foods we eat are rich in nutrients. And do really badly if we happen to be allergic to one of those nutrient-dense foods, or overdo them to the point of sickness.
You could also talk about foods being high in energy or carbohydrates. Full of fat. Loaded with protein, which can, in some circumstances, help build your muscles and help you grow. Some will give you a quick boost of energy and some will help make your energy last all day — again, depending on how and when they are being eaten.
You can also talk about how our bodies will let us know pretty darn fast — and this is the important bit — if we listen to them what works well for our unique body. In other words, food isn’t healthy per se, but you can be the judge of what makes your body feel healthy.
In other words, you’re not teaching them that food is or isn’t healthy, but that their body is designed with the ability to tell them what works well for their body. That’s a pretty cool lesson when you think about it. It teaches trust, intuition, presence, and gratitude. Who knew food could do all that?
Add to that, when we take moral positions away from food (good, bad, clean, healthy all have a moral overtone) it allows our kids to notice what makes their body feel good without feeling like they are trying to be ‘good’ or are doing something ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’.
And, the very coolest thing of all? Learning to eat without judgment, anxiety, stress, morality, or pressure leads to great long-term health outcomes.
If you’d like to put a fence at the top of the body image cliff and keep your kids safe from shame, guilt, and fear around food, I hope you’ll consider watching this free three-part video training series.