• Category: Blog
  • Published Dated: April 28, 2014
  • Writen by:

Is food one of your life’s simple pleasures?  Sure.  I hope so.  Food can be fun, social, empowering, energizing, . . .  or, completely counterproductive.  I love food but also can see that it is often abused for emotional needs or out of boredom.  Consider how stress, fatigue, loneliness, or other needs affect what foods or drinks you do or don’t choose.  Much of our individual relationships with food are built upon how we were raised and what our security with food was during our early years.  As you consider what your early experiences and habits have been in the past, think about your food security.  Have bad habits from youth come back to haunt you?

Check out the findings from a recent study out of Pennsylvania State University.  Researchers followed the reactions of preschoolers, ages three to five, and incentivized them with food rewards in exchange for “work.”  The kids earned cinnamon graham crackers by simply clicking on a computer mouse.  In fact, after four clicks the children earned a cinnamon graham cracker treat, while eight clicks earned them another treat, followed by more rewards with sixteen and thirty-two clicks.  Interestingly enough, while most of the preschoolers were done after fifteen minutes, some preschoolers continued to click on the mouse up to 2,000 times before the researchers stepped in to end the task.  The researchers called the latter, “reactive eaters.”  Consider what you would have done in a similar scenario at age 3, 4 or 5.

What determines your motivation to earn more food rewards?  Consider your genetics.  Also, did your parents impose many food rules or did they have strict rules established for eating practices at home?  Research shows that, curiously enough, in homes where parents are constantly dieting or among those who forbid desirable foods, their children have stronger reactions to food, wanting more of it when presented with opportunities to splurge.

In another scenario, the same researchers offered preschoolers graham crackers during snack time.  They placed other graham crackers in a bowl with a lid and told the kids that they those crackers were off limits, except for a period of about five minutes.  The restricted snacks were more enticing to all of the preschoolers, particularly among those who had had the strongest response to clicking on the computer mouse for food rewards earlier. These same “reactive eaters” ate more of the restricted crackers than the other children who hadn’t responded as intensely in previous testing.

What is the take-away message from this study for you and your life?  How about this . . . restriction is often counterproductive, as is stringent dieting.  When foods are placed off limits, not just to children, but also to teens and adults, there is an increased interest, focus, and often obsession to those foods.  In other words, if you are obsessive about food choices, you might just find that you think about them constantly and actually end up sabotaging your efforts as a result.  Know yourself and learn to trust your body.

Okay, so then is the answer to simply allow ourselves and our children open access to food at home? 

The best answer is as follows:

  1. Provide high-quality foods at home and limit processed foods, including soda, chips, and treats.
  2. Allow children and family members control and access to reasonable and amounts of food.
  3. Don’t play the food police card.  In other words, resist the urge to comment about what others are eating and avoid being passive aggressive, which is undoubtedly counterproductive, making meals and snacks uncomfortable.
  4. Encourage your family to respond to body cues, eat slowly, and celebrate meals, rather than scarf them down without really enjoying the experience.  Follow similar guidelines for yourself.
  5. Set an example and focus on whole foods and produce.  As has been pointed out, it really is difficult to binge on cucumbers, apples, or other fresh vegetables and fruits.  On the other hand, fruit snacks, fruit leather, juice, and even veggie chips are fine options, while they need to be portioned out and balanced with a healthy diet (obviously there is much more to this).
  6. Enjoy treats in moderation (aim for less than 10% of total calories) and, again, don’t obsess about these “fun foods,” as long as a healthy foundation is in place, particularly among very young children.
  7. Lastly, don’t forget about the emotional and comforting connection that we as human beings often have with food.  If food is becoming the main outlet for the release feelings and stress, other facets definitely need to be looked at.  Make sure you yourself, as well as children, and your family members are making that emotional connection with one another and that you can enjoy meals, avoiding mindless grazing throughout the day and backloading calories at night.

How do you best plan ahead to prevent being a “reactive eater?”

All the best!



FoodPolice Cartoon







*Image: http://politichicks.tv/column/public-school-food-gospel-teach-it-preach-it-and-make-sure-you-dont-eat-it/

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