Friday, February 22, 2008

Now this is scary

I get a lot of e-newsletters these days from folks who work in the eating disorders field. And I like seeing what "the field" is up to.

The one that arrived in my mailbox yesterday, though, is so egregious that I must share, because I think it typifies so much of what's wrong with the way we think about food and eating these days.

First off, the newsletter came with a title that suggests that its goal is to empower parents to help heal eating disorders. Naturally that got my attention. It opens with a couple of abstracts of recent studies on eating disorders. That part was good. Then there's a plug for the writer's new book. Fair enough. All of us authors do that stuff.

But then--now remember this is all going out under the aegis of eating disorders--there's a list of "10 Healthy Eating Tips for Your Child." And here's where things get ugly.

1. Encourage your child to drink water. Lots of it. Drinking water is essential to losing weight as it keeps the metabolism healthy and functional. Plus, lots of kids feel the urge to eat when, in fact, they are not experiencing hunger, but thirst. Are you aware that drinking soda pop leeches the calcium from your child’s bones? Water is undoubtedly the better way to go!

Note the assumption* here: That "healthy eating" involves losing weight. For a child. Children should never be put on diets and should rarely if ever be encouraged to lose weight. This woman knows nothing about healthy eating. Or feeding children.

Plus, drinking lots and lots of water to feel full is a classic eating disorder strategy. I thought we were trying to heal eating disorders here, not cause them.

2. Is your child not crazy about drinking water? Why not stir in small spoonfuls of his or her favorite jam? Or squeeze in a bit of lemon with honey and you have made lemonade. You can make it festive with a mint leaf tucked on the side of the glass.

Have you ever known a child who wanted to drink water with a little bit of jam in it? Again, this is a strategy designed to fool the child into feeling like s/he has actually eaten something with calories in it. A big no-no in my book. You can't fool Mother Nature and you sure as hell can't fool the body.

I could go on here, people, but you get the idea.

* And you remember what Felix Unger said about assumptions: They make an ASS out of U and ME.


Anonymous said...

"Drinking soda pop leeches [sic] the calcium from your child's bones"

Well, not really. And it's "leaching", ill-informed ED newsletter lady. Doctors advise people at risk of osteoporosis and arthritis and other similar degenerative diseases to avoid drinking LOTS of soda as LOTS of soda MIGHT contribute to a SMALL loss in bone density. We're talking sticking to 1-2 8oz cans or less per day, preferably non-caffeinated ones. There is a small amount of evidence that needs further strong research on whether the phosphoric acid contained in sodas is directly bad for your bones. There are a few ideas as to why, too - not all are directly about the phosphorus itself (excess phosphorus consumption may cause you to excrete more calcium in urine instead of absorbing it). Some doctors think that if someone's drinking lots of soda they may be less likely to be drinking beverages with calcium, and that's why high soda consumption is CORRELATED with a small amount of lowered bone density.

HOWEVER: there are many foods that have far higher percentages of phosphorus than soda. Like chicken. And nobody's getting upset about all those baked skinless chicken breasts found in every single diet plan.

A moderate amount of soda in a balanced diet is not harmful. (I am not a shill for a soda companies, I swear. I don't even drink much of the stuff.) Nor does it rot your teeth unless you have poor dental hygiene.

And there's one thing people can do to ensure adequate calcium absorbtion from the calcium-containing foods they do eat: make sure there's enough fat in the diet. You need the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E to help your body absorb the calcium. (This is why skim/fat-free milk is often fortified with those vitamins and extra calcium, though I personally reckon it's better to get your vitamins and minerals from the whole food rather than relying on supplements. Food with fat is more satisfying too!)

Water with jam in it sounds disgusting. You may as well use drink mix powders or syrups anyway seeing as how jam is mostly sugar just the same as those, and the mixes are actually meant to be beverages. Water + lemon + honey is NOT lemonade. It's one of those "hunger buster" items you find in the kind of diets published in a certain kind of women's magazine.

A mint leaf is not fucking festive either unless there are 21 of them and they're muddled in a julep. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, and "lots of kids feel the urge to eat when, in fact, they are not experiencing hunger, but thirst."

WTF. Where do people get ideas like this. If you're hungry you know it, and you should EAT something. If you're thirsty, you know it, and you should drink something. Kids know this perfectly well. It's adults that like to think they can confuse them. Sometimes thirst can be quenched with high water content foods, but hunger can never be sated with water. Water doesn't do anything with your hunger/satiety signals, it just makes your stomach feel physically full for a bit.


Anonymous said...

Ok, this is too good not to comment on:
"lots of kids feel the urge to eat when, in fact, they are not experiencing hunger, but thirst."

I actually did read a study many years ago that talked about this (I'm not even going to try to find the link - it was probably 10 years ago). But you know what the mitigating factor was? An extremely high caffeine intake caused by dieting.

Women who had been on numerous diets, especially stringent ones, were more likely to drink multiple cans of diet soda a day in order to stave off their hunger. Since caffeine is a diuretic, they were getting dehydrated, but they weren't drinking WATER because you know, that causes water retention, which makes you look . . . wait for it . . . FAT! OH NOEZ!

So basically their bodies, in a desperate attempt to get hydrated, were pushing the signal for water through in any way they could. The women's hunger was usually related to cravings for FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, and especially vegetables with high water contents. (Though of course the women didn't want to eat those extra fruits and veggies, because you know, high water contents lead to bloat and all that.)

But that's a pretty damn specific situation, and to just apply it to everyone, across the board, is completely ridiculous. (Especially KIDS. Come on, now.) Jesus.

Unknown said...

If you're hungry you know it, and you should EAT something. If you're thirsty, you know it, and you should drink something.

Thank you; I am so sick of this particular meme. For God's sake, how do these people think the human race managed to survive all those millions of years if we're so stupid we can't figure out thirst vs. hunger?

thoughtracer said...

You know, so much about this bothers me. I cannot believe a book would talk about losing weight and eating disorders within the same pages. That is disgusting.

Also disgusting, water with jam. What? That wouldn't even dissolve.

Thirdly, yes, People have managed to survive for thousands of years by knowing when to eat when they should and drink when they should. Why do humans always have to fuck with the very things that make them human???

bookwyrm said...

And here I always thought you could tell hunger by the feeling in your stomach and thirst by the feeling in your mouth. My kids seem to have it down pretty well. Considering they have actual muscle definition at 4 and 5 years old, I'm going to go with *don't* need to lose weight. Then again, I also let them eat some of the oddest things when they were really little. Can anyone tell me the calorie content of a doodle bug and accompanying dirt so I can take that into account for their diets?

I've seen people do lemon in water, because they liked it, but honey? In water? Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Jam in water??? Is this person freaking serious??? How disgusting is that?

I'm horrified by this concentration on weight loss for young children. Encourage them in healthy eating habits, of course. Encourage them to run and jump and enjoy physical activity by all means. But healthy eating does not include active weight loss efforts in growing children.

And childhood isn't complete without the occasional cookie, ice cream cone, or slice of cake. Heck, adulthood isn't complete without a few of these goodies now and again.

Life should be enjoyed. We live in a world of plenty. Why are we so determined to starve ourselves in the midst of such bounty?

Anonymous said...

"A mint leaf is not fucking festive either unless there are 21 of them and they're muddled in a julep. :)"

Damn it, you stole my joke!!

and water + jelly ... i have no words. it reminds me of that drink that came out a few years ago, orbits or orbitz or something? that soda-ish stuff that had little balls of jelly-like things floating in it. i never had it because it sounded absolutely repulsive.

i would like to place a wager that the person who wrote this newsletter does not have children.

bookwyrm said...


Its called "the grass is greener" syndrome. Whatever they have must be better than what we have. Only when what we have is healthier bodies, longer lives, and better quality of living, I'm not entirely sure why it is so popular in this case.

Also, maybe you've noticed how some of the messages our parents give us don't quite burrow themselves in our brain the way the mean them too? Like "You've lost weight, you look great!" comes off as "You were a fat cow before, and if you go back I won't be proud of you anymore!" Consider "There are people starving in India!" Possibly, some of us ended up wiring this into our brains as a virtue.

Anonymous said...

Wait, If I'm reading this right, this 'news'letter is all about healing ED's, specifically by discussing weight loss tips?

Um...? Wth?

Harriet said...

The author of the newsletter contacted me and says that her intention was to inform people "how to avoid junk food eating," not to encourage weight loss. She acknowledged that some junk food is not going to hurt anyone.

But I still think there's a whole lotta mixed messages going on here. So much so, in fact, that it's almost a perfect microcosm of the kind of mixed messages we get every single day about food, eating, feeding our kids, etc.


kellycoxsemple said...

You said it best yourself, Harriet. There is no bigger mixed message than the actual words "losing weight" in Point #1 of the supposed "Healthy Eating" tips. It's the same old song and dance.

I agree that -- although at a fundamental level, nobody should diet -- there is no circumstance under which a child should be on a weight loss program. My experience is that the only permanent results of child diets are [1] screwed up metabolism, [2] the foundation for a long-term (possibly life-long) eating disordered existence, and [3] severe brutalization of self-esteem.

Carrie Arnold said...

Jam in water? I think that is the one time I might cheer a Maudsley-kid-in-tantrum-swing chucking of the food at the wall.

Unless it was a julep. Then I would drink it myself.

I am so glad I had a fantastic dietician who taught intuitive eating and HAES and loved pasta and Ho-Hos.

Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz said...

Jam in water.

I'm speechless.

As for what the author said to you, that's fine, but clearly she (or her publisher or whomever) knows exactly how to sell books, and that is by appearing to offer FIVE SIMPLE STEPS TO LOSE WEIGHT! Cosmo-style. Who knows what the book actually says, and it's too late anyway. Damage done.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

wonderful to see everyones intent is the same.

We do forget that we have all around us ether ( Prana, Chi etc).

It ain't spooky anymore. Never was but we make it so don't we.

For petes sake its not bloody rocket science. We espouse to value our food/water more then we eat/drink the stuff. Then our brains/mind think better, clearer. Then we act more to serve ourselves. Then, maybe, we begin to serve others better because we feel better about ourselves.

Diet! Lets try putting some wisdom into how we educate our kids on eating and drinking.

For example. Water ain't water. Sure its clear and liquid but thats about it. Healthy water is alive. Tap/bottled water ain't.

When we learn that water can benefit us far more than we realise we will give it value. Then that gives our kids value. Simple ha.