10 Things you need to know before you speak
An Open Letter to all teachers, coaches, school personnel, educators, parents, and frankly, everyone, everywhere…
I can’t thank you enough for your dedication and inspiring my child to love learning. You truly are a hero to me and my child. I want to thank you for your concern for my child’s nutritional wellbeing and wanting my child to be healthy. It is greatly appreciated. But with all due respect, it is important for you to know that I am my child’s mother and I know their nutritional needs better than anyone.
Here are a few things you likely don’t know:
- My child may have a sibling who has struggled with an eating disorder. As a result of the genetic link, my child is 10 times more susceptible to developing an eating disorder than the average population. It is important that my child eats ALL foods. I do not want my child being encouraged, instructed, or told that he should not eat certain foods. Your words could potentially be the catalyst for food restriction and negative energy balance which could trigger an eating disorder for those prone. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- Foods do not have moral value. I do not want my child being taught that some foods are good and some foods are bad. Yes, some foods may offer more nutritional value than others, but all foods have purpose. Some may offer more vitamins, but others may offer comfort, celebration and nurture their spirit. Nutrition is about balance. I want my child to eat all foods and learn all foods are good in moderation. Balance is key. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- You do not know a child’s medical history, needs and conditions. Therefore, I encourage you to not instruct any child on their food choice or monitor their lunch boxes for content. A student could have a hematologic condition where their blood clots faster than normal. Ingesting vegetables, which are loaded with vitamin K, could actually harm them by creating a blood clot. A child with this condition needs to have a limited amount of vitamin K. The child could also be suffering from an eating disorder or a brain condition, you can’t tell by looking at them. They may need additional fats in their diet. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- Are you aware that the average person needs 30% fat in their diet for normal brain function? You telling my child not to eat NO fat or low-fat may cause their brain to atrophy and may cause them to have memory problems. Having fat in my child’s diet can actually make them smarter. You see, their brain is comprised of 60% fat. So, their brain needs fat in order to function correctly. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- It is estimated that at least 10 to 15 percent of children and up to 80 percent of all special needs children struggle with some form of feeding disorder or challenges. Some children have complex food challenges, allergies, or anxieties – they can be physical or mental. Many of these challenges are not obvious. My child may have severe anxiety in social situations or loud environments (like a lunchroom) and become overwhelmed and distracted. Therefore, they must consume calorically dense, safe foods – foods you may not consider nutritious – in an effort to meet their energy requirement for the remainder of the school day. My child may have ARFID – Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and may avoid foods based on certain qualities – such as texture, color, taste, or temperature. As such, my child may only have 3-4 foods total that he/she will eat. If you shame my child about what is in their lunchbox, they may eat nothing. Your words may have just eliminated one of my child’s “safe” foods – therefore harming them and erasing a source of energy. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- There is little research on the effectiveness of healthy eating and weight initiatives in schools. In fact, there have been studies that have indicated that a potential unintended consequence of these programs and schools monitoring lunches was the development of an eating disorder in children who were susceptible or genetically predisposed. The children who are negatively impacted by these programs are typically students who excel in academics and extra-curricular activities and view the healthy weight initiatives as another measure of their success. So, please be careful with your words. They may compel to my perfectionistic child, my rule follower, to embark on a competition to be the “healthiest” kid. I know you would not want to be the trigger that caused a child to develop a life-threatening eating disorder or unhealthy food and exercise behaviors. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- Research suggests that up to 50% of the population demonstrate problematic or disordered relationships with food, body and exercise. In our culture, there is an obsession with size and weight (thinness), diet and exercise. In fact, research has indicated that 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. Your words may result in my child having disordered eating which could include chronic yo-yo dieting, frequent weight fluctuations, rigid and unhealthy food and exercise regime, feelings of guilt and shame every time my child eats a food you have instructed is “unhealthy” or they gain weight or they are unable to maintain exercise habits. Your instruction could potentially cause my child to be preoccupied with food, body and exercise that causes them distress and has a negative impact on their quality-of-life. It could result in my child using compensatory measures such as exercise, food restriction, fasting, purging, laxative use, etc., in an effort to “offset” any food consumed. It is estimated 35-57% of adolescent girls and 20-30% of adolescent boys engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. You likely do you not realize the impact your words can have on my child’s mental and physical health – for the rest of their life. It is important you understand disordered eating is a serious health concern. Detrimental consequences could include a greater risk of obesity (the very thing you’re trying to prevent), eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety and depression, and social isolation. 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- Even if your words do not trigger my child to have an eating disorder or disordered eating, they may haunt them for the rest of their life. They may burden my child with thoughts every time they take a bite … they may question every food choice. They may analyze every bite they take, every meal they choose, for the rest of their life. Your instruction may make my child afraid to eat wheat, chips, cookies, ice cream, or other foods they used to love and were celebratory. Please consider your words carefully. Please don’t make my child afraid of birthday cupcakes! ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- As my child’s mother, I know best what to pack in my child’s lunchbox. There are reasons my child’s lunchbox contains the foods it does. My choices may be driven by medical, mental, or financial needs. If you have questions regarding the food in my child’s lunchbox please contact me directly. Please do not discuss this with my child or shame them. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- It is important that my child eat the lunch I have packed. If you notice my child is consistently not eating their lunch, is giving their lunch to other students, or is throwing it away or you have concerns regarding the amount of food my child is eating, please contact me directly. There may be a serious health concern. Please do not address this with my child. Please do not comment on the amount of food they are/are not eating. I count on you to be my eyes and ears when my child is at school.
I encourage you in the future to NOT monitor any child’s lunch or food choice. To reconsider and re-examine any school-based, anti-obesity, healthy living campaigns. To consider the fact that there is little research on the effectiveness of these programs. Is the potential risk of harmful effects on children’s physical and mental health and adoption of unhealthy behaviors worth the potential gain?
So, before you speak, please think carefully about your words. You see, my child respects you. They look up to you as their teacher. Imposing your beliefs and your nutritional needs on my child may compromise their health and mental state. Please teach them that all foods fill a need – always nutritional, sometimes celebratory and always nurturing.
Please understand, I know your intentions are pure and good. For that I will be forever grateful. But in the future I would appreciate it if you do not monitor my child’s lunchbox. Please leave that to me, their mother. I know their nutritional and emotional needs better than anyone.
P.S. This article is not about monitoring lunch boxes because a child in the class may have an inadequate food supply in their lunch box or may have life-threatening food allergies. It is about the negative food talk happening in classrooms and lunchrooms, and how it affects our children. It is about food judgments and how programs that are intended to promote health sometimes have big unintended consequences.
Written by Cherie’ Monarch. A mom on a mission.
If you are caring for a loved one with an eating disorder, please contact Mom2Mom – Eating Disorder Family Support Network and Dad2Dad – Eating Disorder Family Support Network on Facebook. No one should walk this journey alone.
If you have been affected by an eating disorder or disordered eating and would like further information or help, please Contact Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness for support at (866) 662.1235 toll free or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness (“The Alliance”) is nonprofit organization dedicated to providing programs and activities aimed at outreach, education, and early intervention for all eating disorders. The Alliance creates a bridge for those needing and seeking help by connecting people with resources and information to assist them in their recovery.