Archive | April, 2012

Sugar-free Parenting

24 Apr

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I was once again reminded of how a simple act as a parent can have a huge ripple effect on my children.

I received an email from another parent asking for my outlook on living a sugar-free life, since her preschool was looking to ban sugar from the school. It was more than two years ago that I gave up refined sugar. It all started out as a simple experiment for Lent (disclaimer: I am not Catholic, but take part every year to keep humble) that ending up forever changing my outlook on my relationship with food and how that can shape my children’s own relationship with food.

Our family is made up of big eaters, and I have been very lucky to not have picky children who have no food allergies. They will consume anything from crawfish to roasted kale to dim sum. My friends even joke that the kids have hollow legs, since they can put back massive amounts of food. While our household doesn’t partake in daily desserts or even eat candy on non-holidays, when I gave up sugar the kids took notice.

I have never been a skinny girl and my relationship with food has always been a complicated one. So when I decided to give up sugar my 6-year-old automatically assumed it was because I wanted to loose weight. I can’t be naive to think that she doesn’t know what dieting is or never paid attention to my whining over my “gut;” it was the way she came to assumption that made me reflect on my relationship I had with sweets and if there was some hidden motive behind my sacrifice.

I should start with my upbringing. As most Californians my age, I come from a broken home (insert sad face). While one house was sugar friendly (there were desserts, random cookies, and juice) , the other home has strict no-processed foods rule. We were not allowed to have candy, soda, or juice. If we did get a treat it was a honey stick or a Tiger’s Milk Bar. All peanut butter was natural with no sugar added. It was this rule that structured my way of thinking about sugar and snack foods.

I would go over to my friends houses and gorge myself on Doritos, juice boxes, Skippy peanut butter, and other pantry items. By the time I was in middle school I had become very overweight and was secretly hiding candy in my room. Part of it was the lure of “these foods are banished” and preteen depression. While I wouldn’t go as far to say that I had become addicted to sugar, I would say that my thinking about sweets was warped by my parent’s efforts to keep me “healthy.” Was my effort to sacrifice sugar for Lent a way to battle my past?

After much reflection some of it was to see if I was dependent on sugar to get through the day, but it also was giving up something that I take for granted and something that I greatly enjoy. I was not looking to loose weight or get “healthy”, I was looking to try for 40 days to go without – and I wasn’t going to give up the Internet. When the 40 days was up my body didn’t respond well to adding sugar back into my diet, so I just kept going.

Today as a parent I try to keep the emotional aspect of my former fat self from shaping the way my children look at foods and sugary snacks. I try to limit their intake of sugar, but not with rules and regulations. We talk about weekend treats vs weekday treats, how to drink water with juice, and how its good to eat a balanced meal before dessert or birthday cake. When they ask me if I want a bite of their ice cream, I tell them I don’t like ice cream just like the way they don’t like onions or mushrooms (depending on the child I am talking to). I try to keep in mind during these days of hyper-helicopter parenting having a cupcake is not going to harm my children and it also doesn’t make me a bad parent either.

When it comes to my new sugar-free life, yes I do feel a lot better. I have more energy during the day and don’t feel dragged down. Sure I have lost weight, but I also picked up running and that might have more to do with it. And when it comes to banning certain foods just because they are “unhealthy” I recall my reaction as a child and remind myself that I make rules to make sure my children are safe… And in the long run a cookie every once in a while is.