Saturday, March 26, 2011

Teaching Kids to Eat

Last night was All Friends Night at public skate. (I've realized that I'm going to have to be more careful in my blogging, as I've narrowed us down to one of a handful of kids.) Stitch had two friends from school and Other Kid who he usually skates with. Other Kid showed up eating an ice cream cone, but loudly said "I should not be eating this, skaters do not eat junk food."

"Who says?" I ask, ever the defender of a kid's right to Kidfood like Lucky Charms and Creme Eggs.

"My Coach."

I know who he's referring to and I roll my eyes.

All the kids get skates on and start playing. Friends from school start Not Practicing, while their mom rolls her eyes. We chat and laugh, encourage Friends to "go backward! do crossovers! Practice!" all to no avail.

One of the Friends takes a hard fall to the knee and exits the ice, sobbing. Stitch comes out to assure that she's okay, then asks me for a dollar. "What for?"

"I want to get friend a treat, because she fell."

Well, that's sweet as pie, but wait until resurface. "So she can sit and enjoy it, okay?"

Stitch agrees to wait, and goes back to playing.

The group gets moved to the big rink, and a cheer goes up from the children. Stitch takes this moment to get Friends some candy and himself a soda. Other Kid spots this and shakes his head. "Soda is the enemy of the figure skater."

"Is that what your coach says?" I ask.


"Good thing she's not Stitch's coach, then. He can eat whatever he wants."

Other Kid doesn't like this answer and frowns. If he only knew that we hit the McD's drive thru on the way home that night. Today I spotted him, holding a candy bar from his mom's purse, while a fellow skater chastised him. "Don't do it! Don't eat it!" Neither of these kids were over twelve. I just walked away.

Folks, this is how Eating Disorders take root. It starts real small, like that Mustard Seed you learned about in church. Small Rules and Rituals. No Soda. No Candy. No Junk. This sounds okay on the surface. But then some people take it too far. Nothing other than water or coffee (black). No Candy, ever. Junk food? Let's talk binging/purging. Apples, one slice at a time to savor it. Cans of tuna are only 80 calories. Mustard is calorie free and flavors everything. No food at all after 6pm or before 8am. I've seen a lot of this in the theatre, and there are always horror stories coming from the Gymnastics people.

I have a real issue with this coach putting restrictions on her kid's eating, even if she just does it in passing or "for fun." She's in a position of authority, and some of these girls look at her like Juno herself. She has the power to set up a negative association with food, whether she likes it or not, and all it's going to take is a few comments like "soda is the enemy."

Soda is not your enemy. Soda, every so often and in a moderate quantity, so no worse than candy, also fine in moderation. Kids need to be taught what is junk food and what is not, and that it's okay to have "junk food" every once in awhile because (face it) it tastes real good and is a great treat.

Coach hasn't said word one to me about Stitch's eating, beyond "give him some coffee" before group lessons to make him pay attention. If she ever does I'd be curious to see what she'd say. If she starts telling me to restrict during these years, pre-pubescent up to 16, I would question that. I keep Stitch on a pretty even keel of the Basic Food groups, but I don't cut fat or count calories because he looks like a twig in his skinny jeans. I typically don't keep chips, cookies, or stuff like that in the house, and when I do buy it I earmark it "as a treat." Yes, we do eat fast food on occasion because I love cheeseburgers and french fries and Chicago style hot dogs. But last night at the drive thru was my first time having red meat since last week and been to McD's I can't remember when. (I only remember my last cheeseburger because it was the Speedskating Meet.) Even Stitch said, "this is really good, but we can't do this all the time."

Nope, this was a treat since it was late and we were starved.

If anyone wants a great goulash recipe, or homemade pasta sauce, chicken stock, or vegetable minestrone, I'd be happy to share. Cutting kids off from junk food, rather than teaching them how to enjoy it, is a critical error. There's really no such thing as a Diet, it's all a bunch of daily choices with an overall goal of good health. Having some candy every now and then never hurt anyone, figure skater or otherwise.

Pass the cheetos.


  1. I don't know if I agree. Children who are overweight vastly outnumber children with eating disorders. If you are a coach, you don't have time to give nuanced dietary information to every child, even if they are able to understand it. Probably, on average, "No fast food or soda" is the right thing to teach if you have to keep it simple.

    When I was young, coach from other sport would lecture the group, saying "no pizza, hamburgers, or soda..." but when I became a vegetarian, and we had time for nuanced discussion, she told me privately I needed to eat a lot of ice cream.


  2. In my opinion, Eating Habits fall into a gray area between Coach and Parent Responsibility. Clearly, a high level skater is going to need some guidance. But low level skaters not so much.

    Obesity and Overweight can be as much an eating disorder as is Anorexia and Bulimia. It's just at the other side of the spectrum. I'm of the opinion that most of us navigate a hard course to normal eating habits, in a culture that seems to thrive off of disordered eating.

    A flat "NO" to candy and sweets ignores the reality of a concession stand loaded with (a very fine selection of) candy, and the vending machines stocked with salty junk. The "healthy" vending machine costs more, so that one takes credit cards. A moratorium on fast food denies the truth that sometimes parents simply don't have time to cook and store a healthy meal to eat on the run. You can easily skip 3/4 of any grocery store because it's prepackaged nonsense, but kids need to be taught that. Total bans on "junk" forget that kids go to birthday parties, barbecues, and other places where junk gets served and is pretty much required to join in the fun. (I'm looking at you, Chuck E Cheese.)

    Getting kids to feel guilty about what they eat so early on is my problem, this is what sets up an emotional response to eating. That's what tips kids to an unbalanced relationship with food, whether it be too much or too little. I'm in favor of teaching kids to ask for "a center piece of cake" with not so much icing, or just one hot dog, one soda with the meal and water for the rest of the time, consumed guilt free. Instead of Other Kid holding a candy bar in his hand, looking at it like it's illegal contraband, he should be instilled with the presence of mind to say, "I'll break off a piece after practice is done."

    I've got a front row seat to an eating disorder. I've seen that look on Other Kid's face before, only this person didn't need anyone sitting beside her whispering, "Don't do it! Don't eat it!" It's not pretty.

  3. Since both coaches and parents are afraid to talk to kids about weight or to make any suggestions about their diet, kids often gain excessive weight when they reach puberty. THIS is how many eating disorders start. What these kids could easily get away with as 9-year-olds they cannot get away with at 14. It is much easier to change their diet when they DON'T have a weight problem. You can simply say something like "As an athlete, you really shouldn't have fries and soda for lunch!" instead of saying "This will make you fat."

  4. Conversations about food and diet are ongoing, just like conversations about drugs, sex, alcohol, swearing and behavior. No one should be afraid to talk about these things honestly, and parents (and coaches) are the standard by which kids model their behavior. Your kid sees your Twinkie stash, and wonders why you hide them.

    I have to disagree that ED's start when kids hit puberty, because that assumes ED's hit only kids. They don't discriminate by age.

  5. We have had this issue with some coaches at our rink as well. They have actually taken food from skaters and thrown it away all while loudly chastising the skaters about their choices. I have been fortunate that my skater was always on the underweight side and everyone actually encouraged her to eat, but still there are issues. I worry about her food choices, she prefers pasta to meat, never gets enough protein, takes iron due to anemia issues and doesn't love dark green vegies. I will say now that she is 16 she has started to self regulate and her diet is much better. She actually shops for herself and it is usually pretty healthy, except for the ever present poptarts. I don't know the answer, but I agree that eating disorders are a huge issue in the skating world and it doesn't take much to set a child on that path. I am very glad that I let her work it out on her own. I don't think the added pressure of diet control would have been a positive thing in her life.

  6. Have you tried cast iron? Stitch had iron problems but that stopped once I switched cookware. It's very possible to get enough protein on a quasi-vegetarian diet, just do some homework. :)

    I love pop tarts, too.

  7. I agree. Teach children what a recipe is and the importance of following procedures. This will educate them about vegetables, herbs and spices, the right ingredients for the right dishes, and the health benefits they are getting when they eat them. Perhaps it is just right to begin teaching kids how to cook at an early age, so we can help beat the rising obesity among young people. Bright post Skate Mom!