“Raisins Make Me Feel Better”

October 25, 2012 in Categories: by

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Any parent who has battled with unhealthy habits understands that deep aching desire to break the cycle, to raise your children without those habits, to see your children grow up into happy, healthy, well-adjusted people.

Having children was my own wake-up call to get my act together and lose weight and get healthy.  It took some time to figure out exactly what the healthiest diet was for my body and what the most sustainable activities are for me.  And I’m still a work in progress and still have personal struggles with not just my autoimmune disease but, more broadly, with my relationship with food.  But, especially compared to how I lived 5 years ago, I feel like I am a pretty decent model for what to eat, how to approach food, how to have fun and how to incorporate activity into my life for my kids.  I have made a huge amount of progress toward my goal of “setting a good example” for my kids.

Food was always more than sustenance for me.  It was joy, stress-relief, company, entertainment, consolation, and comfort.  Food was my crutch and my friend.  Name a bad food habit, and I had it.  Even though my body and brain chemistry is vastly improved, I have a history with food that means I still have these emotional associations.  When I’m stressed, I still want to eat sweets, even though my body doesn’t physically crave those sweets anymore.  I must be constantly vigilant less I fall back into these bad habits.  It’s much easier than it used to be and it continues to get easier and easier, but it’s certainly not effortless.

One of my greatest wishes for my children is that they grow up without having this emotional dependence on food.  I want them to enjoy food and know what good food is, but I don’t want them to turn to food reflexively the way I did for so long (and sometimes still do).

So, when my youngest daughter said “raisins make me feel better”, my skin started to crawl.  She was having a massive temper tantrum and I just belted her into her carseat while she screamed because it was time to go to bring her older sister to school.  When it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave.  I turned on the music, hoping that would calm her down.  There was a box of raisins beside her, leftover from a snack she had the last time she was in the car.  She started eating and calmed down quite quickly.  Then she figuratively slapped me across the face with her declaration. “Raisins make me feel better”.  Ouch.

My initial reaction was something akin to panic.  Oh no!  My daughter, at the ripe old age of not even three yet, is using food to calm herself down after a tantrum!  Then, I took a deep breath.  Part of her tantrum was likely because she hadn’t had time to finish her breakfast (she took her usual break to play half way through but didn’t go back to finish her breakfast before it was time to leave).  She was probably hungry.  Maybe her blood sugar was still low.  I know from experience that low blood sugar was the number one trigger for tantrums in my older daughter (still is!).  Heck, low blood sugar is the number one trigger for my tantrums, er, I mean, crankiness.

I still don’t like the idea of my daughter associating food with calming down.  Of course, it’s natural to associate food with feeling satiated and feeling satiated feels good.  Is there a difference if the reason for feeling upset is hunger?

I see so much of myself in my younger daughter and it makes it feel all the more important to “fix” my flaws in her (without creating new ones!).  I try and tell myself that I can only do the best that I can do, that I can’t predict what experiences will shape her, that she isn’t actually a mini-me.  And, it’s not like my toddler feeling calm after eating a box of raisins is exactly the same as a 275lb-me burying my sorrows in a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

All I can do is continue to do my best.  I am trying to prevent tantrums before they start as much as possible (which basically means that I make sure my daughter’s physical needs are met, that she gets cuddles and attention, and that I give her plenty of warning for transitions).  I find myself using the strategies from The Happiest Toddler on the Block quite frequently (works like a charm with my younger daughter, although it didn’t work as well for my oldest).  I am trying to avoid situations where food can be seen as the rescuer.  I try to control what I can control, change what I can change, and accept what I cannot and roll with the punches.  But, man, this parenthood thing is hard!


Isn’t it important that she cultivates a self-awareness of how food makes her feel though? Isn’t that a cornerstone of n=1? She’s little – she may not have the words to say precisely what she means.

One of the greatest parenting challenges I face is not projecting my own baggage onto my kids. It’s tough stuff.

Take a deep breath, mama. You’re doing fine.

I have recently read a really good book (it’s in German unfortunately) that takes the battles out of eating. It basically had some rules for the grown up and for the child. The rules for the grown up are: You decide what there is to eat and when. You also set the rules for how to say it when the child doesn’t like something. The childs rule is: You decide what and how much you want to eat of it.
So so simple but it has stopped any fights we were having over food , as jamie had recently started to moan about anything i cooked which made me use dessert as a bribe etc etc. which then leads to exactly what you describe, food losing it’s function and becoming something else..

This sounds like Ellyn Satters work. Check out any of her books, especially “Child of Mine.” She advocates the division of responsibility in feeding, which helps kids to recognize their own hunger and satiety signals and limits pressure to eat, which can really backfire, even when it’s pressure towards healthy food.

Kimmy, are you talking about My Child Won’t Eat by Carlos Gonzalez? That *is* a good book, and more generally applicable than the title implies. It’s also available in English, Spanish, and Italian.

Wow, you just expressed exactly what I feel as a parent too. I’ve always called it “breaking the cycle of obesity”. You should be so proud of yourself! Way to go. I think the raisins made her feel better because they “redirected” her attention. My daughter has tantrums and would say that about anything that re-directed her i.e. “this book makes me feel better”. Your children will have a healthy “relationship with food” just by example….

Another great book is French Kids Eat Everything. It’s so easy to use food and that book has helped us so much. Things still aren’t perfect but much better than before for everyone!

Great blog post. Hearing that would freak me out too. My parents cooked only fresh food, we never had processed. But I still ended up with a weight problem and MS. Turns out gluten was the culprit. Our gluten free low sugar kids will have a definite edge in the future!

I’m right there with you Sarah, every part of my being doesn’t want my daughter to have to struggle the way I have both in how I relate to food and serious autoimmune conditions. You are ABSOLUTELY a great example, we can only do our best to protect and shape our kids beliefs and behaviors in a world that wants to throw so much crappy food, sick ideas about health and beauty, and warped beliefs about childhood. I have to believe our best efforts along with our unconditional love (book plug here, Alfie Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting”) and acceptance is going to give them the best hope for a long, happy and healthy life. From the way you write and your intuitively reflective parenting, I can sense you are a wonderful mom and your girls are so lucky to have someone who is raising them with the big picture in mind; not just reacting moment to moment but considering how what we do know will help shape them into joyful, grounded adults who question mainstream beliefs and behaviors and think for themselves.

Thanks for sharing such personal experiences, it really is a gift to those of us struggling with the same stuff.

The mini-me thing is a major hot-button for me, too. I’ve been thinking about the what/when & how much thing, and your catering post. This is the hard yards of parenting, for sure, not the long nights or even the schooling questions – it’s the summary of ten billion split-second reactions that make the lasting impressions, and the pressure of that idea is huge! So far I try to remember that good enough is good enough, and quality time has at least SOME redemptive power. But I’ll tell ya, the progression of my grey hair became exponentially faster when my eldest left the baby stage!

i was going to suggest the book French Kids Eat Everything too! I was so impressed by the healthy relationship French people have with food from an early age.

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