We live in a designer world. Clothes, cars, cosmetics and now diets. The rise of the celebrity chef and the designer diet has weirdly skewed the way we perceive food. Pete Evans and paleo, Gwyneth Paltrow and kale, Kim Kardashian and the Atkins.
Add to those influences, confusing and conflicting dietary messages and food models from a range of experts and supposed experts, and we’re left with strange cultural perceptions and understandings of diet. Santa Maria College’s Head of Home Economics, Danielle Spark says, “A diet is not something that you “do” or “go on” for a week or two. Your diet is the food you eat day in and day out.”
Mrs Spark is constantly appalled at the messages her students have internalised from popular culture. She cringes at statements like, “We all know that carbs are bad for you”, or ” Sugar is the new killer”. No food is the enemy. There are no super foods, no super diets and no shortcuts. There are only sensible, informed decisions about food, every day.
We have developed incredibly negative relationships with food. On one hand, it is seen as evil; to be measured and avoided. On the other hand, it is an addictive drug we find ourselves unable to resist. Often those two views are held at the same time and consequently, we see yo-yo dieting and the development of poor eating habits and dysfunctional metabolisms.
With young people and the rising rate of obesity, there is naturally a focus on weight loss. According to the ABS, 1 in 4 children between 5 and 17 years of age is obese or overweight. However, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are seen in about 1 in 20 Australians and the rate is increasing, they are associated with significant physical complications and increased mortality. (National Eating Disorders Collaboration 2016). Traditionally we have seen eating disorders as being a female problem. However, 25% of Australians with an eating disorder are now male.
Clearly, the way we view food is seriously distorted and the messages we receive about diet are not helpful. it is a model that promotes an unhealthy and negative relationship with food. Mrs Spark explains that “At school, we aim to help them develop a positive relationship with all foods, including treat foods. It is important that they mature into people who can enjoy a meal or a dessert without having feelings of guilt. They need to know that in moderation no food is bad or off limits.”
So how can we reframe the thinking around food and diet?
Rather than working from a model of avoidance, perhaps we can view diet as what we are adding. What are we feeding?
Feed your kids’ immune system
We need to be giving kids lots of servings of colourful fruits and vegetables and between 8 and 10 glasses of water every day to fuel their immune systems. Yoghurt stimulates the production of white blood cells and shellfish, salmon, mackerel and herring reduce inflammation.
Feed your kids’ energy
Fresh fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, pasta, whole grain bread and brown rice will all keep your child fuelled for the day.
Feed your kids’ intellect
Whole grains, oily fish, broccoli and foods rich in Vitamin B, C and K will all boost brain function.
Feed your kids self-esteem
A balanced, flexible diet and regular exercise are proven to make kids feel good about themselves.
Feed your kids’ mental health
Amino acids in fatty fish, grain-fed beef and dairy products can help with depression and might help with positive mood.
Feed your kids’ sleep
Research shows that antioxidants found in a wide variety of foods and lots of water aid sleep.
Feed your kids’ functioning body
Liberal use of healthy fats, lots of fruit, vegetables and pro-biotic rich dairy(such as yoghurt) will keep your kids regular and that will improve mood and sense of wellbeing.
Feed your kids’ strength
Muscle development and strength comes from protein-packed foods like red meat and chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.
You get the idea. Food is about moving towards something better, not running away from something frightening or ‘bad’.
Of course, you don’t need to research or remember any of this. We all know what we should be eating: lots of variety, lots of fresh foods and drinking lots of water. The basics of diet haven’t changed, all that changes is the cycle of fads and diets.
Did You Know?
If children are involved in the production and preparation of their own food, they are much more likely to develop healthy eating habits in the long term. That simple fact should be revolutionary in our homes and our daily routines. So how can we act on it?
Start a vegetable garden with your kids.
Grow fruit trees.
Teach kids basic cooking skills from a young age and help them become more expert as they become older and more capable.
Involve kids in the preparation of food but don’t just give them the boring jobs. Make it interesting and challenging for them.
Have a family cooking roster. You may have to live through the odd dodgy meal but it will be worth it in the long run.
Encourage participation in school Home Economics courses.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single-sex and co-ed. Currently, she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia.
ABS Children Who Are Obese or Overweight
Eating Disorders in Australia
Eating At Home = Prescription For Good Health in 2016
Breakfast Skippers Twice As Likely to Get Hangry at School
18 Reasons to Eat Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Weight Loss
Gen Next – Healthy Eating for Good Mental Health
And with special thanks to dietician Kate Fleming.