Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Enlightened Parent

I believe, to some extent, we all know that sugar isn’t good for us. From the time we were children we were warned, “It’ll rot your teeth”. When we became teenagers we heard, “you’ll get fat” or “your face will break out”, and now that we have kids of our own we say, “put the china up, I just gave Billy a Twinkie”. But for some reason these warnings aren’t enough to get us to look more closely at sugar and what it does to us. Check out this interesting website for more information on sugar dangers: http://www.beyondhealth.com/sugar-children.aspx.

There are so many things to worry about when it comes to the dangers of sugar, but what I worry about most is what it’s doing to my kids. Ben will be 16 in a few months and Jordan, my daughter, is 10. They have followed in my footsteps to become sugar addicts. Ben and I love dark chocolate. For us there is nothing more satisfying than letting the dark poison melt on our tongues and seeing who can go the longest without chewing. Jordan on the other hand is a Starch-a-tarian. She hasn’t eaten meat in over six years, but she rarely eats vegetables either, so we can hardly call her a Vegetarian.

My kids get this sugar stuff. We discuss it and they ask questions but they aren’t motivated to do anything. You see, they don’t have under-eye bags or aching joints and their plumbing still works. They aren’t depressed, they don’t get migraines, and they aren’t overweight – yet. They live for today and tomorrow is too far off to worry about.

“There’s no food in this house,” Ben complains. “Of course there is, have an apple.” Well, apples bother his teeth, the bananas are too ripe, and he doesn’t feel like peeling an orange. If it’s not in the pantry or capable of being nuked in the microwave in 1-1/2 minutes, then there’s nothing to eat. Make a sandwich? God forbid! He’s a heater, not a cooker and I think he’s a pretty normal kid in today’s sugar laden society.

Getting my kids to reduce their sugar intake is a million times harder than getting myself off it. I am in no way an expert and I operate with a trial and error mentality, reading a lot along the way. I’m still working out the kinks, but my first attempts to break my kids sugar habits went something like this:

1) Monopolize every dinner conversation sharing what new disease I found that day that was linked to sugar while pointing out how everything they were putting into their mouth was leading them to an early grave.
2) When they complained that there was nothing to eat, I reminded them that nothing was better than what they would have chosen had there been anything. I was, after all, looking out for their best interest!
3) Shame them into making better food choices by saying things like, “Is that really the best snack choice considering your recent acne outbreak?”

Yes, I have broken many good parent rules when it comes to getting my kids off sugar, but probably more when it comes to their nutritional health. All I want is what’s best for my children and I definitely don’t want to do anything harmful. Each of us must decide, on our own, what to do about sugar. Most of us will figure it out the hard way. But I have to help my children along the way. I don’t move the car without my children being safely buckled and they aren’t allowed on a bike without a helmet, but I continually feed them and allow them to eat the mood and mind altering, body harming, disease-causing chemical called sugar. Yet I will go to my grave insisting that my main goal in life was always to raise happy, healthy children.

I’ve had lots of people ask me how I handle the sugar issue with my children. Before writing this blog, I have to admit that I thought I had a better handle on things than I actually do. Since Ben started high school, I’ve really lost control over his nutrition. Based on a 2000 calorie per day diet, the USDA recommends that we consume no more than 32 grams, or eight (8) teaspoons, of added sugar daily (http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/chapter2.htm.) I asked Ben to talk me though his day, regarding food. After asking if I could handle the truth, Ben gave it to me. One (very large) bowl of Apple Jacks, 12 grams; 1 nutri-grain bar for the walk to the bus, 12 grams; Burger, 7 grams; Fries, 0 grams; ketchup for both burger and fries, 8 grams; 20 oz. G2 Gatorade, 17.5 grams; 2 chocolate chip cookies, 20 grams. Stop! I guess I can’t handle the truth! That’s 76.5 grams or just over 19 teaspoons of sugar and we’re only through lunch! And he has yet to eat a vegetable, fruit, or a whole grain. Should I be concerned? On the bright side, I’m pleased to see that he made the better choice of a Gatorade than say, a coke, which would have added 40 grams of sugar to that total.

You would think I would be more successful in changing my children’s diet, but sadly, the above paragraph is proof that I am not. If you look in my pantry and fridge you will find things like Toaster Strudels, Fruit and Grain Bars, and powdered iced tea mix. I still have a five-pound bag of white sugar on my lazy Susan along with half a bag of dark brown sugar. But I keep trying. It helps to constantly remind myself that I am the parent/adult and I can control what my children eat, at least when they are at home. I don’t buy soda or fruit juice, and we may go to a fast food restaurant once in a blue moon. I pack Jordan’s school lunch every day, and I try to plan ahead and have healthy snack choices and meals planned and prepared. I know it’s not enough and we have a long, hard road ahead of us, but every week I’ll try to make one more small change (like serving spaghetti squash instead of pasta, then top it with homemade spaghetti sauce – the kids love it and it gives them a pasta fix, sans the pasta). Ben has agreed to spend an afternoon with me coming up with “real” food ideas that he will actually eat. I’ll share what he comes up with. I’d love to hear your suggestions on reducing your children’s sugar intake. While your sharing your comments, I’m going to my pantry to throw a few things away.

6 comments:

Marlene Pellegrini said...

This is a tough one me to since my kids are also sugar addicts. I am not sure what is worse for me at least, getting them to each vegetables or getting them not to each sugar. I get complaints when I serve whole wheat bread with their PB and J. They dislike cooked veggies, Ugh! The one thing I am glad about is that they do like drinking water. (BTW I had a sugar-free day yesterday. I can't say that I will have the same results today since I am going to NYC and a view glasses of wine are in the forcast but I will watch it). Thanks for telling me about your blog post, Marlene Pellegrini

JoAnn Scanlon said...

Hi Elizabeth, I think my older son is going to be hard when it comes to healthy eating. He is only 4 now but he is such a picky eater. When he was 2 he would eat all of his veggies and fruit now we practically have to tie him to his chair to eat of course except for those nights we are running late and we let him have Pizza or Chicken Nuggets. The younger one who will be 2 eats everything veggies, fruit or anything we present to him hopefully it won't change. When we have company who have children of their own - ours are always more active or shall I say hyper and me and Kev have always said they are just more active than others. So after reading your article I think my goal tonight is to go through all of our cabinets and trash some items.

Woman in Transition said...

See: debbiedanowski.com. Her story from sugar addiction is absolutely fascinating. I've been following her for some time now. I'm on my 3rd (and FINAL) attempt at beating this. I'm looking at sugar like it's cocaine - I just can't have it period. Drug addicts can't have just a little bit of drugs or smokers can't have a little bit of nicotine. It's has to be eliminated completely. And it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life (especially around Girl Scout Cookie time!!!!)

I have a 4yo and thankfully he's not addicted to sugar (yet) and the preschool he attends, the director and her family are anti-sugar as much as possible. He definitely likes the starch and I've been slowly changing his starchy favorites to more healthy versions from the Whole Foods Market. I started out mixing the "bad, cheap" stuff with half of the good, expensive stuff and kept reducing it until it was all good. It worked for a couple of things, especially the pasta items. I can't find a suitable mac n' cheese substitute yet. Eventually we want to do all of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods type markets. I've found that the more expensive food is, the less you eat. Isn't that bizarre? I wonder why that is. But it seems to be working.

Elizabeth Hotaling said...

Woman in Transition - Funny you mention the addiction as I was just thinking about that same thing this morning! I know if I give in, I'm toast! Since I've been trying to go sugar free I seem to be hit more strongly by its effects when I do indulge. But I'm tired of the see-saw effect and I'm hoping the longer I go without, the less likely I'll give in to sugar's temptation. Thanks for your pointers and I'll be sure to check out the site you suggest.

Anonymous said...

STOP THIS NOW!!!!! I am the tooth fairy and in these tough times, I can not afford for someone to tell people to stop eating sugar. I need job security.

YOU ARE MY DEVIL!

Elizabeth Hotaling said...

Sorry but it is time to downsize (pun intended!).
(Thanks for the laugh!)