Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Life at Grady: Food relationships
I was watching a little girl in the Grady Hospital cafeteria one day. She was standing with what I am assuming was her mother and appeared to be no more than four-years-old. It was a school day, so I'm guessing she was too young to be in kindergarten.
Anyways. She was an adorable and precocious little thing. I mean just as cute as a little button. Talking up a storm with her hand on her plump little pre-K hip. Her pink bedazzled t-shirt didn't quite clear the length of her torso. I could see her belly button and a roll of tummy skin protruding over her striped leggings.
"I want chicken fingers and I want the fries, too!"
"Okay," her mother replied. She then relayed that information to the gentleman working the grill. "I thought you wanted a burger?"
"I do want a cheeseburger. But I like chicken fingers, too!"
"Okay. Well, we can just split it," the mom replied.
"What kind of fries do y'all want?" the grill-guy asked. He stood there waiting patiently with his clear plastic gloves on while patting his brow just below his hair net with the back of his sleeve.
"Mama, get the mojoes!" the little girl squealed.
"Y'all got some mojoes?" Mama asked.
Grill-guy looked over his shoulder at the fryers. Sizzling behind him was a freshly dropped basket of battered and season-salted potato wedges. "Yeah, we got some."
"Okay. Then give me two orders of those."
And he did. Onto that platter went two cheeseburgers, some chicken fingers and two heaping helpings of mo-joe potatoes fresh out of the peanut oil.
I couldn't help watching them as they walked off. First, a stop at the soda machine where two cups were filled with what looked like some kind of cola. I'm not sure if they got dessert. My guess is that they did.
That little girl's mother had to be at least 300 pounds. And I'm almost certain that the child was well above the ninety-fifth percentile for weight yet in a lower than average centile for height.
Now. Everything about their interaction was loving. The child appeared very well cared for-- from her matching pink outfit to her hair accessories of the exact same hue. Her mother kept her hand on her daughter at all times, and occasionally pulled her close into her side for an affectionate squeeze. That part was sweet.
That part was. Sigh.
I've been thinking about food relationships more and more over the last few years. Instead of telling my patients what and what not to eat, I often talk to them about their food relationship. Do they even have any idea about it? I ask questions like, "Can having an unsatisfying meal ruin your evening? You know --like if you had your mind fixed on one thing but it either didn't turn out like you'd imagined or even it wasn't available for you to eat?"
I also ask how they feel when eating certain things. Or if there are things that they used to eat but no longer will. If the answer is yes to that last question, I ask why.
Here's what I'm learning from all of that: Food relationships start when we are children. Then, as adults, they can shift in a number of different directions depending upon where we are in our minds. For example, someone who always had full access to their family pantry and who was forced to clean their plate, might do the same with their kids. Or not, if they've shifted their own thoughts on food and eating as they've grown older and learned different things.
Different things? Things like how no matter how much you run, jump, leap and stretch, there comes a point in every adult person's life where weight will never, ever be controlled without redefining food ideas. Period.
Let me just say that this is my own opinion. Nothing really scientific, although I'm certain there is likely some medical literature somewhere to support it. What I mean is, these ideas have a lot to do with my own interpretations of things I've seen over the years. As a doctor and as a regular old person.
So that brings me to mojo potatoes. Have you ever had them? Well, I have. And let me tell you something-- they're delicious. Look. I'm no different than the next guy when it comes to enjoying fried morsels of yummy-ness. But where I am when it comes to such things has changed over the years. Lots of that has to do with my relationship with food growing up. But most of it has to do with the shifts it made in my adulthood.
Will I eat one or two mojo potatoes? Sure. Will I order my own next to a greasy hamburger? Probably not. Of course, the caveats are when such things are at places so good that eating there is more of an experience than a meal. Kind of like the difference between eating a burger at McDonald's and a burger from Farm Burger. In that instance, I would both eat and enjoy my burger and fries.
Just not every day.
My real point is that this is ground zero. Kids who are overweight don't lose weight just by being admonished every time they reach for cookies. Some hard lines have to be drawn in the sand. And the grocery cart. Like, if anyone in the house is the type that can't say no to Oreo cookies or mojo potatoes, neither of those should be in the house. If anyone in the house is the type that has a slow-as- molasses metabolism then foods and drinks that aren't nice to them should stay on supermarket shelves for the most part.
At least, that's how I see it. For everybody to win, somebody's going to have to take one for the team.
And I know, there's always this argument where folks say, "Why should we punish our thin/fit/ideal-weight/healthy kid just because the other is overweight?"
My answer to that is simple: "Because that's how it has to be."
Some don't say that at all. Instead, their response might be to "just let kids be kids" and "if they exercise and run and play they'll grow out of it." This might be completely true-- and often is. But the problem is that the food relationship doesn't go away. That prepubescent pudge might melt away at first, but if mojo potatoes don't cause you to cringe a little bit by the time you turn thirty, that pudge will return just like a Jedi.
So I ask my patients about those food relationships. I ask who is up in that house and what's up with them and their health/body situation. Is Jack Sprat your husband? Meaning, is your spouse a hundred pounds soaking wet? And if so, does he or she do the grocery shopping? Whoever that person is and whatever their situation, that person has to get on the same team as you. Be willing to eat smaller portions with you and forgo certain foods being in the house to help you win.
That is, until your relationship and body shifts enough to make you feel like mojo potatoes aren't even worth it. So much so that seeing them on a platter before you does little to affect you. But see, for a lot of people, that kind of shift never occurs-- especially if they are starting from a place where food is synonymous with love and comfort.
It's a hell of a lot easier to shift your food relationship just a little bit than a whole lot. And square one for food relationships starts with the person doing the feeding....and how far she is willing to shift her own relationship first.
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