My son wants an eating plan and I am horrified

Tell Me About It: You have connected with a serious problem in our world – the question of what food means to us and how we think about it

I told him that I had a plan, family meals are cooked and eaten at the usual times. But inside me rose a feeling of horror

I told him that I had a plan, family meals are cooked and eaten at the usual times. But inside me rose a feeling of horror

 

Question: My son (15) approached me this morning and asked if I could devise an eating plan for him. I told him that I had, family meals are cooked and eaten at the usual times. But inside me rose a feeling of horror. I have watched my kids grow up with what I see as distorted messages about food being pushed at them from crèche days all through school right through to their college days. Naively, I thought I could counteract this with modelling a healthy eating style at home where food was nutritious and joyful.

Today hearing this from my son tells me I have lost and that this tsunami of junk information about “healthy eating” has not bypassed my children and I now have to work with the resultant distorted thinking about food, or worse still an eating-disordered son soon to be young adult. I notice that there is much more anxiety in my son’s self-image and I am despairing of him becoming self-conscious and anxiety ridden. 

He is not someone who talks about himself easily and my fear is that this focus on his appearance will not be easily challenged and could grow into a much deeper problem.  All the meals in our house are cooked fresh and we do not eat takeaways or pre-prepared food unless we are on holidays.  My husband and I both cook and we love our food, so I am very thrown by my son’s question.

 

Answer: You have connected with a serious problem in our world – the question of what food means to us and how we think about it.  In your house, it seems that there has been a wonderful attitude to food and many people would be envious of your family’s capacity to prepare fresh food every day.   However, it seems that you have had a huge reaction to your son’s request for an eating plan and I wonder at this reaction and what this effect has on you and on him. 

Perhaps you are doing battle with the world we live in and are trying to challenge the social messages that abound about appearances and nutrition.  This is a worthwhile cause and one that might take a lifetime of challenging but right now you have influence over someone who is asking for help.

 Your son has a huge respect for your knowledge and awareness about food and has asked you for assistance.   He may already have picked up your frustration and anger at the source of this question and you need to be aware of this so that his interest does not go underground or that he organises an eating plan that has no one overseeing it.  The important response here is to start at wherever he is at. 

This may be an interest in developing his body for sports or it may point to an anxiety about his appearance.  Either way, this is where you need to start the conversation and take his lead on what the issues are.   If he wants to develop his body for a specific aim, then it might be a good idea for you to research someone professional to help guide him in this.  There are many qualified nutritionists that can offer excellent advice – as you are no doubt aware, our children often hear more clearly from a professional even though it is the same advice that they have been getting from home.

The first step is to talk to your son and evaluate where he is with this anxiety

On the other hand, if you have any sense that this is an anxiety issue, then a different response is needed.  It can be a very easy thing to turn to the body to have a feeling of control when anxiety becomes overwhelming.  This can manifest in many ways and the earlier this is detected the better the possible outcomes. The cause of the anxiety is often fear of not fitting in or fears of not being good enough in some way. 

Teenage years are often fraught with the pressure of being accepted and this can escalate as they cannot escape it, eg with social media an ever present part of their lives. 

The first step is to talk to your son and evaluate where he is with this anxiety.  If you are concerned, it is a good idea to suggest to him that he talk to someone about this.  Talking may help him to understand what is happening and open up avenues of action for him.  There may be a counsellor in his school that he could engage with or he might prefer someone at a bigger remove.  It might be a good idea to look at Bodywhy’s website to help him understand what is happening – they have a young person’s on-line support called “youthconnect” and this might be a good starting place for your son.

In order for your son to be confident and able to address whatever issues he has in his life, he will benefit from a mother who is calm, grounded and hopeful.  This is something you can immediately offer.

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