Longterm Effects of Food Controls
(or the lack of controls)

One wouldn't have to look much past a google search on bulimia, anorexia and overeaters anonymous to find stories of eating disorders, but this page is for stories by and for unschoolers. We can see how controlling food is related to controlling education, sleep, playtime and other areas of our childrens' lives. We can mess them up early (which our culture applauds) or we can learn to let them grow whole and healthy and strong and free, not crippled in mind and spirit. The first story is of the unexpected benefit to a child in areas other than food.
Sandra Dodd

Nancy O.:

The other day Darin and I were watching one of our favorite Christmas movies, A Christmas Story, and Jack was with us. A scene: the narrator says something like 'My kid brother hadn't eaten voluntarily in over three years' and then you hear the mom say 'Eat! There are starving children in China.' and the little brother reluctantly slops this huge overflowing spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth as he whines.

Jack looks at Darin who is laughing and then at me and says 'I don't get it. If he doesn't want to eat, why is she making him? And what do kids in China have to do with it? Its not like if he doesn't eat it his mom can give the leftovers to China.' And Darin said, 'its just a movie Jack.' and I said, 'but he's right.' And went on to explain that was a standard tow-the-line response parents gave kids of that era. How it is a 'sin' to waste food, and that Jack might even, in today's world run into people who might say something along those lines to him or his friends.

Jack said, 'if it is a sin to waste food, and the mom knows he doesn't like that food, then isn't it her sin for fixing it and serving it when she knows he won't eat it? Why doesn't she either fix something he likes, let him fix something, or let him eat when he wants to?'

By that time Darin had paused the movie and was grinning at me over Jack's head. He asked Jack when he had gotten so analytical, and Jack said, 'I don't know what that means Dad, but I know what’s right and what’s wrong.'

Nancy Owens, 2005

Kelly L.:

Ben and I were out to lunch a few months ago. Across from us sat a woman and her very old mother—eighties, at least.

The daughter was telling her mom: "Eat your soup and sandwich FIRST, Mama, THEN you can have your dessert. No, drink some tea first. Here, use your napkin. Mama, sit DOWN! No dessert until you finish that sandwich. Here—have another bite. Just one more. No more sugar in your tea; you've had enough. Stop now. Here' I'll put it away. Do you want dessert? Mama, stop looking around. Eat your lunch."

This went on through the entire meal. The daughter just kept after the old woman. It was so sad. I said so to Ben.

Then Ben asked, "I wonder where she learned it?"

Shut me up.


In response to a poster on Unschooling Basics, two unschooling moms told tales of their own childhoods, and the differences in their children's lives.

The skeptical poster wrote:
Really, the number of obese kids in the USA is astonishing, and the main cause of that obesity is parents who are unwilling/incapable of setting boundaries to kids who need them.

Brandie responded:

I grew up in a food-strict home. We were forbidden to help ourselves to any type of food. And much of the food in our home was typically "good" for you. If my parents bought something like cookies, or other individual items (hot chocolate packets, etc.), they counted each and every one (writing the number left on the label or box) to make sure we didn't get into them without asking. And there was really no point in asking because you would be told no almost everytime. Halloween candy was handed out maybe two pieces a week or so. It last well beyond a year. My parents wanted to control the food. They wanted 100% control over when we could get "treats", or even the so-called "good" stuff.

The result? I learned that if I just consumed the whole box of cookies and destroyed the box, there would be nothing left to count. Most of the time, they forgot about the whole box (out of sight, out of mind). If they did ask, you just deny, deny, deny. Or blame it on the dog. LOL

Setting limits and boundaries has nothing to do with kids being obese or not. If a child wants or NEEDS something, they will find a way to get it.

Brandie, 2007

Melissa's response:

I wanted to second your story and follow up on it. Our food was carefully restricted, so the example that my brother and I grew up with is that only grownups could choose to eat that way. We both eagerly awaited the day in which we turned 18 (or moved out, which was 16 for me!), so we could buy crap and eat as much of it as we wanted. The result? I gained so much weight, and still have trouble letting go of the junk food. If it's in the home, I will eat it until it's gone. if someone else expresses interest in my prefered food, i get very defensive because I'm worried that I won't get more. I'm THIRTY TWO, and I have to mentally walk myself through saying "It's okay, I am old enough to drive, I can always buy more."

On the other hand, after nearly two years of deschooling, our kids have two HUGE bowls of candy (each holding about twelve pounds)...one from Christmas, and one from Halloween. They go through phases, eating a few handfuls one day, but then a week without anymore. We also go through pounds and pounds of fruits and veggies. And of course, there's my infamous story last year (while we were all still deschooling) when I snapped and told my son he couldn't have any more veggies until he ate his cake. For snack today, my eleven year old made pudding in a cloud for everyone. My newly eight year old chopped up enough apples, oranged, grapes, bananas, strawberries and pineapple for everyone. No one wanted the pudding. It's still in the fridge, and the fruit is all gone. It balances from yesterday when they ate through two mega boxes of dingdongs and twinkies. There are hundreds of stories just like that.

Studies are fine, in their place. They do a mediocre job of scaring mainstream parents into being more conscientious about what their children eat or how much they move. However, when you've seen it in real life, balance out after a while, you wonder where it came from. And suddenly the news doesn't hold as much water, when reported that way. I have seven kids, all of whom are totally on track for height/weight ratio. They have free choice on eating, watching TV, playing...whatever. Because they are free to choose, not restrained by concerns for 'if I eat this, where will my next candy come from?', or one from our not so distant past: "Mom, I need my soda now, because we're only allowed one soda a day, and i haven't had mine." He forced himself to drink an entire soda at 9pm at night, that he didn't want, that didn't taste good, because he was allowed to have one a day. I'll not go back to that willingly.

Just two pennies

Heidi K:
I am 41 years old, I was raised the same way—very controlling parents when it came to food. We only had candy in our house at Easter and Halloween. No soda. No chips. I think the only kind of "junk" food we had was ice cream once a week. My mom made everything from "scratch"—cookies, cakes on occasion and all meals were homemade. You would think that by me growing up in such a non-junk-food homemade from scratch kind of home that I today would eat that way...NO. When I moved out of my parents' house I stocked up on all kinds of junk..drank soda by the 3 liter (a day), ate candy until I felt sick...all that stuff people think they are "teaching" their kids not to do...

I am not saying that every person who is raised to eat only good or mostly good will turn to the worst like I did, but I know that I did—so my kids have always had free rein over what that want to eat. One is a vegetarian, one would rather have fruits and veggies over chips and candy and one is still finding out what she really likes. So I would say please try to let go of the food control, leave the room when they drink the soda if it bothers you so much. I am not saying that in a mean way, sometimes it helps to look the other way, "What you don't see won't hurt you" kind of thing. I know you will still feel upset when you see the soda disappearing but at least maybe they won't feel your feelings?

When I was younger and I went somewhere were they had different desserts and junky kind of foods I would feel like I almost had to "sneak" some into my pocketbook so I can have some later and that's really an awful feeling, like a thief over food! And I battle with being 20-25 pounds overweight and it's from the junk, that I know in my heart of hearts but it's so hard to get away from.

My husband on the other hand had all the "junk" he wanted growing up and he has NO problem taking or leaving it, eats it on occasion only. So I guess we are both living proof of what has been said about NOT controlling the children's food.


Whole, healthy, strong and free

We can see how controlling food is related to controlling education, sleep, playtime and other areas of our childrens' lives. We can mess them up early (which our culture applauds) or we can learn to let them grow whole and healthy and strong and free, not crippled in mind and spirit.

photo by Sandra Dodd
2012 original

More for unschoolers, about food and eating


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