The effect on unschooling of too much control and fear around food

LOTS of people have one reason or another to avoid some foods, from preference to allergy to cost to religion. They make choices. That's the point of all of this.

—Sandra Dodd, from the discussion mentioned below

This first part, I posted January 11, 2016 on the Radical Unschooling Info group on facebook. There are nearly 40 comments there, and anyone with a facebook account can read them. I'm going to bring some of them here, below, but not necessarily in the same order. And as is to be expected, a couple of people got defensive and insulting, but it only helped to illustrate the hold that fears can have on someone.

Unschooling works best when parents are not jittery or fearful. Confidence! Calm.

Are there people here who don't believe in anorexia? Thirty years ago, it was hardly a thing. Did it increase then, or was it named then or some famous person dies? How does a disease "become popular"?
But I think everyone here will believe in it now, 2016.

How about bulemia, as a condition that can really harm a person? Is there anyone who thinks bulemia is a bogus thing? That it's normal, harmless behavior with a fancy name and a bad reputation?
But before it was named (in 1979), did it not exist?

There is a new eating disorder named now. We see it here, in this discussion. It affects much more than the mother (and these things are overwhelmingly more common in women than in men). Anorexia and bulemia might indirectly ruin more than one life (spouses, parents, children of the anorexic or bulemic person). This one, though... it's shared, and it has side-effects, like lack of faith, lack of trust, not just a skewed view of one's own appearance, but a skewed view of ALL food.

It's called "orthorexia." It's an unhealthy obsession with health food.
In extreme forms: "orthorexia nervosa."

Dr. Steven Bratman, who is a collecting point for data and research, asks these questions: "Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?... "Does your diet socially isolate you?"

For unschooling purposes I have some further questions. They all came from seeing real people, voluntarily participating in real discussions:

Is your diet more political than biological?
Do you shame conference organizers about their choice of hotel?
Do you treat other people as dietary war criminals?
Is food something you are indignant about?

Indignation is unhealthy.
It's unhealthy for the indignitary
...the indignatious.
It's unhealthy for her family.
Some of that was already on my web page. Some is new today, for this discussion.

If a hundred anorexics had argued in 1986 that they were fine and there was no such thing, would it change their paths or the statistics and proofs being gathered?

How many bulemics, straight back from puking and denying it, would it take to vote bulemia out of the dictionary?

Orthorexia is imposed on others, when a mother has children. It ruins families—not just extended families. It can cause divorces.

It can cause people to HOPE that those who "eat badly" will get sick and die, so that the orthorexic can be proven right, and virtuous, while the sinners suffer.

It can cause people to impose an odd and limited adult diet on a small, growing child. That is wrong to do.
It often causes people to disrupt a discussion here and then get angry and leave.

Anyone who's pretty sure it doesn't exist—print this out and put it in a safe place for fifteen years. Come back and tell us how right you were, if you're so right. Tell us, in fifteen years, if your children are happy and healthy. Tell us if you're still married, if you still visit your relatives, and how many times you changed your diet, and still felt panic about food.

Because there are people here today telling you that their children have a vast range of choices of foods, that they ARE happy and healthy, that the parents have good relationships with them, and that peace is more important than fright. Already, there are over a hundred stories of what happened when people tried it, of surprising results, of vast improvements.

Video added in 2019, for comic relief, because these ideas aren't very funny, but the video is.

Hello Sandra! Been thinking about the posts on food on the unschooling list.

I want to say to them: you have disordered eating habits (and it's ok, it's not your fault, but you do). And do not mention another word to your kids until you've sorted it out with your own food issues.

Any time the food topic comes up I can so clearly hear folks share their own eating disorder crap.

I know, because i was one of them.

When my son was born, I became vegan because I wanted him to not get heart disease and die of a heart attack like my dad did and I'd say I'm giving him a gift because he will only eat healthy food.

I replace "healthy food" with "the right foods" now in my brain to help me see how crazy that is.

Food isn't black and white.

My one and only food rule is that I have to try to move away from control and fear and be gentle with myself.

Fear based eating is my final frontier in life!

People die from eating disorders.

With folks trying to understand trust and letting go of fear, I think [trying to control] tv and screen time are difficult because it's something that can really mess folks up.           (Sandra note: I think she means the controlling, not the screentime—messes up relationships.)

Our relationship with food must be based on trust. Self trust, self love. Gentleness. I have to act as if I'm not afraid when I am. I feel scared trusting my kids around food because I can't even trust myself yet around food. I'm still scared. But this is an issue I must deal with and not put on my kids. And instead, what some homeschoolers seem to worry about is what math curriculum to use.

I needed to start to lighten up! Emotionally. I put up a picture of myself when I was five. I look at it and remind myself that I don't need to control everyone's food to feel safe and to enjoy the journey and have lots of fun!

Karen Santos:
...[I] have seen such things as orthorexia first hand. I suspect my own upbringing had tinges of that very thing. I see it less often in my current circle of radically unschooling friends, however - generally those that have been unschooling for a very long time. ...

Krystal T:
I appreciate this thread. I've had weird baggage around food, health and weight my whole life. I care about health and nutrition, but now strive to not be too rigid around it. The concept of eating for enjoyment was foreign (if not repulsive) to me even ten years ago.

Christine O'C:
Most of the parents I know have this food obsession (I'm 31 years old, a lot of the parents are within this age group +/- 10 years) and I've noticed the kids already have obsession relationships with food too.

Sue Sullivan:
Orthorexia is still a pretty new concept, I believe. I haven't heard of support groups for it.

I can offer this resource, which I am finding hugely useful -- a book called Intuitive Eating, written by two registered dieticians with practices in LA and Orange County, what must be ground zero for body dysmorphia and orthorexia, among other eating disorders.

I am reading this for myself. I believe I have mentioned in other threads that I fell prey to orthorexia in my efforts to heal from severe chronic fatigue in recent years. I had reduced my diet to chicken, veggies and a few fruits at my lowest ebb of physical and mental health early last year.

I am well now, through an entirely different and psychological therapy and I am very happy to eat normally and without restriction again, after years of clamping my diet down tighter and tighter.

I do have a physician, however, who wants my borderline cholesterol numbers down or statins prescribed, and I found myself falling into a trap of thinking of food as medicine again and particular foods as good or bad, when I began trying to figure out what, if anything, I should change about my diet for the purposes of lowering my cholesterol numbers.

I didn't want to go back down that dark path, and happily enough, my daughter had found a Tumblr post about Intuitive eating and a just published memoir chronicling a young woman's implementation of this Intuitive Eating approach (Big Girl, by Kelsey Miller.) I went back to the original book, published in early 2000s and am working through it now.

The authors' blog is [https://www.intuitiveeating.org/] and is not that well designed or updated frequently, but their 10 principles and resources tabs seemed particularly useful to me.

Jacqi N:
I struggle to this day with orthorexia, and the two unlikely things that have helped me in the past year are being pregnant and being on an extremely tight budget.

I came across a thought not too long ago, and I wish I could remember where, but it basically was that every time you have a negative thought about your body, your weight, or your food choices, you induce the release of quite harmful stress hormones in your body. Being pregnant, and knowing my stress levels effect the baby, I knew I had to let go of food obsession. It has been therapeutic, but I still find myself thinking about "diet after baby"...so I read this thread with great interest!

Also, it's been a blessing in disguise to be limited financially. I can't afford only the finest organic coconut oil, or grass fed beef, or cage free eggs. So it's become a nonissue.

My wonderful 10-yr-daughter, always unschooled, and free to eat as she likes has managed to surpass me in food enlightenment, and somehow seems unscathed by my wild food ideas (which I keep to myself for the most part). If I'm reading a paleo book she rolls her eyes, but in a good-natured way. She has a very healthy body image and is very opinionated about body-shaming, advertisement and marketing, and eating disorders. I wish I'd been as well-informed and discerning as she is!....

Clare Kirkpatrick:

"anything that we know can cause health conditions in some people - wheat, dairy, sugar, food additives."
But we don't *know* those things are 'bad'. We think we know they're 'bad' but we've thought we knew lots of things were 'bad' in the past that are now considered to be 'good' and vice versa.
"Is the general consensus that, if parents took an unschooled approach to food from the offset that as adults their children would be eating intuitively and therefore naturally avoiding things that made them unwell?"
I think the general consensus is that mental health and positive, strong relationships and loving joyfully have more impact on whether or not we're well than the food we eat.

The general consensus is also that immersion in orthorexic food ideas is probably worse for our health than the food itself.

The general consensus is that maybe some (nearly all) health issues that you insist are food-related are probably mental health related and not helped by the orthorexic ideas a health nutritionist perpetuates.

Do you ever consider sending someone with ibs to a counsellor? I know several people who had awful ibs whose symptoms cleared up not when they changed their diet, which meant they were obsessing over what they ate and what their bowels were doing (ie. Behaving in an orthorexic fashion) but when they made changes in their lives that reduced the stress and increased the joy. The stressing about what to eat was making them iller than they were when they were only stressed about their jobs or whatever it was that started it.

My husband suffered with horrific bowel problems and daily migraines. We tried obsessing about his diet. Things just got worse. He changed his job to something he loves instead of something he hated. All his symptoms disappeared. He is one of many people I know who've had similar experiences. I'm glad they stumbled upon people who could help them better than a health nutritionist could.

Encouraging people to obsess about what they're eating is irresponsible, in my opinion, based on quite a large amount of anecdotal evidence.

I don't mind what my children eat because I know that it's irrelevant so long as their mental health is robust. (None of them have true coeliacs or allergies.)

More of that discussion, on facebook

Some resources suggested in that discussion are below.
Some might be gone, and there might be newer things available. Be wary of someone trying to divert you by saying "I'm a nutritionist, and you should ignore all those unschoolers. *I* will tell you what to eat!".

Additions to outside reading:

More about Food and eating


"Building an unschooling Nest"

Food Problems