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Childhood obesity is the fastest growing health concern today. According to The National Institute of Medicine, since the 1970s, obesity rates have doubled for preschoolers aged two to five and for teens ages twelve to nineteen. Elementary school kids have it worse, with their obesity rate having tripled. Blame it on junk food, fast food, t.v., computers, Gameboys and a culture that glorifies couch potatohood. But at the same time we are raising chubby children, anorexia is also on the rise.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one in every 100 girls ages 14 to 18 (and a much smaller number of boys) are affected by an eating disorder every year. So, half our kids are getting fat in front of tube while we bombard them with images of uber-thin celebrities to emulate which causes the other half to vomit in the toilet. Talk about confusing!

My own daughter refuses to eat. Nicole is five, and daily, foods drop off her already limited acceptability list. Dr. Feldman tries to reassure me, “She’s thin but healthy. She won’t starve, she’ll eat when she’s hungry.” But having watched her live for a week on less than what most kids eat at one meal, I leave his office less than convinced.

As I sit across from Nicole at the dinner table, engaged in our nightly battle, I think about what made me eat and over eat while growing up. Finally, it hits me like a “Bam!” out of Emeril’s kitchen. My own eating experiences have paralyzed me as a mother in my efforts to raise my children with a healthy relationship to food.

I come from a long tradition of mothers who equated food with love. When people commented on the lavish spread Grandma would lay out, she would quip, “I’d rather pay grocery bills than medical bills.” My mother always kept our home filled with fresh baked cookies and cakes. Both lived through the Depression and believed having enough food was a sign of survival. Their attitudes left a lasting impression about food that I’m not eager to pass on.

I have tried every tactic in every parenting book, website and magazine to teach my children about good eating habits: Don’t cater to them, don’t become a short order cook, encourage them to eat what the family eats, try the one bite rule, introduce new foods slowly over time… When Nicole still wouldn’t eat, I let her plan the menus, made food fun with shapes and textures. We won’t mention my “green eggs and ham” experiment.

As mothers, our biggest challenge is getting our kids to eat healthy, learn to enjoy food, but not abuse it. We want our children to have a strong self-esteem based on who they are, not what goes in their mouths. Afterschool sports programs are a great way to do that! They get kids moving and keeps them away from the t.v. But afterschool programs not only need our participation, they need our support. If your community has an afterschool program, enroll your child and volunteer time – being a coach is fun, despite the farmer’s tan you inevitably develop. Raise money so these programs can continue in our communities.

This summer, Nicole and I are taking Tae Kwon Do at the parks and rec department, I’ve unplugged the t.v. and banished junk food from our house. With any luck, I can get her hooked on positive habits now. It’s that or I’m likely to find myself making her animal-shaped pancakes when she’s thirty!

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