Parents, you must stop saying this at the holiday table
28 September 2022
Translated and adapted from an article in www.mako.co.il
The holiday season is packed with meals and meeting people we haven’t met in a long time. This combination can often lead us to make innocent but dangerous statements about appearance and comments about food.
All of these can be a trigger for eating disorders. Shaare Zedek’s expert would like us to consider these insights.
The holiday season is a significant time of year. There is a sense of renewal in the air, a soul-searching about the year that was and the year that will begin, a desire to turn over a new leaf, an opportunity to meet family members near and far and many holiday meals together.
While celebrating and eating together can be joyful, there are people for whom the situation is more complicated.
“At the Center for Adolescent Medicine, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, we meet adolescents who are dealing with eating disorders and their families, we hear about their coping, about the struggle against such a difficult and complex disease,” says Dr. Shelly Ben Harush Negari, director of the Adolescent Medicine Service at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Dr Shelly wishes to shine a spotlight on things that seem negligible to those who do not cope with an eating disorder and can be painful and cause real harm to your loved ones and teenagers in particular.
Here are some of the innocent phrases and thoughts that most of us tend not to consider, but which can have serious implications for individuals who may be struggling with body image.
- Do not be confused: children and adolescents are not adults
“Their bodies have different needs and the way they listen to what you say is also different. Think carefully about the sentences you say to yourself out loud, someone hears and may understand things verbally and apply and for the children listening it can be dangerous,” says Ben Harush Negari. Phrases like: ‘Oh dear, how much did we eat? After such a meal we need to fast for two days, and lucky that after Rosh Hashanah there is Yom Kippur’ confirms an existing problem.
Although the Jewish holidays are full of feasts, these are not really a number of meals that deviate from the norm. Children and adolescents should eat at least 3 meals every day: breakfast, lunch and dinner, the fact that it is a Shabbat/holiday meal or that they ate with other family members does not make it excessive or forbidden.
- You don’t have to fast (maybe only on Yom Kippur)
Do not get normalize the concept of fasting as compensation for eating. Bingeing followed by fasting is a form of behaviour of an eating disorder. Your teenagers hear you and learn from you, even if they don’t always seem attentive to you. According to Ben Harush Negari, we adults are role models for our children in relation to our bodies and food, and although they are “already big”, they are at a stage where their thinking is still literal. They may take your words at face value and fast for two days. This is not what they need.
- You look great! How did you lose weight?”
Most of us hear this popular expression often, and it has a powerful effect. “Sometimes the holiday dinner is an opportunity to meet acquaintances you haven’t seen in a long time. Do not assume that weight loss is a compliment. There are people who are dealing with an eating disorder whose weight loss can be due precisely to a worsening of their condition. Some will hear the compliment directed at others and immediately conclude that the fact that they did not receive it – indicates that they do not look good, or that thinness is the only way to get a compliment.
Try to compliment traits rather than appearance, don’t measure people by weight or waist circumference. For example, ‘What a pleasure to see you!’ or ‘You bring so much joy into the room,'” recommends Ben Harush Negari.
- Remember: you can look good regardless of weight
A flattering outfit, happiness and a smile – all these have a positive effect on your appearance.
- “Eating this cake is sinful”
An eating disorder accustoms people to thinking in black and white, permissible and forbidden, good and bad, fattening and non-fattening. “In therapy, we work with patients on the understanding that any food can be healthy and good when it is in reasonable quantities and when it is adapted to the needs of the body.
In particular, you shouldn’t differentiate family members based on who is ‘allowed’ to eat according to their weight. Don’t say “You shouldn’t eat things like that, it’s fattening.” Don’t humiliate people when you don’t really know their condition and their medical needs.
In particular, such comments often have the opposite effect on those who hear them,” says Ben Harush Negari.
- Try to have regular meals
Take care of breakfast and lunch even on days when there is a holiday meal in the evening. Eating regularly beforehand will help avoid binge and overeating at the holiday meal.
- “You didn’t touch anything…..”
And more from the host: “I made you your favourite food…”; ” I made it especially for you, you have to eat it..” according to Ben Harush Negari, for many people the holidays are a difficult and stressful time. Family reunions can be complex. Try to be sensitive and understand that it is not easy for everyone to be seen eating, try not to judge or comment out loud. Sometimes just sitting with family members while having a meal is an achievement in itself. Adolescents do not need to eat to prove love or to fulfill the needs of a particular aunt with compliments for her cooking abilities.
- “We have to work this off with sport, sport is life, it’s so healthy”
True, sport is healthy and beneficial when done if and when you take care of giving the body the amount of energy it needs for exercise. “During the time you spend whole days with your teenagers, be aware that exercise does not become compulsive, that they do not use sports as compensation for eating that they feel is forbidden to them. Ensure that physical activity does not prevent them from doing the rest of the normative activities – if due to sports your teenagers avoid meeting friends, going out of the house, eating and sleeping is already a stage that is not healthy, it is excessive.”
- Do not educate, do not punish
Most importantly: the holiday dinner is not the time to educate your children in front of the extended family and friends on things you have not educated them until now. And please – do not use food as a reward or punishment.
Chag Sameach and BeTeavon!