The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 137 · Duration: 00:18:39
My Son Is A Junk Food Junkie
What do you do when you when your 15 year old picks at the healthy foods you serve and then pigs out on junk?
Today we’re hearing from Stacy of Ontario, Canada. Stacy writes:
How do I help my 15 year old make better choices for himself when it comes to eating habits. The dinner table has been a long time control battle with my kids as they are super picky. My 15 year old will pick at his food and hardly eat. Then he will pig out on chips, cookies, cereal, toast, you name it. He will fill up on junkie CARBS later in the evening since he didn’t eat well at dinner. It’s a constant argument we have. Once we noticed this habit forming we implemented that if they didn’t finish their dinner then they don’t get to eat snacks in the evening. However, now he has a job and makes his own money. He purchases a ton of junk food and doesn’t show moderation. He will eat fast food twice a day, purchase large bags of candy and bags of chips, pop and pig out.
Genetically he’s a thin boy and is active in sports so never sees the consequences of weight gain. He does break out in acne when he eats badly but he reasons this is normal teen stuff so it doesn’t bother him. He often is sick to his stomach and has diarrhea which makes us late for work, church, and many other outings. He misses school at least twice a month because of diarrhea from poor eating. When we try to reason with him, he’s very much in denial about how often he is sick.
Just last night he was up at like 5a.m. with a sick stomach and when getting ready for school tells me he thinks he has hemorrhoids from the diarrhea. Another day of missing school.
I find myself reverting to scare tactics to express the seriousness of his choices. I expressed that this is not an issue 15 years old should have. These are middle-aged problems! If you are already having these problems you could be heading to more severe health issues like diverticulosis, colon cancer and so on.
I worry too that this sugar addiction could lead to other addictions later in life.
Anyway, what advice can you give in helping us to empower our son to practice good self-care?
Thanks for your question, Stacy. It is an important one and one I care very much about. The American diet, and I imagine the Canadian diet is similar, is unhealthy and leading to all kinds of problems.
The Dangers of Too Much Sugar
Let’s start with sugar. Human beings are not designed to ingest large amounts of sugar, or things that turn easily into sugar when consumed. Other than honey and perhaps maple syrup, sugar doesn’t exist in nature in a raw form. It has to be processed from things like beets and sugarcane. We are not designed to get energy directly from sugar.
Our bodies have complex systems for converting food into energy and when we eat large amounts of raw sugar we over-stimulate the pancreas and produce large amounts of insulin to keep our blood sugar levels healthy. Over time our pancreas wears out and this leads to diabetes and because cancer cells thrive on large amounts of sugar, cancer becomes a concern as well.
When we eat sugar or foods that convert quickly into sugar, and we produce large amounts of insulin, the insulin will bring our blood sugar levels down too far and we get fatigued making us want to eat more sugar-based foods to raise our energy levels and we get into a seesaw high blood sugar, low blood sugar, building a sugar addiction cycle. There’s a neurological component as well where eating highly sugared products activates the reward center of the brain and when the low follows the high, high sugar eaters go back to sugared foods to activate the reward center again and again. So whether we call it an addiction or simply a self-reinforcing cycle, it is unhealthy and leads to disease.Eating highly sugared products activates the reward center of the brain. When the low follows the high, sugar eaters go back to those foods to activate the reward. We call it an addiction or a self-reinforcing cycle. It's unhealthy and leads to disease.Click To Tweet
Your son is experiencing digestion problems from his high sugar diet. Why? Our digestive system requires a healthy biome, meaning a balance of healthy bacteria that can break down the foods we eat into digestible molecules. When we eat foods that overwhelm our gut flora, or the ecology of our biome, and destroys it, digestion won’t work correctly and bad things will enter our bodies, good things won’t be able to be correctly utilized and gut problems such as diarrhea will occur. If this keeps up, Stacy, you are absolutely right, diverticulosis, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory bowel diseases are likely. Making this clear to your son is not scare tactics, it’s reality. I’m not a physician, but his thinness could be related to food going in one end and out the other and not being stored or turned into energy correctly.
Control Battles At The Dinner Table
Now, I may be preaching to the choir here, so rather than talk about nutrition, where I’m an amateur, let me move on to how to deal with it and avoid or end a control battle. Before I do though, let me mention that Dr. Steven Gundry wrote a book titled The Plant Paradox that talks not only about what we’re discussing here, but he presents information that I hadn’t heard about from any other source. When I followed his guidelines, my weight returned to my high school wrestling weight and my energy level went up and my blood work went from marginal to excellent. So if you’re interested, grab a copy.
Now what to do.
Stacy, you say your kids are picky eaters and the dinner table has been a long time control battle. Alright, so what’s a control battle? It’s where you’re trying to get your kids to do or not do a certain behaviors and they are putting their efforts into resisting you. Stacy, it’s as if you take it for granted that getting your kids to behave a certain way involves a battle. That should not be the case. Yes, some kids are more sensitive to taste and texture than other kids but when parents put out healthy foods for meals, and don’t keep unhealthy foods around, and don’t threaten or argue, kids will eat it and they will adapt and look forward to it. A book for getting your young kids to eat healthy foods is called From Mac and Cheese to Veggies Please by Jennifer Scribner. To avoid control battles, we don’t threaten or argue; we validate our children’s feelings and educate and explain why we serve what we serve. When we do, our kids will generally grow up with good nutritional knowledge and behavior.To avoid control battles, we don’t threaten or argue; we validate our children’s feelings and educate and explain why we serve what we serve. When we do, our kids will generally grow up with good nutritional knowledge and behavior.Click To Tweet
Let me give you and example of what I mean by validate feelings and educate. A parent-child exchange with a young younger child could go something like this:
Mom: James, you need to eat your broccoli.
James: I don’t like broccoli.
Mom: James, I hear that you don’t like broccoli very much but that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight. Do you know why?
James: No, it’s disgusting!
Mom: Yes, I hear that you don’t care for it. We can work on preparing it so that it tastes better for you, but broccoli is important because it’s a super food that has nutrients that fight sickness, makes our bones strong, our hearts strong, and helps our digestion too. Next time we’re going to have broccoli, let’s look at some recipes for making it together and choose one that looks fun and yummy. After all, super kids need super foods.
Ending The Control Battle With Your Teen
Now in your case Stacy, your son is 15 and the control battle rages on. He’s winning the battle and making himself sick and maybe seriously ill with both short and long term consequences. So how do we set limits here that are not part of the control battle?
Let’s start by establishing what it means to be 15 and the parents of a 15 year old.
At 15, a youth is in the third year of their adolescent journey; the journey to young adulthood and then adulthood where the goal is by 24-25, a person is making their own decisions and living by their own resources. Young adulthood, those years from 18 to 24 is actually part of adolescence. So Stacy, your son is early in his quest for independence and very much needs parental limits and guidance. While 15-year-olds don’t generally jump up and down with joy as parents deliver those limits, they need to know that they are accountable to their parents and privileges are granted on the basis of earning parental trust by managing responsibilities and having a good attitude and once again, 15-year-olds might not be the sweetest creatures on the planet, but accepting limits and being respectful is required.
Your son is not being responsible with his eating or with his money. Not only is he eating crap, I won’t even call it food, that is bad for his health, but he is not managing his money responsibly either. If a youngster is making money, they should have a savings and spending plan. If they can do that on their own, great; if not, then parents need to be involved.
Here are some ideas for things you can do to regain your role as empowered parents helping your son grow up to be responsible and healthy.
1. Make an appointment with his pediatrician for him and insist that you be there for at least part of the appointment.
- Give his doctor a heads up, let her or him know the struggle you’re going through and that your son needs to hear it from his doctor that what’s going on requires a major shift in eating habits.
- Ask the doctor to refer your son to a nutritionist.
- Ask the doctor to bawl you out for letting your teenager eat this way. That’s a subtle way for the doctor to be saying that parents need to be in charge and teenagers need to accept that.
2. No longer write excuses for school absences due to symptoms from bad eating.
3. In order for your son to be allowed to keep his job, he needs to have a saving and spending plan that you approve of and monitor.
Stacy, independence implies the ability to manage that independence responsibly. Your son has a health crisis related to grossly bad decision making in the areas of food choices and money. If he wants privileges, then he needs to demonstrate responsible decision-making and accountability to parents.
Here’s how your conversation with your son might go, and I’ll call him Jack:
Jack I want you to know that your dad and I are very proud of what a wonderful young man you are. You are smart, you show great initiative, you’re athletically talented, and in most ways you are quite responsible.
And yet, a couple of things are out of alignment. Jack, as the doctor told us, eating sweets and junk food is no joke and eating healthy is not optional. Responsible eating is a requirement and your Dad and I are not going to fight with you about it any longer. Right now, your health is at risk and you need to make a commitment to a major change in your eating and in your food choices.
We owe you an apology. We have been arguing and fighting with you ineffectively instead of establishing clear standards and holding you accountable to them. Our communication has devolved into arguing instead of talking. That needs to change.
We will work with you and the nutritionist for menu planning, and you will be required to embrace these changes.
While it’s terrific that you’ve gotten a job, wasting money on fast food that’s compromising your health has to change. If you want to keep the job then we need to agree on a budget that includes saving and how pocket money will be utilized. We wouldn’t allow you to spend money on drugs and alcohol and it’s not going to be acceptable to spend money on food that compromises your health either.
Once again we apologize for letting things get out of hand and we have to take responsibility for that as your parents. Once these adjustments have been made we’re confident that nothing will stand in your way to a happy and successful future.
Now, having made this clear to your son, Stacy, you and your husband need to demonstrate your resolve. If your son is not ready to go to church or school on time due to poor eating, you go without him and he loses privileges that might include going out with friends, screen time, cell phone use, etc. For how long? Until he makes it clear to you that he gets this accountability thing and he is committed to healthy eating and healthy money habits.
So parents and folks who work with parents and kids, nutrition is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. Kids and teenagers whine and fuss about food all the time, and that’s no reason to back off and ignore the issue. If you’re an empowered parent, by being clear and positive and not entering a control battle, children and teens will figure it out and accept your wise leadership.
Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to you Stacy for offering up your situation and your question.
If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.
Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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