Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: Parental No Files - The Exhausted Dietitian Mom

Today's guest posting comes from Registered Dietitian and blog reader Rebecca Davids. It seems my "Parental No" files struck a cord in her - so much so that she felt compelled to write to me and at my request, agreed to allow me to post her letter to me as a guest posting.

[BTW - you can follow Rebecca on Twitter]
The Exhausted Dietitian Mom

I am exhausted. I really am.

I have 6 year old twins – a boy and a girl. No they are not identical (that is a different rant). I say ‘no’ a lot. All the time in fact. More than I should have to. It is really starting to annoy me.

Like most parents, I’ve found myself entrenched in the world of extra-curricular activities. Two kids, very different interests and abilities result in weekly trips to my local swimming school, recreation centre, hockey arena and dance school. Again, like many parents, each week I strive to give my kids both structured and unstructured physical activity opportunities. Here’s the thing, each and every time my kids head off to one of their activities, they are inundated with junk food offers and unhealthy messages.

A few cases in point:

Swimming – My local swim school gets the award for worst offender possible. Access to junk food and offering ‘treats’ as reward is constant. There is a vending machine full of candy, an eye-level glass display case at the front desk full of candy, pop and chips and ‘treats’ given at the end of each session and at each holiday. I cannot count the number of kids that march out of swimming lessons, presumably heading home for dinner, sucking away on a ring pop.

Dance studio – until this year there was an actual ROOM full of chocolate bars, candy, potato chips, juice etc. This year the dedicated room is gone, but you can still find a selection of junk in the studio ‘store’. In their summer camp brochure, they encourage parents to pre-purchase a ‘card’ so your child can buy items at the tuck shop during the day.

Hockey/local arena – Let’s start with the fact that my kid is called a “TimBit”. Not that he isn’t incredibly adorable. He is, as are all the other 6 year olds with jerseys down to their knees skating and sliding all over the ice, but here’s the thing - there really isn’t any other hockey option in Canada. All kids in his division are TimBits and based on the uniforms of the bigger kids I see in the arena, he’ll graduate into a McDonald’s sponsored jersey next. Once we get past the sponsorship we move on to the snack bar and likely, not much has to be said here. Healthy options are just not on the menu. The only saving grace about the arena and rec centre is that these are ‘public spaces’ and I also know rec centres are on the agenda of public health for action. I also know how long it takes to change things.

At each and every one of their activities ‘junk food’ plays a part. The message my kids get week after week is –“Exercise, play hard and be physical – good job! Now go have some junk food to reward yourself!” At age six, and despite my best efforts, they do associate success, play, and winning with ‘treats’. It drives me batty.

It isn’t just sports and activities. The pervasive junk food offerings are just as common at school – the fundraisers, the ‘special’ days and the hot-lunch offerings. It is also at summer camp and really, pretty much each and every place we go as a family.

So, back to why I’m exhausted.

It isn’t because life is busy. It isn’t because my kids will ask me on a weekly basis for a chocolate, donut or ring pop. I don’t blame them – they are six and there is a yummy sweet snack in their face. It is their job to check me out to see if I’ll say yes.

I’m plain tired (and getting pissed off too) that I have to say no. All the time. I have to say no more than I should have to.

See it is easy for me to say no. I’ve never said yes. Not once. My kids don’t actually expect me to get them junk food after their activities. In fact, I’m sure they would be shocked. It isn’t that I don’t say yes to less than healthy foods – trust me, I do, but I do so at the times and locations of my choice.

So then I was thinking. It is easy (albeit exhausting) for me to say no. I know why I need to say no. I have two degrees in food and nutrition. I work as a dietitian in public health, which means I talk food and nutrition for a living and I’m paid to be well-read on the subject. I’m also fortunate enough to have the financial means to buy tasty fruits and vegetables that might not be on sale. I have the time, energy and a support system to ensure I provide homemade meals and snacks. I can experiment with all sorts of healthy recipes and dishes. I also can make the time to cook and bake with my kids – creating foods at home that are as ‘cool’ as the stuff in the store.

I know how exhausting it is to say no all the time to the pervasive junk food offerings. I know it is even harder for others. As a dietitian-mom, I feel for the moms (and dads too) who struggle to afford healthy foods, struggle to create a home where healthy food is the norm and where affording a relatively inexpensive ‘treat’ is the maximum they can buy for their child, not the minimum. I feel for the moms who don’t have the extra time, energy or resources to teach their kids to cook or experiment with healthy food.

So that is it. I’m tired. I’m tired of saying no when I should not be put in the position in the first place. I’m tired of, in spite of my best interests and teaching, that my kids are inundated with the messages of junk food – all the time.

Where does that leave me (and likely many others)? Other than being a royally pissed off dietitian-mom? Overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation and how to change it. Frustrated by the pace of change, but resigned that this is going to take a generation to shift. Motivated by people who are speaking out. Ready to jump in and do my part.

I’m ready to start filling the sandbags. One at a time.

Rebecca Davids, MSc, RD