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Carolyn Hax: Protecting kids from their parents’ food issues

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: My wife refuses to change her diet and grocery shopping to accommodate my health needs and those of our kids. Everything she gets is processed grains and sugar. My doctor recently recommended losing weight, and exercise won’t cut it. But because she had an eating disorder when she was a teenager, she defends her actions by saying I should be happy she’s eating at all.

I’m at my wits’ end. If I step in and start doing more grocery shopping, it will be, “You don’t trust me to do anything right” – but she’s also not compromising on frozen pizzas, crackers, sugary cereals.

How can I approach this conversation with her that won’t lead to confrontation? – Anonymous

Your wife has said two very important things already: her history of disordered eating is still in the present and very much on her mind; and her way of dealing with it involves frozen pizzas, crackers and sugary cereals.

It may seem obvious that her food choices are unhealthy and therefore an appropriate target for spousal persuasion, but even though “health” is one category, you and she – and your kids – have very different, very specific needs that fall under that heading.

With her grocery shopping, she takes care of her needs. She buys whatever food will keep her eating.

That you not disrupt this fragile balance is a valid thing for her to ask of you. She may not be making this request in those exact words, but her claims and deeds and history in combination are saying it for her.

So don’t disrupt it, and instead take care of your needs on your own: Shop for and prepare what you need to eat.

If your wife responds to that by saying, “You don’t trust me to do anything right,” then respond to her with validation, compassion and a pragmatic alternate viewpoint. “I can see how you’d think that. But I’m trusting you to do what you need for your own health – and you’re right to do it. It’s just time for me to manage my own health instead of asking you to manage it for me.”

This brings us to your kids and their distinct need in this household. With you and your wife both fighting important battles involving food, the most important thing you can do together is not create any (further) association in your kids’ minds between eating and conflict.

Once made, a connection like that is very difficult to break – and if food becomes problematic for them, it’s not as if they can just remove it from their lives like people do with, say, alcohol or porn or abusive relatives. People with food issues have to face their demons every day for the rest of their lives. You and your wife both know this the hard way.

So please make this the only conversation you approach with your wife on the subject: “What our kids eat is not important compared with the way you and I handle food. What do you think about giving our kids both kinds of food in balance, and agreeing not to disagree?”

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