Chocolate, kids, mums and moderation (National Chocolate Week)

October 13, 2011 in Latest, Mums tips

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Photo by noukorama via Flickr Creative Commons

As part of National Chocolate Week, Leah has been thinking about the relationship we have with chocolate, and how this affects our children.

In the UK, chocolate has become so cherished that it now has its very own annual celebration. This week (10-17th Oct) thousands of chocolate lovers up and down the country will be salivating and drooling as they make their way to the many special events and exhibitions being held to pay homage to this universal treasure.

For a timetable of events head to the official Chocolate Week website.

Our love affair with chocolate

Britain is so devoted to this sweet treat that we have the second highest consumption rate in Europe (the Swiss, who are renowned for their high quality chocolate, have the highest). According to The World Atlas of Chocolate, the average Brit eats 17.49lbs of chocolate per year, that equates to three chocolate bars a week. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but if I said to you that’s 156 Mars Bars a year, I’m sure you’ve started calculating the calories that it adds up to.

Friend or enemy

For a grown woman, chocolate can be our friend and enemy. When we feel the sensation of the chocolate melting in our mouth we go weak at the knees, but five minutes afterwards, we’re typically consumed with regret and spend the next few hours telling everyone and anyone how we wish we hadn’t eaten it. In some cases, the days that follow are spent analysing our bodies as though we are waiting for a chocolate bar shaped layer of fat appear on our stomach and thighs.

Children and chocolate

When it comes to children, a lot of parents out there see it as the peacekeeper or use it as a negotiation tool. We have no qualms in pacifying or rewarding our little ones with a chocolaty treat…is that right? Are we setting a good example for them? Do we need to concern them at such a young age about the pitfalls of indulgence?

According to recent research, more than one in three British children aged five to 13 are already overweight or obese; maybe we do. But the flip side of that is neither do we want to make food an enemy and allow young minds to become absorbed with the same thoughts that we as women sometime struggle to deal with.

I have two older brothers and when we were younger both of them were pretty skinny. Nothing they ate seemed to make any difference to their small frame. I on the other hand, was a little chubster. I wasn’t massively overweight, but I was definitely on the plump side.

Trick or treat?

Growing up in my family, food (particularly sweet stuff) was always readily available. My mum wanted to show us in every way how much we were loved and that included indulging us with our favourite food. She allowed us to make our own choices as it made us happy and mum’s main motive in life was for her children to be content. So chocolate was never a treat, it was staple part of our lives.

Even as a child, I always knew in some ways that chocolate was “naughty”. I had friends that would come to my house and their eyes would light up when they saw our huge plastic box filled with an extensive selection of chocolate, sweets and biscuits. It was quite obvious that they did not have the same at home and I always knew there was a reason for that.

Striking a balance with food

This is a hard thing to say, but I think my parents were maybe a little ignorant or dismissive of the effect that their desire to make us happy had on all three of us. By no means were they bad parents, but by not striking a balance with food, we were unable to grow up with a sensible attitude to it.

Tim became very fussy and throughout his teens and twenties – his diet consisted of chips, crisps, coke and chocolate. Whilst Adam would eat proper meals, he never really knew when to stop eating and now in his late 30s, he really struggles to keep his weight down. At twelve I developed an eating disorder. It felt like some sort of rebellion I guess, I didn’t deliberately set out to hurt my parents, but I think in some ways I blamed them for me being chubby and I was using food as a weapon.

If chocolate were alcohol

It’s funny really, because when it came to alcohol, my parents were firm but sensible in the way they approached drinking with us. We were allowed a little drink on special occasions or if my parents had friends round for dinner. So they never said “you can’t drink”. However when Adam came home drunk at 15, dad took him straight to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. The action dad took was his way of saying if you do drink beware of the consequences. I can honestly say that today, neither myself or my brothers today are big drinkers, I’m actually tee total. Now, had they taken a similar approach to junk food then maybe our relationship with food might have been a little different.

Achieving moderation

I suffered with anorexia pretty much throughout my teens and it took me until I was in my mid-twenties to learn to not see food as an enemy but as something than can be enjoyed. Having denied myself for years, I began to re-introduce the foods that I loved as a child – including chocolate – and today I can appreciate the pleasure that it brings.

It is however, all done in moderation and I think the same should be done when it comes to our children. I love my children very much but through my experience I’ve learnt that food should not be used as a source of affection or as a pacifier. I want them to enjoy food, so it’s not about denying them of certain things like chocolate but trying to help them appreciate that it shouldn’t be used as the only thing that can provide comfort and happiness.

What do you think?