Saturday, September 27, 2008

Little Sugar Addicts

I picked up this book by Kathleen DesMaisons at the library because the title was interesting to me. I had no idea what it was really about or anything, but once I started reading it, I realized that the author has a series of books for adults as well (Potatoes Not Prozac, The Sugar Addict's Total Recovery Program, and Your Last Diet), one of which I think my friend Becky recommended to me. And I think this book has a lot of good things to say about how much an unhealthy diet can affect our children's behaviors and abilities and how little we sometimes notice this, or how little we think we can change it.

Unfortunately, there were also a lot of things in this book that I did NOT like. First of all, I don't want to be recommended a bunch of sugar-free substitutes that are still sweet. I am not a fan of diet sodas or really any kind of artificial sweeteners. I think you should go whole hog for NATURAL sweets like fruits if you're going to be focusing on a healthy diet and cutting out things that may be adversely affecting your children.

Also, the author mentions over and over again how everything that's wrong with your child is not your fault, how diet is the answer. Well. I definitely think that cutting the vast majority of empty sugars out of your child's diet will have a positive impact on his or her behavior. But I got tired of her assuring me that there's no way my parenting skills might play into the problem, or that there's nothing else in my life I can improve to also help my children.

For me, the worst was reading about Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Do you know about this? It's a new psychological disorder diagnosis defined as "a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present: 1. often loses temper 2. often argues with adults 3. often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules 4. often deliberately annoys people 5. often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior 6. is often touchy or easily annoyed by others 7. is often angry and resentful 8. is often spiteful or vindictive."

This is highly disturbing to me. As an anthropologist, I feel that the diagnoses found in a psychology manual are often more reflective of a society's values and issues than of an empirical medical diagnosis, and it really really bothers me that people can't see that perhaps this type of behavior is a) normal for a child (hello, teenagers?), b) caused by inflexible or unsure parenting, c) caused by unrealistic expectations, d) caused by a complete lack of respect for children's autonomy and emotions, or e) all of the above, and potentially other causes too, like lack of education about and experience of how to eat healthily and get enough exercise.

Just think about it. How many people have a boss who exhibits those exact symptoms? How many times do you think a child might act out to be reassured that you love him or her? How many times are your requests or demands of your children unreasonable? How many times do YOU exhibit any of the symptoms IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN WHO ARE ALWAYS COPYING WHAT YOU DO?

Anyway. So that part was total and complete crap and really bothered me, obviously, but I'm going to try to get past that and explain what I thought was really GREAT about this book. The author isn't trying to get you to put your child on a diet. She knows that won't work, that for the rest of your child's life he or she will have to make many, many decisions without you and will have many sugary temptations (and others as well) and will have to learn to make smart decisions alone. And this book describes a way to teach your children how sugar affects their bodies, to show them why they might not want to eat that ice cream at Grandma's or their friend's extra candy bar. And that is a priceless lesson. That is what children need to know. That is, in fact, a good metaphor for what I think parenting should be: teaching your children, showing them, letting them experiment and find out for themselves how things work and how to live life when you're not around.

So, I recommend this book, but with reservations. And I will try some of her recipes, but not the ones that include tons of pork product. =)

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