It was about six o’clock in the evening when I parked my heavily branded work car several streets away from my destination… Was this too close? I looked around suspiciously, second-guessed myself, and drove another block away. It was a hot evening in one of those summers that lingers well into fall, but I forced myself into a thick hoody and pulled the hood over my head before opening the door of the car. Eyes down, shoulders hunched, I power walked towards the seductive smell of french fries.
By the time I walked into McDonalds I was sweating up a storm. After a furtive glance around me to check if there was anyone I knew around, I risked lowering my hood. This was a dangerous mission but so far it was going well. I was about six months into my first dietitian job, and I was risking my reputation as a perfect role model by being here. My work involved running ‘healthy eating’ education sessions at primary schools, many of which involved some classic scare tactics about how bad takeaways and the like are for you, and let me tell you, kids don’t forget shit. Driving around in my bright work car, known to hundreds of local children, I didn’t want anyone to recognize me ordering my Georgie Pie and lime milkshake.
I learnt a lot from that job, but there was very little room for nuance in the ‘healthy eating’ messages. Years and years later, I like to get my clients to focus on the good things to include in their diet, not the things to exclude. And if I had my time again, I’d definitely make an argument for this approach with the school kids as well. I don’t think lecturing about how much fat there is in takeaways is really helpful, because the thing is, takeaways can be fun! Not every day of course, but sometimes you get a hankering for a Georgie Pie and lime milkshake and nothing else will do. And that’s okay. There was no teaching about having a healthy relationship with food. And is that even something you can ‘teach’ to a child? Kids listen to what we say, sure, but mainly, they do what we do. When I ultimately moved on from that job it was partly because I thought teaching children about healthy eating simply wasn’t as effective as teaching their parents.
Now, when parents ask me what they should do to get their kids to eat well, I might give a few tips and tricks, but the main message is this: eat well yourself. And the parents that ask me what they should do to help cultivate a healthy body image for their children? Cultivate it for yourself. What about a healthy relationship with food, where it’s okay to have McDonalds occassionally but mostly you have homecooked stuff? Show them.
As for my pie and milkshake? I stuffed the pie in my bag, held the milkshake close to my chest, and hurried back to the car. I waited until I was safely ensconsed in my lounge to eat my spoils, and you know what? It tasted like heaven.