Driving back from St. Louis on Monday morning, I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition. The story about how parenting style plays a role in teen binge drinking reminded me of how our own attitudes towards ourselves affect our eating behavior. The study by researcher Stephen Bahr at Brigham Young University looked at three types of parenting styles—strict (typically called authoritarian), indulgent (or permissive), and a style that borrows something from the two extremes(typically called authoritative). The style associated with the lowest levels of problem drinking, was the authoritative style. It includes holding the teen accountable and having consequences for behavior, together with warmth and support. The indulgent style was associated with the highest levels of binge drinking, closely followed by the strict parenting style.
Back at the office, I went to Google scholar (a great place to find research articles). When I put in parenting styles, I immediately found an article in the journal, Pediatrics, that looked at the effects of parenting styles on children with regard to overweight status. Here, too, it was discovered that a strict, authoritarian style was associated with the highest risk of overweight among young children, followed by permissive and neglectful styles, with an authoritative style being least associated with overweight status.
It seems that finding a balance between rules and permissiveness, coupled with kindness and compassion for the complexity of negotiating our eating lives would be the best approach. So as the 2011 approaches, be careful not to set up too strict of rules for yourself (we know that most diets don’t work) or decide just not to care. New Year’s resolutions can be destined to fail if we set unrealistic goals or they are too unclear. However, they can be a great as a way of reflecting on your values and reviewing your priorities. Try to approach yourself in the new year as if you were making a new friend (or engaging in good parenting). How would you treat this person? What kind of food would you feed him/her? How would you encourage or support healthy behavior?
For myself, I noticed sugar overload setting in last night as I made my way through a bite of each of the candies and chocolates left over from the holidays. I was not really enjoying the flavors or the tastes. When I found myself forcing myself to finish a piece of candy because I had started it, I realized that I only eating it because it was there. Well, it isn’t any longer. It’s in the trash. As people in my classes have heard me say before, “it’s no more wasteful to throw away food you don’t want into the trashcan as it is to put it into your stomach.” I can be kind to myself in this way today and not feel guilty that I have been wasteful. In fact, I can feel good about having invested wisely in my own health. I’ll eat something sweet again, most likely today, because I have permission to do so and I enjoy my piece of chocolate after lunch. I don’t want the consequences of (nor do I enjoy) overindulgent eating OR the deprivation of having nothing. I can find my balance in the middle of those two extremes.
Wishing you a happy new year, filled with mindful choices that feed your body, mind, heart.