Breaking the Cycle of Control: Our Relationships with Food

The “one-jelly-bean” mom

When I decided to get pregnant, I jumped into organic and natural, unprocessed foods with both feet. I quit my daily habit of two café lattes a day and committed to “cleaning up my act.” During my pregnancy I read about all the things I could do to make sure my son would eat and want healthy foods. No sugar for the first three years, according to Dr. Sears, would ensure he would not crave sweet foods. I asserted my need to control through food in the family.

When I look back at this need to control, I know that so much of it is a desire to regain the power I lost as a child. I still struggle with this loss and have had to work to not use that loss as an excuse to exercise power over those around me, especially the children in my life.

When the first child in my life was a baby, I trusted the child to nurse on demand, but somehow I didn’t make the leap to letting the child eat when and what they wanted as they grew older. I hadn’t yet examined and “discovered” my adultism and how fully indoctrinated I was in the belief that only adults could determine what a child should eat.

I projected many things onto this child. Of course they would be grouchy like me when they didn’t eat. I had to make sure the child ate every two-three hours whether they wanted to or not. No fast food, no junk food, only one sweet or sugary thing once in a while.

I was sure that their anger and outbursts were the result of low blood sugar or eating the wrong thing. It would have NEVER occurred to me that this anger could be the result of being oppressed by my use of power and control me until almost a year later.

I have this vivid memory of sitting in their Nana’s apartment soon after we moved back to our hometown. There were jellybeans in a bowl. They were four and wanted a jellybean. “Ok,” I said, “you can have a jellybean, but ONLY one.” I was a “one jelly bean” mom.

Lifting the Veil of Oppression

As a result of lifting the veil on my oppressive behavior, I began to let go and trust the child. I had disempowered them and they needed to reclaim their personal power and right to self-determination. All along Martel had been claiming his power. My socialization taught me this behavior was called temper tantrums and it was inappropriate and disrespectful. As a parent it was my responsibility to tame the child, tame the temper.

The anger and outbursts lessened. They were not about the food the child was (or wasn’t) eating. They were about the lack of control and total lack of freedom they had to choose when and what they wanted to eat. We stepped out of the cycle of control. I had been telling the child through my actions that I knew their body better than they did. “Don’t trust your body, instead you must trust what I say.” I taught the child in my life to not listen to their own body, but listen to this authority figure who claimed to know them better than they knew themselves.

People will say, but children don’t have the experience to know what is good for them. You have to set appropriate and healthy boundaries. I used to believe that. Now I mostly believe in the child, the person. I believe in their wisdom and knowing their own bodies. And, they have incredible wisdom because they listen to their bodies.

It was a struggle for me to let go of the role I had learned and had embraced since the first child in my life was born. I was the mom and I knew best. I was trained well to believe this. I rejected a child’s right to self-determination. With help from others and continuing to challenge myself to move out of the cycle of control, I have slowly learned that only the child really knows their own bodies. We might be able to ask questions, to reflect back, but knowing only the person in the body really knows.

I remember when people would tell me how to feel or what I should be doing as a child. I hated it. I felt diminished and began to lose my connection to my own power. Despite feeling this, I still imposed control on the child in my life.

The cycle of socialization can be all encompassing. We lose our power as children (and hate it) and this power is replaced by the teachings of our institutions that tell us we must do the same to our children if we are to be good parents.

Reclaiming His Power

About a year after the first child in my life regained his freedom, they asked me to make them a pop tart and egg toast. I made the pop tart, then the toast. I sat down to eat my own breakfast at the table and the child was watching shows and eating while standing up.

I was casually watching the child. But then I really observed what the child was doing. I saw the joy with which they ate both the pop tart and the toast. They would pick up the piece of pop tart or toast, look at it, decide where to bite and chew slowly. They then would look up again at exactly where they wanted to bite, take the bite and chew.

I saw joy,  a state of grace, eating exactly what they wanted, the way they wanted. The children in my life now only eat what they want. When their bodies are full, they stop. Neither one is full of shame and guilt. They both have wisdom that I can only hope to regain. I am sure I had it once, but I was not trusted to know myself and my own body. And I have continued to live the story of distrust.

As more time has passed, both children in my life have become so amazingly clear about what they wants. They won’t eat something just to eat something. If it doesn’t taste right to, isn’t exactly what the wants, they don’t eat it. Traditional control parenting, the kind that allows the cycles of socialization and control to continue, would tell me I was creating a picky eater. What I see is that each eats exactly the right food at the right time for their body. At least around food, the cycle of control has been broken. I have benefited from seeing how they live with food and how they have a healthy relationship with food. I hope to keep learning from seeing this relationship unfold everyday.


Let me tell you a bit more about food and our experiences. Both of the children in my life have food sensitivities and reactions. Many parents I work with believe that letting go of control means that their child will eat all the things that trigger them. But there are real ways as parents that we can balance everyone’s need and sensitivities and help children get a stronger connection to their bodies. I have personal experience and have worked with other parents specifically around this issue. Let’s talk and work together to reduce stress, create peace and balance. Learn more.