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Apple Juice

Lately, I have asked a number of parents about their feelings about their children consuming that favorite toddler libation, apple juice. Opinions on the topic naturally vary but the majority opinion on my biased sample is against the apple juice. It is interesting how attitudes have changed; when I was younger, apple juice was looked upon as an acceptable beverage, even when soda would have been restricted. Caffeine was forbidden to children of my era, which explains some of the tendency towards apple juice as the wholesome alternative to soda.

But now, the recommendations are to avoid juice. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, says “Juice is just like soda.” His view is probably more extreme than most (he also claims fructose is a dose-dependent toxin.) Nevertheless, he isn’t too far off, juice contains an awful lot of sugar. Twelve ounces of orange juice or apple juice contain about the same amount of calories as a twelve ounce soda. And most of the calories in the juices come from sugar, of course.

There are those who say that the type of sugar matters. HFCS-55, the most common form of high fructose corn sweetener is chemically similar to honey, in that it contains the same fructose/glucose proportion, by design. How does apple juice compare to that? Apples contain a 2 to 1 ratio of fructose/glucose, meaning apples actually contain more fructose than an HFCS sweetened soda. This carries over to the juice, so you can expect that your kid’s apple juice contains quite a bit of fructose. If fructose is a problem, and there is some evidence that it may be, apple juice is to be avoided.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice intake to 4-6 ounces a day for a small child. This is half a cup or half a twelve ounce serving. What’s interesting is that they recommend no more than 8-12 ounces (over two servings) for children over seven. Sounds good, until you realize that it should be the only sweet beverage the child consumes in that day. I think the Academy fails to see the forest through the trees. If the kids drinks a soda, they should not be drinking any juice, and if they drink juice, certainly no soda.

Based on my own personal experience and thirty-year battle with obesity, I would recommend no juice and no soda whatsoever. If that is not possible, then at least the juice and soda should only come out rarely (once or twice a week) and in juice glasses. For those of you who have never seen a real juice glass, the most common mid-20th-century model were 4-6 ounce capacity. There is a serios background element of the food industry pushing outsized (i.e. twelve ounce) portions for both juice and soda.

Final note: In researching this post, two things stuck out to me. The first is that soda is almost unquestionably designed to emulate juice in its sweetness and sugar content. The other was that HFCS is almost certainly designed to emulate honey in sweetness proportion of sugars. If you are adult, you are doing yourself no favor by treating the HFCS as problematic and the juice as perfectly healthful.

More on parents and food anxiety

Utne has a good piece on the parental role in setting children up for eating disorders. I agree with the position that childhood is ground zero for preventing adult obesity and eating disorders. While there are so many causal factors, attitudes towards food set up early in life may be the most important factor of all.

Truth about calories

There is an excellent post at Scientific American about calories in context. One of the most prevalent and perhaps erroneous assumptions about nutrition is that all of the energy in the foods you eat is bioavailable. This truth is more complex.

Parents and food anxieties

One of the things that stands out to me when thinking about my childhood is my parent’s attitudes towards my eating habits. You don’t remember the multitude of meals in your life, save for the highly emotional ones. The ones associated with an important life event – an engagement dinner. A particularly good meal – my first experience in a Michelin 3 star restaurant. You also remember the bad ones, a terrible attempt at pizza in some foreign tourist-trap district, the spoiled food, the thing that made you sick. One of the things I recall is anger directed at me because of my eating behaviors.

I grew up in the era when ‘finish everything on your plate’ was dominant (although it seems to be waning now that a third of the country is overweight.) It seems to me that this attitude, that one must eat everything served to them, comes from a variety of sources, but the three most prominent hypotheses in my mind are the following:

  • Scarcity – food scarcity was, and still is, a real problem for many people. In my own family, a depression-era mentality, indeed even a war, food-rationing mentality was passed down. You simply do not waste food in circumstances where you do not know where your next meal is coming from. A feast or famine existence was a fact for some of my predecessors. Of course, translate this to a middle-class, food abundant circumstance, and you have a recipe for overeating.
  • Discipline – the disciplinarian side of child rearing tends to engender this attitude. In this case, it is not the food itself that is at issue, but the child’s obedience to the parent. The child eats what is set forth in front of him to demonstrate obedience. Not eating all the food is a rejection of the parent’s authority.
  • Manners – it is simply impolite not to eat the food you are served. It is an insult to the host. Hence it is important for parents to ensure their children absorb this message and the custom is followed in the home. The children are representatives of the family and their behavior reflects directly on the parents as people and with respect to their abilities as parents.

Of course, all three of the above were at work in my childhood. Food was expensive when I was growing up (before the era of cheap sugar and cheap cooking oil.)  Expensive cuts of meat that I eat regularly as an adult were only seen once month, quarter, or even year in my household. Even something as humble as orange juice (always Frozen Concentrated, never fresh, often watered down below standard) was considered an expensive food item and was doled out in 4 oz portions. Compare that with today where I can get ‘fresh’ OJ at any corner store. Scarcity was a reality and food was not to be wasted. I could not help but to get the general message that food was not to be wasted. But I also got the more subtle messages. That certain foods were special, in a sense, luxuries. Ironically, many of the luxuries of my youth are now commonplace. The circumstances may have changed, but the attitudes have not.

But there was also the discipline (and related manners.) And this is where my parents failed me. They did not fail to create a disciplined, well-mannered child, but they created other counterproductive behaviors in the process of forming that child. I was, in a sense, coerced into eating food that I did not want and may have not even needed. This created an odd anxiety in myself that I only came to recognize much later – that food lying around must be eaten. I am made nervous by leftovers. A half-eaten box of cookies is unfinished business. There is an irresistible impulse to complete.

I wish that my parents had targeted different behaviors for me, or at least changed strategies when I became fat. I wish I had parents that had demonstrated and stated that you eat only as much as you need and no more. I wish they had done a better job communicating that food can be a pleasure, and not a burden, or a task. That there is a polite way to decline what you do not want. And finally, that the attitude about food scarcity, is appropriate when circumstances call for it, but damaging in another. And I wish that I had only learned this lesson on my own sooner.

When my eating habits changed, when I became an adult and ate out more often, it exacerbated my already present problems with overeating. It is no secret that the majority of restaurant portions have increased over the years. Couple the enhanced portions with an attitude that one must eat everything set before them and you have an eating problem that will culminate in overweight or obesity with practical certainty.

I’m not sure that I will ever be completely free of the anxiety that I learned about food. That being said, as a rational, intelligent person, I can learn to deal with the anxiety and subvert it. It has taken years to learn new attitudes about food. The most important tool to me has been to  recognize the anxiety and thoughtlessness that I experience with food. Recognizing an emotion is not as trivial, mindfullness takes great  effort. Much in the way that meditation takes years of practice before it produces the deeper insights; mindfullness of one’s anxieties is a journey.

With these anxious emotion recognized, felt, and understood, I can assume better control of my behavioral response to the emotion. And I have learned to change my typical pattern of response, overeating. My aware self says “you are anxious about the food, why is this?” I slow down and relax. “I’m not even sure myself, but it is making me behave in a way I would like not to.” and can ask “do I really want this food at all?” The answer may be yes, may be no, but now I know where I stand and can try to act according to my wishes.

Fat body vs. mind

I have now had a weight problem for thirty years. But what is the problem, really? I have found that it is not so much the weight itself, having had ups and downs and thinner and fatter periods in my life. There were times when you could say that I did not have a problem at all, that my weight was normal. But my weight never felt right and that was a problem indeed.

The problem is this: thirty years of failure to be the way I wanted to be. For the image of myself (always relative fatness) to match the person I thought I was inside. It was and remains the major source of conflict in my life. The conflict and the struggles is with my singular self. However, a weight problem has not been experienced that way for the individual experiencing it. Instead, it exists as a conflict between mind and body. The mind struggling to be thin, the body struggling to be fat.

But the splitting of mind and body is incorrect and by accepting the narrative of body and mind struggling with each other, we oversimplify to the point of missing the sources and consequences of this belief. In fact, the mind also wants to be fat as the body also wants to be thin. How can both conflicts possibly be true simultaneously? The simplified thinking does not allow for the problem to be this complex. But the fact is, both the body and the mind want to be both fat and thin in some respects.

The mind wants to think of itself a certain way and wants to body to match what it thinks. This is the identity problem in being obese or overweight. For many of us, it is impossible to square the identity of being a fat person with our aspirations (to be fit, attractive, all the other good things we associated with thin bodies.) It is impossible for many of us to accept ourselves and just be fat, because to do so would force us to confront all of the negative connotations of fatness and perhaps accept the negative aspects of our personalities. Thinness in also a proxy for pleasurable experiences we may associated with thinness; sexual desirability, admiration, freedom (lightness), wealth. The pleasurable associations of thinness are deeply programmed into us by our culture.

But this is to miss what the mind thinks about fatness. Fat also has strong pleasure associations. If you are fat, in a sense, there is nothing left to lose (your thinness,) so you may indulge yourself with relative abandon in the food and less active/more sedentary pleasures, of which there are many. And fat has its own sensual qualities (softness, femininity, comfort) which are deeply programmed by our experiences.

And then, there is the body. The body also enjoys the pleasure of food and sows the seeds of its own fatness by creating the appetite and reinforcing the behaviors that lead to fatness. Fat makes has a life of its own, it can create cravings and reinforce eating behaviors and it can do this against the desires of the mind. A paranoid reading of this unique ability might create the narrative of the fat conspiring against and perverting the desires of the mind. “Eat more of this” says the body and the the persuasion is so great, the mind is seduced yet again. The body can prevent us from moving, even when it would be better for us to move (i.e. perhaps to exercise.)

Somehow all of this needs to be resolved, whether in favor of fat or thin, and to end the struggle, end the weight problem. In other words, unification of the identity (the mind’s idealization, the body’s actuality, or vice-versa) and harmonization of the desires of the two.


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