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 Martel was a baby, I trusted him to nurse on demand, but somehow I didn’t make the leap to him eating when and what he wanted as he 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 Martel. Of course he would be grouchy like me when he didn’t eat. I had to make sure he ate every two-three hours whether he wanted to or not. No fast food, no junk food, only one sweet or sugary thing once in a while.

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

I have this vivid memory of sitting in Martel’s nana’s apartment soon after we moved back to our hometown. There were jellybeans in a bowl. Martel was four and wanted a jellybean. Ok Martel, 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 Martel. I had disempowered him and he needed to reclaim his 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 him and his temper.

The anger and outbursts lessened. They were not about the food he was (or wasn’t) eating. They were about the lack of control and total lack of freedom he had to choose when and what he wanted to eat. We stepped out of the cycle of control. I had been telling him by my actions that I knew his body better than he did. “Don’t trust your body Martel, trust what I say.” I taught him to not listen to his own body, but listen to this authority figure who claimed to know him better than he knew himself.

People will say, but he doesn’t have the experience to know what is good for him. You have to set appropriate and healthy boundaries. I used to believe that. Now I mostly believe in him. I believe in his wisdom and knowing his own body. And, he has incredible wisdom because he listens to his body.

It was a struggle for me to let go of the role I had learned and had embraced since he was born. I was the mom and I knew best. I was trained well to believe this. I rejected his 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 he knows his own body.

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 Martel.

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 Martel regained his freedom, he asked me to make him 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 he was watching his shows and eating while standing up.

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

He was so joyful. He was in a state of grace, eating exactly what he wanted, the way he wanted. He eats only what he wants. He listens to his body when he is full. He is not full of shame and guilt. He has 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, Martel has become so amazingly clear about what he wants. He won’t eat something just to eat something. If it doesn’t taste right to him, isn’t exactly what he wants, he doesn’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 he eats exactly the right food at the right time for his body. At least around food, the cycle of control has been broken. I have benefited from seeing how he lives with food and how he has 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.