Green is the New Black ;
Teens, Moms and the Psychosocial barriers to Healthy Eating
A friend and I were having a conversation about a group of young teens coming to her house for a fall cookout. We were laughing about teens and dating. It brought me back to my own painful teenage years of yearning over certain boys. While we were talking she told me about what she was serving for the teens. She said that she bought some chips to serve because she does “not want to them to think she is one of those health freak moms” “ I want them to want to come back”. I had a similar conversation about teens and concession stands. The same mentality prevails in the thousands of moms running Snack Shacks and Sports Concessions stands. The belief that they will only make money if junk food is served lives on. Moms say things like ” the kids do not want the healthy food” and “we want them to come back any buy more”.
I have been thinking about these statements ever since. This is not the first of that type of comment I have heard. I hear healthy moms all the time say things about how they don’t want others to think of them as healthy. Moms don’t want other moms to think they are un-cool if they are not drinking diet coke and running through the Chick-fil-a drive through once a week. I even had a doctor friend tell me she was not serving a particular healthy dish to a social group because she did not want to burden people with her issues.
As a health coach I find these statements very troubling. The perceptions we have about what people think about us has far more impact on living a healthy lifestyle than most people realize. These are the questions that have come to my mind. Why are moms worried about what some teens will think? Are moms afraid of what teens will think of them or what the teens will think of their child? Are they afraid the kids won’t want to come back to their house again? Are moms worried people will not socialize with them or want to be their friend because of what foods they serve?
The psychosocial interplay between food and friendships is huge in every culture. Food is so often linked with friends. As misguided as it is, we associate food with friendship. The marketing scheme that Coca Cola has going right now is pure genius. Over the last 30 years they have perfected the art of linking a beverage with fun and friendship. They want you to make a link that to have friends you need to have a Coke product. Who would not want a fun can with their name on it?!? My teen wanted one the second she saw that. I fight against an onslaught of media that often speaks louder than my single mom voice.
As much as I worry about the moms, It’s the kids and teens that are most on my mind. If their healthy moms are unable to set a healthy example in a social situation, what messages are the kids learning?
Elementary and teen years are crucial for setting up the health lifestyle for the rest of their lives. If they learn that serving chips and candy is what you need to do to keep people coming back, that is what they will do for their lifetime as well.
Sometimes we think in our own minds that other people will not eat something we want to serve. We sabotage ourselves. A perfect example is when I wanted to serve Energy Balls.
This summer I really wanted to promote healthy eating with the swim team by introducing some alternative items to the Saturday morning meet snack shack. I made some Gluten free, protein packed, Energy Balls (see recipe section). I planned to set them out as free samples. The chairperson of the snack shack put them out with a sign that said $1 each. I thought she was crazy!! Who would buy those for $1 each!??
This is where my own fears, doubts and perceptions of people clouded my own health coach brain. I too was caught up in what people would think. Would they be rolling their eyes at me? Was this too out there for a laidback summer swim team? I had doubts.
You know what? They were all gone within an hour! People were coming up to me asking for the recipe and thanking me for having some alternative at the Snack Shack. It was a small victory for promoting healthy snacks.
As I learned that day, we need to put aside the fear and social constructs we make about healthy food and friends. Kids and Teens DO want healthy foods. We just need to serve it. If we know something tastes good, other people will think it tastes good too. It doesn’t matter if it’s made of Kale or Chia seeds or Broccoli. If it tastes good people will eat it. Instead of focusing on the conversation, the friendship and the content of getting together, we are making the focus about food. If we can’t break the bond of food and friendship we need to change the game; associate healthy food with friendship.
These conversations I have had hit home why I went into Health coaching instead of a Registered Dietician in the first place. Health coaching is much more than talking about nutrition and eating Kale. Health coaching is about getting to the barriers that keep us from being healthy. Social pressures and social perceptions are some of those psychosocial aspects to health that play a huge role in how people eat. Kale may taste just fine to a person but the social stigma that Kale carries makes it seem distasteful. Kale is “yucky” because it is healthy. We associate healthy food with tasting bad. Undoing those associations our brains make with food is a challenge far harder than eating the food itself. For those of us who have developed poor relationships with food as teens, we really struggle as adults. We need help undoing the associations our brains have made. Educating our children now about foods and by modeling and serving healthy food that tastes good is key to preventing the kids from making their own poor relationships with food.
We need to deconstruct the bond that forms in kids heads that junk food=friendship=cool people. If one group of teens starts eating healthy foods, a little grass movement trend will start. They will all start eating health things. Green will be the new black. They will be looking for that Kale on the school salad bar that the teens lobbied the school for instead of the Gatorade, chips and pizza from the school snack shack.
How to we get our teens to start a health trend?
- It starts with the Moms. First we start by Modeling the Behavior. If we are telling them to eat healthy but then serve junk food at parties we are sending a mixed message. We teach them that junk food is how you make friends.
- Get the teens involved; The Buy-In. Not all teens are going to like all foods. My own teen refuses to try any new foods if she thinks it “has stuff in it”. Trying healthy food in different ways with teens and any age kids is essential. They may not like roasted peppers in the fajitas but maybe they will like raw peppers. Maybe they will like peppers in a soup instead of more whole. Its an experiment. It’s trial and error. Sometimes you will want bang your head on the wall. It’s about the “Buy-In”. Ask them to pick out and help you make a healthy recipe. If they have buy-in to the food, they will be more likely to eat it and pay it up to their friends.
- Make it social. Once you find some really good things your teen loves, those are the things you serve for their friends. You child will be more likely to rave about it and talk it up. Have a homemade pizza party or a backyard watermelon bash. Peer pressure in teens is not going anywhere. So change the peer pressure to a healthy pressure. One of my favorite teen moments was watching my daughter’s friend try to get my daughter to eat veggies and hummus. She may not have become a hummus lover…or even a liker… but the example has been set that healthy foods are good and you don’t need chips to have a good time.
Do you hear that moms?? You do not need chips and soda to have a good time.
Green in the new black my friends. Green your teen.
Stuck with how to start? I can do Health coaching sessions with you targeted at “Greening your teen”. Does your teen need to hear it themselves? Sign up for a teen workshop series for your teen and their friends. We can customize the workshops to fit your schedule.