Do you want chips with that?

11Jun10

photo copyright Katherine Wildman 2010

I remember a scene from the extraordinary television series, ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’ where a group of school children stood around a kitchen counter and watched as Jamie Oliver made chicken nuggets. These tasty little morsels were not made from strips of pale pink chicken breast, not from the slightly darker pink thighs. Rather they were a concoction of mechanically retrieved meat stripped from the bare carcasses of birds.

Once the food processor that was being used to strip the meat from the bones had finished whizzing and grinding Oliver held up its contents to the children and asked them what they thought. The room resounded with groans and cartoon-esque retches and gasps at the grisly mixture on show. Oliver then presented the children with an oven tray filled with freshly roasted chicken drumsticks and he grinned from ear to ear as each child dived forwards to take hold of a piece of the roasted meat and proceeded to bite great big chunks of it.

News this week then that Head Teachers are being asked to shut school gates at mealtimes to stop pupils leaving behind the healthy options at the school canteen to buy take-aways loaded with fat and salt is both shocking and depressing.

Burgers, deep-fried chicken, cheesy chips and kebabs … Do you know what your child ate at school today?

Take-away foods are often what the American writer David A. Kessler describes as ‘hyper palatable’ in his recently published book, The End of Overeating. Such foods are seducing our children into a diet that is putting them at risk of higher blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

Rob Rees, a chef and Chairman of the School Food Trust, the government body that oversees the quality of what pupils eat at school, said in The Observer newspaper:

“Parents will be shocked to realise that their teenagers could be getting more than a day’s dose of salt before they even get home from school.”

Foods high in salt, fat and sugar are often those we turn to in times of comfort and by getting ‘hooked’ on such foods at a young age children are putting themselves at risk of serious illness later in life. A heady combination of hot salt and fat, found for example in a kebab or a deep friend chicken wing, gives a sensory food hit that is hard to replicate with a bowl of salad or a cheese and tomato sandwich on wholemeal bread.

So – what can we do to stop the chip craving culture?

We can start by consciously choosing to eat more healthily – and if they are too large – by cutting down on our portion sizes. This helps remove the chips from the equation – but what about the cravings?

Cravings stem from a need to comfort or to dull an ache. The ‘ache’ may be boredom, it may be stress or loneliness, it maybe anything you’d rather not think about for a while – and so you eat to take the pain away. This is called Emotional Eating.  With exams and workloads, peer pressure, relationship strains and worries about the future to deal with it’s unsurprising that children are turning to food as a method of support.   What’s frightening though, is the damage they could be doing to themselves.

There are many ways to change this relationship with food.  Emotional or comfort eating can lead to excessive weight gain which in turn can increase those very unhappy feelings and negative emotions the eating was trying to get rid of.  An effective way to overcome these cravings is by combining hypnotherapy with cognitive behaviour therapy.  Cognitive Behaviour Hypnotherapy (CBH) helps people change how they think about and relate to food.  If people can learn to put up with feeling uncomfortable – e.g. bored or upset – and learn to cope in a more helpful way with the pressures of life they are less likely to turn to food to feel better.  To find out more about this go to www.emotionaleater.co.uk. Learn to control your responses and feel better about yourself.

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