Belfast Telegraph

How food fads fed Cherry's resolve for her own children

Growing up as an anxious eater herself, Cherry Healey knows how easy it can be for unhealthy habits to set in

By Prudence Wade

It took her 30 years to achieve a relaxed relationship with eating. TV presenter Cherry Healey has worked on various food-related shows over her career, like Inside The Factory and Britain's Favourite Supermarket Foods, but for most of her life food was a source of anxiety for the now 37-year-old.

It is, of course, something many people will relate to - from being overwhelmed by pictures of the so-called 'perfect bodies' (read: skinny), to feeling the pressure to try the latest fad diets (which, more often than not, aren't sustainable and can even be damaging to your mental and physical health).

Now that Healey is older and wiser, she doesn't want her own two children to grow up with the same feelings around food that she had. Her daughter Coco and son Bear are four and eight respectively, and Healey is on a mission to help them foster a healthy attitude towards food.

"When I was growing up, I really got into the diet cycle," Healey confesses. "I tried everything - all the diet foods full of weird chemicals. They had the most amazing list of ingredients, just like something out of a science-fiction film.

"My weight was really difficult to control, I was miserable, I hated food, and I was never full or satisfied."

Reaching the age of 30 proved to be a big turning-point. "I decided to stop being scared of real food, and ate proper, nutritious food," she recalls.

It might sound like a no-brainer, but for Healey, this was a big shift - but one that ended up making her feel so much better. "I got full, I had more energy, and I didn't have to eat as much because my brain was getting the message that it was satisfied," she explains, of how things changed once her approach to eating shifted.

"Now I eat things like cheese and pasta," she adds with a giggle, "which my 20-year-old self wouldn't have believed!"

Now that Healey has stopped eating food that's packed full of chemicals, she wants the same for her children. Much to her surprise, a lot of the snacks she's been buying have a whole host of 'hidden' nasty ingredients in them. "I'm really keen to have good, wholesome food," she says. "Your body shouldn't have loads of unusual chemicals in it, and I want the same for my kids - I want them to love food and not be pumped full of salt, flavourings and everything artificial."

Salt has been a particularly thorny issue in Healey's quest for healthy snacks. "The amount of salt in some children's snacks is staggering," she says in disbelief. "If your kid is having that, it'll blow their heads off, and all the other food you're making will seem incredibly bland to them."

Healey knows how damaging an unhealthy relationship with food can be.

"I don't want food to become a point of anxiety for my children," she says.

"Food should be a nice, lovely thing - not an emotional crutch. If my children fall over, then I give them a big hug and lots of love, instead of them going to the sweetie jar. I don't placate them with snacks or sweets. I don't want them to grow up associating emotions with food."

Growing up, many of us remember being forced to always finish all the food on our plates. However, this is not something Healey believes in now that she is a mother herself. "I use the word 'full' a lot in our house," she says. "I never, ever make them eat once they say they're full. I think that's quite different to my mum's generation, where there was a real thing about eating everything on your plate, but then you push yourself past fullness."

Healey is working on helping her kids recognise when they're full, and then stopping eating. She believes eating past this point is when children can develop a tricky, and potentially damaging, relationship with food.

"I've learned so much about the word 'full'," she explains. "It's all about eating proper food and allowing yourself to eat to the point that you're full, but not beyond. When I'm full, I don't need to snack - I won't come down and raid the bread drawer or eat four bowls of cereal at midnight and then regret it."

Cherry Healey has partnered with baby and toddler food brand Organix to launch a nationwide junk-busting campaign. Join the debate on social media and share what you find with the hashtag #FoodYouCanTrust

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