Hesperian Health Guides
Harmful Ideas About Eating
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In many parts of the world, certain traditions and beliefs about women and food are more harmful than helpful. For example:
It is not true that girls need less food than boys. Some people believe that boys need more food. But these people are wrong! Women work just as hard as men in most communities, if not harder, and need to be as healthy. Girls who are healthy and well-fed during childhood grow up into healthy women, and have fewer problems at school and at work.
It is not true that women should avoid foods during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In some communities, people believe that a woman should avoid certain foods-like beans, eggs, chicken, milk products, meat, fish, fruits, or vegetables— at different times in her life. These times may include her monthly bleeding, pregnancy, immediately after childbirth, while breastfeeding, or during menopause. But a woman needs all these foods, especially during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Avoiding them can cause weakness, illness, and even death.
It is not true that a woman should feed her family first. A woman is sometimes taught to feed her family before herself. She eats only what is left and often does not get as much food as the rest of the family. This is never healthy. And when a woman is pregnant, or has just had a baby, it can be very dangerous.
If a family does not help a woman eat well, we encourage her to do what she must to get enough food. She may need to eat while cooking, or hide food and eat it when her husband is out of the house.
It is not true that a sick person needs less food than a healthy person. Good food not only prevents disease but also helps a sick person fight disease and become well again. As a general rule, the same foods that are good for people when they are healthy are good for them when they are sick.