Training in Self-Indulgence?


We left off by observing that non-nutritive sucking behavior is an area where many factors are in play. Everybody wants to know whether the use of a pacifier somehow causes obesity, but the clues about the relationship are elusive and fragmentary.

Libby Anne, who writes the “Love, Joy, Feminism” blog, reviewed Chapter 15 of To Train Up a Child by Michael Pearl. The book, described as a child-rearing manual, contains a chapter titled “Training in Self-Indulgence” and that is what we are looking at, a long excerpt from the chapter, and then Libby Anne’s comments.

Pearl approaches from a philosophical angle that informs his opinions, such as:

I am convinced that parents who provide emotional consolation through food or the sucking sensation are training their children to be self-gratifying and indulgent. Not only is he failing to learn self-control, HE IS LEARNING TO COPE BY PUTTING SOMETHING IN HIS MOUTH.

The advice is useful, even if the labeling might be gratuitous and unnecessary. We certainly don’t want to raise our children to cope with life’s problems by overeating. Pearl makes some cogent points. For instance, he emphasizes that when habits take root early, they tend to grow stronger and be more difficult to eliminate.

Almost no one in the obesity field would dispute that. Pearl seems to allude to the concept of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors:

The addiction to cigarettes is not all nicotine. Have you ever noticed how a person who quits smoking will often keep something in his mouth?

Like Dr. Pretlow and so many other professionals, Pearl is strongly opposed to using food treats to buy a child’s compliance, a practice also known as bribery. Like many other interested parties, Pearl wonders at the strength of the connection between emotional malaise and excessive, even obsessive, food consumption.

He mulls over such mysteries as the daily pattern that many obese people seem to share:

Many fat people have no desire for food early in the day… Late at night, when the problems of the day are backed up, the refrigerator becomes their emotional support.

When Pearl discourses on breastfeeding, he loses the sympathy of writer Libby Anne, who calls him out on several points where his knowledge seems sketchy, and ties it up in a bow by saying:

“Breast is best” is used to guilt and shame women who bottle feed their infants, and that is not okay.

Libby Anne expresses her disapproval of Pearl’s ideas about obesity, which she characterizes as toxic. She defends pacifiers:

Babies are supposed to suck. It gives them comfort and satisfaction. It’s how babies work… Michael claims that when a baby comforts himself by sucking on something, he’s “learning to cope by putting something in his mouth,” which will lead to obesity. That’s complete baloney, and just underscores (again) how little Michael actually understands about child development.

On the bribery issue, she establishes that while any compliance-purchasing tool can be overused, it doesn’t really hurt to dole out a sweet treat reward once in a while.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “TTUAC: Pacifiers Make Children Fat,”, 12/15/15
Photo credit: Jacob Boetter (@boetter) on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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