Main Coon (source: www,ted-payne.com)
A few days ago, Lynn at Lynn's Weigh wrote a post about the history of her weight. The post really got me thinking. Read it here.
I was with Lynn all the way until she said,"Clearly I was not obese in 7th grade, but my weight was rightly a concern to my doctor."
The picture of her in the 6th grade showed a beautifully formed young woman on the cusp of womanhood. Even the high school picture she posted was far from the picture of a fat person. Yet the doctor saw her as perched on the edge of a fat precipice. And therein begins the tragedy.
I see the doctor's comment as yet another trigger for the weight journey (nightmare?) Lynn was about to embark upon. There was nothing useful about this comment, even though it was not meant to cause problems. However, the reality of the matter is that comments such as these pave the way for terrible things to come.
I think the absolute worst thing we can do is talk to our children about their weight. Not a single word should be spoken. Not one, ESPECIALLY NOT TO OUR DAUGHTERS (shouting caps intentional). They are already surrounded, nay drowning, in negative messages. Even the slimmest of the slim know that they should consider themselves fat. It's practically a badge of honour to say, "Oh, I feel so faaat today."
Does this mean we should blithely stand by while our children eat themselves into oblivion? Of course not. However, believing that we must DO something to stop their inevitable slide into obesity means that we think that without our guidance, all our children will turn into pre-adolescent roly-poly blimps. That's ridiculous.
But first, we must admit (and this one is a hard one) that some people (of both the child and the adult variety) will never be thin. They are probably not fated to be grossly, morbidly obese, but not everyone is naturally slim just as not every cat is a Maine Coon or a Siamese.
Siamese cat (source: palbes.com)
I am a mom myself and I struggle with these issues. I sometimes feel lucky to have two boys since I know that their lives, at least in terms of their physical self-image, will be much, much easier than if they had been girls.
But I can still have some influence over what and the way they eat, so I too must be careful.
Yes, we do have a role as teachers for our children. But the best way to teach is to walk the talk, by modelling healthy eating, not berating them. I believe in less processed or unprocessed foods; fresh produce; meat that is not shot through with hormones, food that is (inasmuch as possible) locally sourced. This is the food my husband and I prepare and serve to our children. We talk to them about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of what we eat. We encourage them to eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full. It's amazing to see that principle at work. One of my sons has much more of a sweet tooth than the other, but when he's not hungry he just walks away from the treat, no matter how enticing it may be.
I also believe that no food should be off limits, but that many foods should not hold pride of place in a home. There are numerous reasons not to feed yourself or your children on a constant diet of fast food: empty calories is just one of these reasons. I'm sure you can name many more. (BTW, I fully recognize that people who have to work two or more jobs just to make ends meet usually don't have the luxury of making nutritious, home-cooked meals for their families.) I'm also not a fan of stocking your pantry with a generous variety of cookies, cakes, candies and other treats. However, having been deprived of most treats as a child because "they weren't good for me", I can attest to just how thrilled I was to gorge on them, whenever the opportunity arose (usually at a friend's house). Our pantry often holds one bag of cookies and there is often some ice cream in the freezer. Both these treats last quite awhile. There is almost always a very large bar of dark chocolate on the counter. We have about 10 bars in the basement pantry since we don't often get to the store that sells this chocolate. My husband and I have two small squares a day, never more. Once in awhile we don't have our "medicinal dose" of chocolate at all. The boys eat somewhat more, but again, not every day.
I firmly believe that trash talk with children or adolescents, i.e. classifying food strictly along caloric lines, is the best way to create and foster disordered eating. You all know my mantra: eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. If this is the consistent message a child hears, he or she is much less likely to gorge or starve.
We can also encourage our children to walk more, or take their bikes or use public transit. Driving your grown child everywhere takes away a valuable opportunity to get to know one's neighbourhood, to learn to be autonomous and to do something good for the planet by not burning unneeded gas. (I'm not going to open up the city/suburb debate here. Sorry.)
Our schools should make phys ed compulsory right up to graduation. But these classes should be pass/fail, and simply based on attendance and participation. Those dumpy, uncoordinated kids need to feel accepted, otherwise their desire to participate and move their bodies will be squashed like a bug. Believe me, I know. At 54, I still remember being always chosen last (or next to last) for team sports. Yeah, let's get our kids moving, but the athletic model is a killer unless you were born with the "right" body. Phys ed, as it's taught now, is the best way to discourage most kids from wanting to move their bodies.
The worst thing we can do for our kids is make them fear food and hate exercise. What with society's dieting obsession, the message that the only right way to exercise for a fat person is to exercise until you throw up (see: Heavy or Village on a Diet), our worship of winning athletes (go for the gold or don't go at all) and our black/white way of seeing things (the only truth is the BMI), it's pretty darn hard to not raise fat obsessed children. The problem is, being obsessed with fat never kept anyone at a "healthy"* weight.
*I do not accept the BMI as a proxy for healthy weight.