The obsession with feeding our children and weight begins the day your child is born when the mother is asked how she will feed her child. Will you breastfeed or formula-feed? What is better? Which will make the child healthier? And it only continues when the new parents go to their children’s pediatrician and are told with each visit in which weight percentile the child falls.
Weight is tough topic for me to write about. It’s been an emotional issue that’s been a part of my core from a very young age. But it’s one that I’ve recognized and embraced, especially now that I have a daughter, Sophie, for whose health I am responsible.
I was never a skinny girl. I was not what you’d call chubby either. I was average, maybe slightly more, but certainly not obese. When I was 10-years-old, the number on the doctor’s office scale “seemed too high,” according to my parents (not the doctor). My parents told me I needed to watching what I ate and go on a diet. At 13-years-old, I found a dress to wear to a family wedding and my parents said I had to lose five pounds to wear the outfit. I was constantly worried about the perception of what I put in my mouth. Whether it was more than one slice of pizza or dessert, I always felt like I was being watched.
The worse came for me when I was a freshman in high school. My parents noticed that I ate from a bag of Cheetos in our house. This after-school snack led to a several-hours-long conversation about the fact that, they believed, I was overweight and needed to go on a diet. (Now I would ask why Cheetos were even in the house if they were so bad, but that’s beside the point.) They put me on a reduced-carbohydrate diet where I was limited to 20 carbs a day. When I came home from school one day and told my mom I only had a Diet Coke for lunch, she praised me. I felt like a disappointment and so ashamed.
In terms of exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, physical activity was never something my entire family engaged in for fun and for health. My own mother never exercised. We were never active as a family, and our dogs were never walked. Instead exercise was punishment for being overweight. And the more they would tell me to exercise, the more I resisted.
My attitude toward exercise and food changed during my freshmen year of college. It was second semester and I put on a few pounds like all freshmen living on-campus do. I felt miserable, when a close friend took me to a gym for the first time. The gym was intriguing to me – you could run, bike, elliptical, it didn’t matter. After we worked out, I assumed I would skip eating that evening, or just eat something tiny like a salad. My friend told me that was so unhealthy and your body needs food; but good food.
This was a new concept to me. I was so used to severely cutting calories and carbs that I never realized how exactly to eat right to maintain a healthy weight. We went to dinner together at the school cafeteria where she showed me what good foods I should be eating.
And from then on, things changed for me. I bought my first gym membership and I learned how to eat right and exercised regularly for the first time in my life. It felt good to just be healthy.
It has taken me 30+ years to get to a place where I’m finally at peace with who I am physically. I’m not saying I have not struggled. Right now, my body challenge is making peace with my post-40 and child body.
Now that I’m a mother of a daughter, these issues of weight and exercise have come full circle. My goal with Sophie is to teach her about nutrition and make exercise a fun thing to do. I want to teach her how to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul. I hope with those key values and support, her journey through this weight-obsessed society will be easier than mine.