DISCLAIMER: We at Offbeat Mama totally recognize that healthy comes in MANY shapes and sizes. This post is written from the point of view and based on the experiences of one person — the author, Julie. She wrote this in response to a recent piece about a Vogue writer who struggled with her daughter’s weight.
Throughout my elementary years I was a pudgy kid. By the time my lingering baby fat had fallen off I had learned to think of myself as unattractive and lazy. I wore layers to hide my body, never went swimming in a group, and was a chronic dieter until my early twenties when I essentially stopped eating altogether. I eventually climbed out of that hole but here I am at twenty-six and I find myself feeling like that fat kid all too easily.
These lingering feelings and really destructive behaviors that I fell into are a product of how my physical form and health were framed as a child. No doubt the adults in my life did what they thought was right but in their efforts to help me shed weight they caused me to take on some pretty severe insecurities and low self esteem. Now that I’m raising my son with my husband, who was also a chunky kid, we give lots of thought to how we’ll do things differently so that our son grows up healthy and feeling good about himself.
Health is the goal and it’s not a number
At ten years old I proudly proclaimed to a relative that I had lost F O U R P O U N D S ! ! after my recent visit to a nutritionist. And the praise I got for that feat was something I learned to crave. I started associating my success and bodily worth with a number on a scale when I was in fourth grade. When we teach our kids to value the number on the scale we are shifting their focus from what is really important and failing to educate them wholly. Instead of setting weight loss goals or praising lower numbers on the scale I think we have to start emphasizing and rewarding healthy choices. The more we teach our children to make those healthy choices the more the body’s weight will level out to its right place.
Kids like food; capitalize on that
Kids can learn to cook and give their input on meals before we head to the market. We can teach them to make healthier versions of their favorites so that when they go out into the world they’re prepared to take care of themselves. For our children to understand the connection between the food they put in their body and their overall health they first have to be connected to the food itself.
Cut the crap, don’t stock the crap
This is not our kid’s fault — ultimately we’re the adults and no kid can be held responsible for their weight when someone else is putting food on their plate. We must really and truly take a step back and look at what we are stocking in our pantries and putting on our tables. It’s okay if the crap food has gotten the better of you — it has gotten us all at some point. Tomorrow is a new day and the market is open!
All for one, and one for all
The number one thing we can do for our kids is to lead by example, whether it be with physical activity, positive body image, or healthy eating habits. Whatever rules we set for our children we must set for the entire family. Isolating a child with a special diet won’t make them feel good, or help them keep the weight off long-term. Been there, done that, and still have a little kid inside me that feels like an outsider because I wasn’t allowed to eat pizza at the pizza party. If the point is overall health shouldn’t everyone in the family be eating this way?
Get kids active — their way
We all have likes and dislikes, especially when it comes to physical activity. If you’re an avid runner that’s great! But don’t expect your kid to be. And don’t expect forcing them to trail behind you at the park to create that love for running either. We have to find what our kids like and do it with them. Do you have a gamer? There are plenty of fun active games out there. And go beyond giving them the game. Play it with them! Do you have a collector? Make a list of things to find on a hike. Our kids don’t need to feel like they’re training for a marathon. They just need to be taught that a healthy, vibrant life has movement in it every single day.
Keep the lessons private
A public setting is the last place our kids need to learn lessons about food. Take it from me, there is nothing more humiliating than having food taken off your plate or being scolded publicly about your weight. When we are out we can’t control the food that is available but we can come up with a game plan beforehand, talking about what food choices might be better than others. Our children need to learn to make their own food choices if their weight isn’t to be a chronic problem. If you feel there are choices that need to be addressed, by all means address them. But do so in private and come from a place of love — make it clear to your child that your motive is a long, healthy life for them.
Don’t hand off personal baggage
If you have struggled with your own body image and you have a track of negative feelings about the way you look playing in your head don’t give that recording to your child. They have a chance to grow up and lead a life without that. As much as you think your child is a direct reflection of you, they aren’t. And as much as you might think your child’s weight somehow shines a light on your own weight struggles or inadequacies as a parent, it doesn’t.