If I were to have one wish for my daughter, other than that she is happy and healthy, it would be that she develops and maintains a healthy relationship both with food and her body. Having my own history of eating issues combined with a complex relationship with my body, I have tried to foster a healthier partnership between my soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter and the food that nourishes her.
To my daughter, food helps her grow healthy and strong. She enjoys food. She freely expresses pleasure in eating certain foods, and, just as freely, expresses her dissatisfaction with and distaste for other foods. As a naturopathic physician, I guess I couldn’t help myself, but I did help guide her to know and distinguish healthy food from junky food, and she does partake of both categories. My daughter can discern junk food from healthy food, but her understanding of junk food is that it does not nourish and strengthen her body. She has yet to connect food or certain foods with her weight.
I have tried to protect her from the fact that, in general, many of us worry about our weight … and that we judge and criticize how our bodies look. She will undoubtedly learn this sooner than later. And I’m sure my occasional switching outfits and my getting dressed in front of a mirror has not gone unnoticed. My husband and I do our best to avoid using food as a reward, as I believe this is a message that gets complicated and risky as we get older. Admittedly, I have used ice cream as a promised treat after a dental visit (Oh, the irony there!), but to the best of my ability, within the context of my own struggles with food and body image, I have attempted to create an environment free of judgment, self-criticism, and a preoccupation with weight.
So far so good
I know the more complicated years for girls are yet to come. But my daughter enjoys her body and being in her own skin. She loves to move, dance, jump, flip, swim, and swing. She is so strong, and she knows it. Her little brother who relishes getting her frustrated and riled can attest to her strength and to her willingness to use her strength to dominate any given moment. She looks at herself in the mirror, but it is usually just a passing glance or to admire a new dress. I don’t see evidence that she has developed critical or judgmental thoughts about the way she looks.
She openly and freely asks questions about her body. She enjoys running around with or without clothing. She knows when her body does not feel well. She can tell me when her tummy hurts, and we have devised a way in which she can communicate the degree of discomfort she feels by squeezing my hand. She seems to have a level of concern about her body when she does not feel well, but a confidence, knowing and trust that she will get better. We have frank conversations about taking good care of ourselves. She rests when she needs to, eats when she is hungry, and dances through her days. She finds pleasure and enjoyment living in her body.
So about the scale
My husband and I have a scale in our bathroom. We didn’t have a scale for many years. It’s actually the scale I had in my office until I decided that I didn’t want to weigh my patients anymore. I rarely get on the scale, and when I do, I resist the familiar urge to use it as a measurement of my worth, value and happiness. I’m so much happier using how I feel in my body to reinforce the healthy lifestyle that I live, rather than letting numbers on a little screen dictate how I feel about myself.
My daughter and son started weighing themselves recently. They get so excited when their numbers go up. To them it is tangible proof that they are growing up … getting bigger and stronger. It is wonderful to see them thrilled by the evidence that they are growing into big, strong, healthy young people. My son and daughter currently weigh the same. Despite my daughter being a year and half older and several inches taller, “their numbers” are exactly the same. This exasperates my daughter, whose competitive spirit sees it as an injustice of extreme magnitude.
So let me be completely honest
I have come a long, long way in my relationship with my body and the food I eat. But of course there is always room for improvement and work to be done. About two weeks ago, my daughter and I were in the bathroom together. We had returned from vacation the night before, and I had just gotten out of the shower. She had been playing near the scale while I was showering and was about to call for her brother – it was time, she had decided, for their competitive weigh in.
In an instant, she changed her mind. She had a different idea. “Mommy, get on the scale. I want to see what your number is.” For all the talk I talk and the walk I walk, I still closely manage when, if ever, I get on the scale. Being soaking wet from the shower would be reason enough for an immediate self-imposed ban on scales and weigh ins, not to mention that I had just returned from a vacation filled with a number of not-so-healthy indulgences. But I had a split second to make a decision.
If I hesitated or said “No, not now,” she would have kept pushing or certainly asked me to explain myself. Even if she had not questioned me, I was convinced that my slight hesitation or refusal to weigh myself would have crept into her impressionable consciousness and left behind whispers of a poor self-image. I understand that I can’t protect her from being exposed to others’ insecurities, judgments and criticism, and I can’t protect her from her own. Of course, she will need to experience her own feelings, her own complex relationships and her own life. But for whatever it was worth, in that moment, it was important to me to jump on the scale with no hesitation and no reservations … and exclaim, with joy, how wonderful my number was. “Yeah,” we shouted, jumping up and down! “What a great number, mom, you’re so big and so strong!” My daughter let out a great big sigh of relief and told me, if it couldn’t be her, at least someone in the family was heavier than her brother.
The Mind-Body Blog is devoted to exploring and commenting on this funny and wondrous experiment we call life and the pursuit of a mindful and meaningful journey.