A couple of weeks ago I posted about my self-imposed responsibility to pass on healthy attitudes about body image to my daughters. You left some wonderful, thoughtful comments on that post, and it seems that many of you share my concerns about our next generation of women. Yesterday, I happened to see this article about body image and the role mothers play in their daughters’ self perceptions and habits.
On any given day we could likely find a score of similar articles, because this issue is so sadly pervasive in our culture. I linked to this one and I’m returning to the topic because I loved the statements two of the women interviewed made about the importance of teaching kids to listen to their bodies, and not to be afraid to eat when they are hungry in spite of peer pressure to subsist on air and diet soda.
This is exactly what my mom taught me, and I think her guidance, in large part, is what helps me maintain a healthy weight. We never had a “clean plate” rule in our house. With my brothers, clean plates weren’t an issue – I can remember them heaping potatoes on their plates and scarfing them down as a sort of ballast, then taking a helping of everything else – with more potatoes. I’m pretty sure they would have eaten anything that wasn’t nailed down. I, on the other hand, didn’t have a huge appetite as a little kid. My mom was the same way, so she sympathized. She was a Depression-era gal, though, so her sensible guidance was to take only what I thought I could eat, and to stop eating when I was full. She had me serve myself at the table, and I hadn’t thought about it until now, but I think that was a very useful lesson in judging my own needs. If I got hungry between meals, she’d say “well, eat something then!” in a “duh” tone of voice. Food was generally thought of and used as an antidote to hunger, rather than a substitute for whatever other things I might have been needing. I detested visiting friends whose parents either required clean plates or, just as bad, commented on my “birdlike” appetite if I couldn’t eat the huge portions they doled out.
To this day, I get irritated if someone comments on my food choices or eating habits. For example, I always eat breakfast. I frequently attend breakfast meetings. Sometimes I’m the only person at the table who actually eats breakfast at said meetings. Inevitably, I endure comments about my omelet or oatmeal. The general thinking here seems to be that eating breakfast makes you fat, and having “just coffee” makes you skinny. This sort of talk gives me indigestion, and it’s also wrongheaded.
If you visit here frequently, you have seen what I cook on a fairly regular basis. Pizza, casseroles topped with cheese, risotto with sausage, meatballs. I eat that stuff! I feed it to my kids! I get hungry, damn it, and, just like mom taught me, when I’m hungry, I eat.
The flip side is that when I’m not hungry, I don’t eat just because the clock tells me to. If I eat a huge lunch and I’m not hungry later, I wait, or just have a snack at dinner time. If I eat a lot of junk one day, I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit the next day. I don’t regiment any of this – my body pretty much speaks up for itself. I tell my kids to follow this same practice. Of course, I’m generally in charge of their food, so sometimes I have to remind them by presenting them with some fruits or veggies when they have been foraging in the junk food or sweets. Some guidance is in order when you are the parent, after all. But I will never get in my daughters’ faces about food. I have seen that gig, and it is not pretty.
Finally, facts is facts. Sometimes my body needs Doritos! It definitely needs chocolate. It also needs to move around, and to sleep, and to drink water. I try to honor those needs, to ignore all the outside voices that try to drown out what my body tells me.
I’m just sayin’, is all…