Fat, Self-Image, Why I Shouldn't Breed

Kids, Food and Bodies

On the New Jersey Moms Blog today, my friend Suzi mentioned her struggle to accept her body and not pass along body image issues to her very awesome daughters. (She also mentioned SP. Thanks, lady!) That made me think it’s time to recycle a question we’ve put to the Shapelings before: How the hell do you raise your kids with a healthy attitude toward both food and bodies (their own and other people’s)? 

Seems to me, that’s a question we could probably revisit weekly, and keep getting different answers. (Don’t worry, we won’t. But we could.) What do you think, crew?

101 thoughts on “Kids, Food and Bodies”

  1. We encourage the kids to eat protein before carbs (not instead of, just before) as a way to avoid a glucose rush. Other than that, we as the parents just make sure that most of what is available to them has more solid nutrition than empty calories (i.e., sugar). And we teach them which foods are good sources of vitamins, which have good protein, which have healthy fats, etc. No clean plate club over here. If they’re full, that’s fine. If they want more, they can have it.

    Both my kids (boys) were breasfed, and as a result they have spent many formative hours cuddled against my bare and ample midsection. My 6-year-old, from the time he could talk, has declared that he loves my “fatness.” He says that it’s soft and warm, and that he likes the way it feels when he squishes it. I asked him if it made him feel safe and loved, and he said, “yes” with a big smile.

    My fervent hope is that he retains this aesthetic sense into adulthood and makes some substantial young woman very happy some day.

  2. I’m not at the point that I’m ready to have kids, but this is a question I ask myself all the time. It’s part of the reason I finally went into treatment for my eating disorder. My mom talks nonstop about how much she hates her body and is obsessed with food and exercise and looks. As an overweight child, she asked me to go to Jenny Craig because when she was overweight she hated herself.

    I refuse to pass that along to my own children when I have them. I guess I don’t have an answer really, beyond learning to love my own body now so that I won’t make the kind of comments my mom made about her own body. I think children pick up on those small things in huge ways.

  3. I know that commenting on my fatness in a non-judgmental tone has made Bacon see it as a normal variant, because we talk about size in the same way as skin color or height or ableism (“some people are X, some people are Y, all people are people”).

    And this will sound crazy, but Food Network has been a godsend. People who talk about food all day long in positive terms – there’s no “Spinach is yucky, so don’t eat it” or “Kids hate vegetables!” – has allowed my daughter to see that all foods can be tasty foods, and that cooking and eating together are good things. We guide her, obviously, so that she learns that some foods are for meals, some are snacks, and some are desserts.

    No food is labeled “good” or “bad” or even “junk”. We encourage her to listen to her body by asking questions – Are you hungry? What would you like to eat? Are you full? – and abiding by her answers. If she’s not hungry, she doesn’t have to eat, even if it’s dinner “time”.

    I hope she can keep in touch with herself her whole life, but we’ll see.

  4. My family’s attitude towards food has always been something that I’ve been very proud of. Breakfast and dinner were often more scrounge-your-own, but everyone present had to be sitting down to dinner at the same time. Having food be tasty and healthy and varied was key — usually things were at least mostly from scratch, and squashy white bread was not allowed in the house. If we weren’t hungry, we didn’t have to eat, and we had to at least try everything on our plate before having seconds of anything, but certainly didn’t have to finish it. Everyone in my family now loves cooking, and trying weird new foods, and none of us tend to worry about how much fat/sugar/whatever is in things so long as we get a reasonably varied diet.

  5. I give the kids maximum opportunities to choose what they want to eat. And I try to set a good example. I don’t fuss about the way I look, I don’t even have a scale. I do things with them, and I commend them for what they can do.

    Speaking of which, the eldest is starting fencing this afternoon. It should be fun.

  6. I never ever talk about weight with my kids (except with respect to stuff like, say, car seats, which have weight restrictions).

    If one eats a lot at a meal, we avoid “you did a good job on your breakfast!” and try to substitute (“wow, you must have been hungry!”) Doing a good job on a meal at our house means you took at least one bite of everything on your plate and your manners were marginal or better. :) (they’re 4 and 2, whaddya want?)

    Some fun things are also good exercise. We also sometimes exercise simply because it’s good for our bodies, or because it helps us clear our heads.

    We do talk about how certain foods are good for our bodies and certain foods are not. Maybe that’s not FA-‘healthy’, but I don’t know another way to explain to a 4 year old why no, she cannot have candy for every meal. I try to temper it by saying that it’s OK to have those foods some of the time, but it’s important that we also eat foods that our bodies need. We talk about variety, too — that having different kinds of foods is important for our bodies. As they get older, we’ll use more specific language about things like protein and fiber and nutrients and animals, vegetables and minerals.

    We try to work on portion control not by specifically limiting it, but by encouraging them to think about how it doesn’t feel good if your tummy is too full and think about whether your tummy’s already full before you take more of something. And we do sometimes require that they eat the lion’s share of their first serving of everything before they get a second serving of any one thing. We usually give pretty free choice for types of snacks, so if their bodies need, say, more carbohydrate, they can have bananas and rice cakes for snack to balance things out.

    We honestly haven’t had the issue of other people’s bodies come up much. I’m not sure why. The closest I’ve come is the other day my 2 year old wouldn’t play in a play area with some kids we didn’t know and I strongly suspect (though I’m not sure) that it’s because one of the boys’ arm ended halfway down his forearm (no hand). He wasn’t rude or anything, but he couldn’t be talked into playing. The mom was awesome, though, and initiated a conversation about it (“He just has one hand, doesn’t he? That’s different, huh? How many hands do you have? Me, too — I have two. But [B] was born with just one hand.”) I think that’s all you can do, is try to be matter-of-fact about body differences, whatever they might be, and don’t make them a forbidden topic.

    Of course I may be singing a different song the first time one of my kids cries out “wow, mommy, why is that lady SO FAT?” in the grocery store and then won’t drop the topic. :) Heh.

  7. We have energy food, or growing food, and food that’s just for yum (sugar, basically). Recently my 4-year-old observed me cutting inches of fat off a mutton roast – that was one well-insulated sheep – and said “Fat is bad for you,” and I said “No, little girls must have fat, because they need it for their brains.”

    When she was just gone two and we had a new baby, she walked past the huge windows of a Burger King and beamed at the diners inside. “Hello, chubby ladies!” she said.

    We admire fat and slender aspects of her body, but mainly we admire function over form.

    She’s the size of a largeish six-year-old boy now. Fey and petite will never be in her remit even if she starves (perhaps especially then). I’m scared for her.

  8. We do what pyewacketsid does, talk about eating protein and what foods have a lot of vitamins and minerals and such. Nothing is forbidden, but if we’re going to have cake, we need to eat protein first. We also do a lot of nonjudgmental talk about different bodies. As far as our daughter knows, exercise is to make your body strong, and choosing nutritious foods is to help your body grow strong and healthy.

    Sadly, the biggest problem we’ve encountered is a family member who has her own weight obsession bordering on anorexia; there’s a lot of talk about “Oh, I can’t eat that, it has too many calories! I’ll get fat,” that sort of thing. The best we can come up with is trying to shut down ALL weight-related talk from this person, since that seems more likely to be effective than changing outlook. I would love to know how people handle weight-obsessed relatives…

  9. I don’t have children, but some friends of mine made watching the Food Network part of Family Time with their kids, and it helped the kids get past some traumatizing food issues brought on by an abusive biological father. As Baconsmom said, it helped them to see food presented in positive terms and enjoyment presented as part of what food is all about.

    When I was a little girl, my mother was fat. My father wasn’t exactly thin either. Neither of them demonized the fat, neither of them went on diets. The family home was filled with family photos going back some four generations, and those pictures also had fat people in them. Not all, but they were simply there and in large enough proportion that my young eyes noted that people came in lots of sizes.

    There were very few food rules at our table, too. If a new thing appeared on your plate you had to try at least a couple bites before pronouncing it inedible. If you were eating in someone else’s house, you had to make at least a good faith effort to eat enough of what was on your plate not to offend your hosts. If you couldn’t eat it, you weren’t allowed to insult the cook. If you decided not to eat something because it revolted you, you were not allowed to complain and disturb anyone else’s eating. There was none of the old sit there until you eat every single bite, and there was no offence in asking for seconds of something. Food was fuel. Food was pleasurable. Food was not a moral issue.

    I think it also helped a lot that we were all taught our ways around the kitchen at a young age. As a result, all three of us can feed ourselves on whatever we happen to find available to work with, and sometimes we can create magic in the kitchen. Only one of us has bought significantly into the Fatz Is EVOL and Will Kill Us Alll Whyle We Sleeeeeeep bullshit. I’ve started banning that talk in front of me or my beloved. If my brother wants to eat a tablespoon of the food I cooked and then come back into the kitchen half an hour later for toast, that’s his lookout. If he wants me to feel guilty for baking the ocassional cake, he can go fuck himself.

    It seems to me the best things we can do to teach our children about food and bodies is to normalize as much as we can. Introduce children to a wide variety of foods from different cultures, talk about how bodies vary in natural width as much as they do in natural height and coloring. Present things quietly but regularly that normalize size, shape, color, and flavor. When it comes to food, offer everything, encourage them to try different flavors and textures, and let them determine for themselves what they like.

    After all, that’s why even as a small child I always requested spinach and fish for my birthday dinner. Nobody assumed I would dislike either, and left to my own devices I found I adored both. Every mom in the world asked my mother how she did it, and she just shrugged and said ‘that’s what Twistie likes.’


    (Erm, by which I mean “do it yourself,” not fashion modeling. Ha!)

    If one eats a lot at a meal, we avoid “you did a good job on your breakfast!” and try to substitute (”wow, you must have been hungry!”)

    @Jan: I’m curious – Is there a particular reason you feel a need to comment at all on the amount eaten? I’m not saying this is (or will be) the case in your family, but commenting on amounts of food eaten can sometimes wander into sketchy territory, not in terms of intention but in terms of how the commentee hears it. When I say sketchy territory, I mean it sometimes makes the eater begin to think about how the amount they eat will be perceived by others. (Again, I’m not saying this is happening in your family. I’m just interested in the question.))

  11. Actively discourage the “I don’t like it” brigade.
    When I was growing up, there was one dinner, and only one dinner. If you didn’t eat it, you went hungry. I ate!

    (We *were* encouraged to say what we liked and what we didn’t – AFTER dinner! In that, we could say, “that dinner isn’t going to be my favourite. Can we please have X next time?”, but we couldn’t say “I don’t like tomato sauce, it smells funny” and not eat the dinner. Except for the one time it actually *did* smell funny, and even my dad – who’d cooked it – didn’t want it! Within reason, my parents did their best to give us the food we liked, AND give us a reasonable variety of food.)

    And recognising that your kids have different dietary needs to adults helps, too. The number of scary middle-class dieting mums I’ve seen that are all but counting their childrens’ calories…. it scares me.
    My mum cooked me a fried breakfast maybe 4 times a week when I was a hungry growing teenager. She’s brilliant.

    So… yeah… food :) I like food! My upbringing clearly worked for me!

  12. We focus on what her body can do. She is a very active child, and she takes pride in her ability to climb, jump, and run fast. We are all excited to watch her grow and get bigger, and she comments when she reaches things that she didn’t used to be able to.

    Another thing that I think is important, is that she knows her body is her own. We do not make her hug people; she isn’t coerced into physical affection. She only has to hold hands for safety crossing the street.

    I struggle with the food issues. She is very tiny, very petite, and I tend to worry about her slow growth, thereby insisting she eat more dinner. If anyone has advice about this, I would be happy to hear it.

  13. Food is not talked about in terms of morality or fat, but in terms of vitamins, minerals, energy, protien, fiber, etc from the earliest ages. You’d be amazed how much kids pick up (positive or negative) at early ages!

    Bodies are not talked about negatively, period (talking down about your own body is just as bad as being mean about someone else’s in our house, and will get you in just as much trouble). Diet talk isn’t allowed by anyone (and defying me on this means you won’t be seeing my kids, no matter who you are).

    We keep a house full of natural foods in a variety of flavors, appearances, nutrients and preparations. The kids eat what they feel their body needs, in as much as their body needs, when they need it, and are encouraged to slow down and think about it before selecting, and while eating. We don’t do processed and artificial things because IMO they aren’t adequately proven OK for growing bodies, and can fool their bodies into not eating how they truly need.

    When buying clothing we focus on fit, appeal and appropriateness. Size is a non-issue unless we’re simply commenting that we need to try a different one because that particular item isn’t “[daughter’s name] sized” We INSIST that our girls deserve no less than attractive, age appropriate clothing that fits comfortably and feels good. And it doesn’t matter how many places we have to go to find it.

    Our girls are 7.5 and almost 13, and so far so good!

  14. Tabbadabbadoo, my mom used to do this thing when my brother and I were little–we’d say we were done with a bunch of food still left, and instead of telling us to clean our plates, she would say, “You may eat five more bites, or twelve more bites [or whatever numbers made sense].” At which point we would dig in, counting with gusto. She was so cheerful about it, we would get really excited that we could “put one over on her” by choosing the smaller number. Plus, we got practice with numbers! Yay!

    This tactic worked really well when we were just tired of sitting at the table, as opposed to actually being full. If we said something like, “But I can’t even eat five more,” she wouldn’t make us.

  15. I don’t know if I’ve commented here before or not, but I’ve definitely been lurking for quite a while.

    I’m 20, and don’t have kids, but I have some insight from the other direction.

    My mom’s struggled with what she calls “overeating” for most of her life, and on top of that we have genetically large bodies. When I was about 10 she dropped a huge amount of weight over the course of a few months. Her doctor told her she had dropped too much weight, too fast, was far too thin, and she could check herself into rehab or he’d strongly suggest she go to the hospital. I’m the only one of my siblings that really remembers this, and it was pretty scary. For a few weeks she didn’t come home until late-evening. She started eating things like whole bran muffins (I’m not sure why I remember these so distinctly), and needing to write down everything she ate.

    Oddly enough, though, her getting through this experience (and her relapse a year or so later) has probably been the most positive influence in my food/weight related life. But then, I was lucky enough to have a mother who wanted to get truly healthy (not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well).

    Because someone told my mom that girls who had mothers with eating disorders were genetically/environmentally prone to them as well, she has always talked with me about what she went through – both in her head, and as a step towards recovery. She told me about the women she met at rehab, her friends and her nutritionist. A few years later when I started dieting and counting calories with my friends, she told me that I shouldn’t, but if I did that I should make sure to do it “right” (balanced nutritionally). She told me that I should eat more than I thought I should – that 1600 or 1200 or 900 calories really wasn’t at all enough for a girl of 13 (or anyone, for that matter). She talked to me about overeating, anorexia, bulimia, yo-yo dieting, and how my body was and would continue to change – that of course my thighs were getting bigger. They were probably going to get even bigger. She had to ask my friends to stop talking about dieting in our house – as it made it incredibly difficult for her to keep her own positive outlook, and not go into crash dieting again. This last instance has stuck with me. I couldn’t articulate it then – but it really underscores the damage that dieting and shaming, disguised as “healthy eating”, can do.

    Whenever I get the urge to hate my body, or to go on a diet, or just not eat at all, I remember when I was ten, and what it felt like to not know quite what was going on. I remember the stories of women not being able to walk. I remember how absolutely terrified my mom was when I started complaining about my thighs, started calorie counting, and wanting to be a thin pretty perfect ballerina. I see how much happier my mom is now, and how much we both still struggle.

    I think the most important thing is to be honest with yourself, and with your children.

  16. I guess my point was this: even though you aren’t perfect, and never will be, those very things you struggle with can help your children, as long as you’re aware, open, and loving.

    That’s how I plan on going about it when I eventually have children.

  17. (also, I’d like to add that my dieting tendencies came from friends & culture, not my mother. We were always reasonable about food – until my mom wasn’t. But even then, it was because “mommy and papa are going on a diet because our blood pressure is too high” or something, and didn’t change the kid’s eating habits at all. Food was never demonized for me. It’s just that as a young girl (wanting desperately to be more socially acceptable) it’s hard to escape the trend when saying “I’m too fat” becomes way cool, and the clothing sizes, when you compare them with others, seem to back you up)

  18. I don’t have children. But I do have a mother that is constantly not eating or taking diet pills even though she thinks we don’t know. Kids are not stupid, they see how you treat yourself and they will internalize the message despite it being said out loud or not. So my offering would be to treat yourself like you want your children to treat themselves.

    Not to steal the thread, but goodness last week my father walked past me and makes some comment about how he would never date a girl with feet as ugly as mine…… Now I don’t have particularly ugly feet, they are just feet, and they allow me to walk. He also thinks my hands are ugly, and my freckles are ugly. My parents basically did a good job teaching me to hate everything about myself. Some people should just keep their opinions to themselves.

  19. I don’t have any children (yet?), but am really interested in this topic and appreciate the honest responses. So thanks for commenting, folks.

  20. Let me just make a quick case against the “try everything” rule – my little brother, after a lifetime of being forced to eat a bite of peas, lima beans, green beans, or field beans at almost every dinner over serious complaints, turned out to have a life-threatening allergy to legumes. It seems he wasn’t just whining, they really did make him nauseated and cause his tongue to itch.

    That out of the way – we’ve got an underweight kid, and the professional advice we keep getting is “don’t stress about it, offer a healthy array of foods, and don’t make an of it into a power struggle.” Which seems pretty widely appropriate.

    We only keep food on hand that we want him to eat, he gets to pick the amounts and, for some things, the times (he’s 3 and we keep fig bars, raisins, cheese crackers, and pumpkin leather out where he can scavenge for himself if he wants between meals.)

  21. Note: I do not have kids and realize that this may be a gross oversimplification.

    You love them unconditionally!!!!! Regardless of their outward appearance and regardless of their grades. You respect them with your actions so that they know that they are valued and valuable as they are. You discipline with love. You teach them that it doesn’t matter what other people say so long as you know that you are doing your best with what you have. You teach them how to cook, and you teach them about food in general. Don’t tie food to the emotions. Don’t give them one specific food when they are upset. Talk to them if they are upset. And leave food what it is, nourishment.

  22. Hmmm… my boys are now 19 and 16 (saying that tends to make me feel old, but I’m only 40). Both breastfed (first one until 13 mos, second one until 25 mos.) and then an ovo-lacto vegetarian eating system.

    Starting as infants, they just got to eat when they were hungry. I made available good things to eat and they ate them. Snacks generally consisted of fruit and all of us are absurdly fond of broccoli, brown rice and tofu. The older one hated tempeh until he was a teenager (and I learned to make it better), but they pretty much ate what I made for them. I never bought candy & soda, we always packed their school lunches.

    Both boys know how to cook, both regular kitchen cooking and backcountry cooking as well. I think letting them help even though it sometimes made dinner prep last a lot longer went a long way in getting them to try new things.

    The younger one eats a little healthier than his older brother, who developed a fondness for those energy drinks (and I admit I’ll lecture about those – there’s no “food” in them, just chemicals).

  23. tabbadabbadoo, don’t do that, please. Eating more won’t help her grow, anyway, and it leads to some really messed up relationships with food and body size. Just let her eat as much as she wants.

    If she never starts growing or really falls off the growth charts, doctors might want to check her out for illnesses (especially if other symptoms show up). Otherwise I really strongly recommend that you let it be.

  24. I have a 3 year old son.
    From what I’ve seen so far with him, most children are born with an in born sense of when to eat and when they are finished.

    The rest of the habits they develop from their environment, which is largely parents. (This doesn’t mean to say that they will be small and thin or big and fat, just that they are born with a natural ability to know when to eat).

    My way of dealing with food to not make it an issue, at least in my home, is really to not talk about it obsessively as a lecture. I just show him by doing it, by eating the foods.
    I don’t narrate or guilt him if he doesn’t want to eat it.

    3 year old will be picky, they will want yogurt all one week, then carrot sticks and cheese the next. But I believe that your body isn’t based on a daily schedule. That your nutritional needs are on a longer schedule than that- weeks, months perhaps a year! I believe your body will balance if you know how to listen.

    Anyways- if my son wants yogurt, he has yogurt for breakfast, if he tells me toast with peanut butter than that’s what he gets. I don’t force anything on him at all.
    What I will do though, is I will set a plate of veggies and dip on the coffee table for the entire day- and eventually most of the times he’ll come around and have a few pieces.

    I don’t eat out at fast food, but I don’t make it a statement, I just don’t do it. If I do it’s once a month and I just do it, I don’t go into massive detail about why we are eating this or that. I do it by example only.
    In my experience that’s worked really well, and throughout the week he always ends up eating very balanced.

    take care.

  25. I don’t say SHIT to them about watching what they eat. They are both healthy weight because they seem to have a natural relationship to food. They get hungry, they eat. I took a cue from breastfeeding them. You can’t measure, you can’t check if it’s mixed correctly, you just trust that baby knows when it’s time to eat and will eat enough. At 12 and 14, they still do because no one has messed that up for them yet.

    I used to just put out a bowl of washed, uncooked veggies on the table when I was cooking. No encouragement to eat them, just, “hey, I put some carrots and broccoli out.” The loved them. No dip, nothing. They still eat like that. Munch on veggies, eat dinner with it arrives with a cooked version of whatever wasn’t eaten from the bowl. They have free reign of the pantry or fridge any time they want, and I just keep apples or something like a Kashi bar hanging around that’s easy to grab. Rarely any junk is here and they oddly don’t even eat it, they forget it exists because they aren’t used to it being around.

    There is no prize for clearing a plate. I don’t force them to try new things but I always just put out something new and say: it’s new, try it. They just DO. They don’t like everything, but it’s not a power struggle. It helped to have a normal doctor, an informed doctor. While I weighed my usual 180 and he weighed maybe 100 pounds, we couldn’t have looked more different but he never admonished me when my oldest wanted to live off apples and pbj sandwiches at three. He just shrugged and said, I guess he needs that right now. He’ll choose something different when he needs to. No biggie, no worry about my “small” babies (i.e. breastfed babies), no lectures about nutrition just information given and questions answered, and no panic about anything.

    They have always taken a packed lunch to school and now they pack their own lunches. They have control over what they eat so I guess there is no struggle with me or with themselves over what is appropriate. They can both cook. They can read recipes. They like trying to make something even if they don’t get it right. It’s very different than how I was raised!

  26. tabbadabbadoo:

    There are smaller kids and then there is “slow growth.” Honestly, it sounds like your child is perfectly normal in her own normalness.

    She jumps, plays, is active? Just smaller than what? Average? (Those charts are not wholly accurate.) If she’s just smaller than her counterparts, she’s probably fine. She’ll eat what she needs, let her be.

    I had small kids too, they are perfectly fine and one is now a bit taller than his friends and one is still tiny at 12. Both are utterly normal.

    My doctor charts by comparing them to themselves. So, if at age 1 my son was in the 2nd percentile and is in the 3rd at age 8, then well, he’s pretty much on track for what his normal has always been.

  27. Also: what Rosa said. (Note that I was that kid. And my illness didn’t manifest fully until two years after I stopped growing, and in the meantime all the overeating didn’t help me grow. It just made my stomach hurt.)

    Also, despite how hard we’re pushed not to, I think I’d let my kids have sodas (non-caffeinated until they hit puberty, though) and cookies and candy – in moderation, outside of meals. My siblings and I could do all that stuff and it didn’t cause obvious damage, and I don’t want to make my kids paranoid about “junk.” Sugar is food (note to “empty calorie” person at the time of the thread).

    sage! food is chemicals!

  28. Thanks volcanista and Sugared Harpy. She has gone down percentage-wise. I guess now that I think about it, she grew really slowly as a baby. At the time the doctors were questioning if I produced enough milk, which led to weekly weight checks and eventually formula (in addition to my milk). I’m sure I have issues from that experience.

    She is growing, but hasn’t really gained much weight over the last year. Her doctor doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her diet; she doesn’t show signs of malnourishment at all.

    She has a difficult time focusing at dinner (she’s 4). I guess it just needs to be a non-issue. Maybe just let her eat it or not, and then she can eat dessert if we’re having it or not. This is what I’ve been doing lately. Then someone will be like, she’s how old? She’s so small! And then question me about it, and then I question myself.

  29. I can’t tell you how to do it right, but I can tell you how to do it wrong. Be a hypocrite. Tell your daughter that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that all are acceptable and beautiful in their own way. Then criticize your own appearance and compare your size to other women all the time. Keep your house stocked with all types of food, then make a point that some foods are bad for you. Make a big deal when someone notices that you’ve lost a few pounds and not so big a deal about accomplishments at work or home. Hang out around people who brag about how skinny they are or used to be, and how that skinniness is a desired attribute. Blame all problems on your abundant size. Do these things, and then spend your daughter’s adolescence seeing eating disorder specialists, nutritionists, and therapists. Thank God, both the daughter and I have come through healthier both in body and mind, but it wasn’t easy.

  30. We don’t try to control mealtime or food intake — they eat when they’re hungry, what they want, and as much as they want. Food is always available and no moral judgments are put on choices. Thus, it’s not something to obsess and stress about. It becomes a total non-issue. This is what I’ve spent two decades trying to get back to, and I’m still struggling. But for them it’s natural.

    Here’s a funny story that illustrates what happens when you grow up with food freedom. Recently we went to one of those all-you-can-eat buffets. I hate these places but for my husband it’s one of those nostalgic comfort things so we go about once a year. The kids all started out with dessert, pretty jello (an exotic novelty for them) and ice cream and fruit. Meanwhile, at the table next to us the parents were admonishing their kids to eat some “good” things first or else they couldn’t have dessert. Back at our table, once the novelty of the pretty (but not very yummy) desserts wore off they got meat and carbs, leaving the carbs mostly uneaten because they were pretty low-quality. At the end, when my husband and I were having a discussion about the merits of eating salad before or after the main course (he thinks that greens should be eaten last since they take longer to digest) they all decided they wanted salad. That’s right, leafy greens. Think the kids at the next table were willingly eating salad, much less choosing it for themselves?

    The body image issue is harder. We’re lucky in that we live in a pretty progressive area and don’t hear much negative body talk, and when I hear it from someone I try to nip it in the bud by publicly expressing an opposite viewpoint and sometimes privately explaining why I don’t want my kids around that. We pick and choose what media comes into our house, so no Oprah going on about her latest diet and no fashion magazines. Our kids see the fat people around them living and relating to each other in a positive way. My husband and I are both fat and we are both very in love and attracted to each other. We are physically affectionate with them and admiring of the strengths of their bodies. So for them, the way their bodies are, however they are, is normal and good. The rare fat bigotry that makes it through is likened to racism — just as stupid.

    BUT I am dreading my daughters moving into adolescence. Already I can see the image snobbery happening amongst the young girls in our social circle. It makes me absolutely ill, but it can’t be avoided unless we totally isolate ourselves, and I’m so afraid it’s going to be more powerful than the positive messages we send at home.

  31. Think the kids at the next table were willingly eating salad, much less choosing it for themselves?

    Actually, most likely, I think, unless they just don’t like salad or didn’t feel like it. I think the way you’re doing things sounds great and really interesting, but my siblings and I always went crazy on the salads (and everything else) when we went to an all-you-can-eat buffet, and we generally weren’t allowed to go to the dessert section until we had been up at least once for more standard meal stuff. It didn’t really harm us – I think you can do that as a parent without making the desserty food “bad.” I think it’s great to be careful not to create that dichotomy, though.

  32. tabbadabbadoo, I think it’s probably okay to encourage her to eat if she’s barely eating meals. But if she hears that her body size and weight are abnormal (she’s probably already gathered that, if nothing else from the insensitive people who have the nerve to question you about it!) and also internalizes the idea that consumption is directly related to size, that’s what makes me nervous.

  33. Oh – we figure our kids have food likes and dislikes just like we do, and we don’t press those. They’re not allowed to say “yuck” but they are allowed to say “no thank you,” and usually food is in serving bowls on the table and they can serve themselves or ask for what they want. So far the 4 and 2 year old both eat a fairly varied diet and appear basically healthy, normal tummy bugs and headcolds notwithstanding.

    One is a 99.8th centile child and the other is a 25th centile child. I Foresee Size Issues.

  34. Here’s something. Even if you go the no processed ‘junk’ foods in the house route, the kids may end up wanting it. And wanting it real bad. And then over doing it when they get their hands on some.

    When I was little, soda was forbidden (my mother even brought bottles of 100% fruit juice to other people’s barbecues and then made us drink it), we ate carob and knew that it didn’t taste like chocolate no matter what mommy said, holiday candies were kept well out of reach and doled out sparingly by a parent, my mom put buckwheat in brownies well into my teens (it made them crunchy, ick), I couldn’t get a sandwich on white bread until junior high, etc.

    Between the ages of 5 and 14 or so, I would have killed for a pixie stick, or a box of oreos all to myself, or whatever. And when I could get my paws on them, I had trouble with moderation and was something of a hoarder. Cause it was so special and forbidden.

    So, uh, don’t do that.

  35. Thank you everyone, for posting – I’m almost 6 months pregnant, likely with a girl, and have been petrified about (potentially) having to deal with all of these food issues, size issues, etc….

    Kudos to all for making efforts not to louse up a child’s relationship to food and their own body – I’m inspired, and comforted that I can do it, too.

  36. LOL Linda, the last time I took mine to a buffet the 12 went walking past the steam tables to find a place to sit and then started jumping up and down and *squealing* over the fact that they had brussels sprouts. Yup, brussles sprouts. She also loves the Chinese buffet because she can try all sorts of interesting veggie and seafood dishes that she’s never had before.

    We don’t ban the dessert table, but neither of mine have ever *asked* for it first, the older goes hunting for new and interesting, the younger hits the salad and fruits (which are sometimes on the dessert table, but whatever). Of course then when they are ready to hit the desserts they want to try a million different things, so I have to stand there trying to split up pieces of cake so they can each have half and so forth, and more often than not they each eat *maybe* one bite of each thing, then finish whatever was the best if they’re still hungry.

  37. Oh god, volcanista, I don’t say that. I do say that I want her to grow big and strong, but I don’t criticize her size at all. She really is adorable, and her small size does come in handy (I can still put her in a backpack for longer hiking.) Really, it’s probably other people who call it to my attention, and then I worry. But, you’re right. She doesn’t need their or my baggage.

    She really only doesn’t eat much for dinner. She eats a lot for breakfast and lunch. It could very well be that she isn’t very hungry at dinner, which is fine. Really, thanks for bringing this to my consciousness. It is very important.

  38. I have only two food rules in my house: “Sit down while eating” and “if you don’t complain about the mushrooms, you don’t have to eat them.”

    Other than that, for several years now, I have tried to let the boys choose what to eat, when and how much. They do experience unwanted and unhealthy input from other family members, but they are pretty strong kids.

    Both make so-called ‘bad’ eating choices on occasion. Nate, for instance, had birthday cake for breakfast. I figure his birthday only happens once a year, right? Most of the time he eats a lot of fruit, veggies, proteins, etc., so birthday cake one week a year isn’t going to kill him.

    Both boys (and I am thankful that I had only boys, and did not have a daughter to impute body-image issues on before I got my head straightened out) tend toward thinness (sometimes too thin IMO) but both are appreciative of various body types, and the 13 yo actually points out that he prefers women to not look breakable. (He also prefers that they look like they grew their breasts the old-fashioned way, lol.)

  39. One of the many reasons that I won’t have kids (I’ve been saying as much since I was 7 and now I’m 33) is that I wouldn’t want to give my mother a granddaughter. I was average weight for my height, but at age 11 I was 7 inches taller and about 60 pounds heavier than my mother, and she tormented and starved me until I was 18 and left home. She still wonders why I moved far away from her and see her as little as possible. I have two brothers (one very thin who was severely underweight as a teen, and one fat) and their weight was never an issue – fortunately, the brother who is married with kids has two boys, no girls.

  40. Oh man, I am so afraid of subconsciously passing my body isses on to any kids I may have in the future. My mom was always telling me I was beautiful, but she was always hating on herself. i have promised myself that if I ever have kids I will never ever let them see me being negative about my appearance, no matter how bad I may feel. kids absorb everything you say, even when you think they aren’t listening. I’m working hard to be more positive about how i look, so hopefully by the time I have kids this won’t be quite so much of an issue for me.

    The best thing my parents ever did for me food wise was to never feed me “kid food”. If mom and dad were eating green beans and chicken marsala for dinner, I ate green beans and chicken marsala for dinner. I didn’t get tater tots and chicken fingers for dinner while my parents ate something healthy. As a result, I never grew up thinking healthy food was gross, that was just what you ate. I also have a strong aversion to fast food as a grown up because of this. Some people say, “you can’t get little kids to eat healthy”, but honestly, I think what they realy mean is that they can’t be bothered to make the effort. Good eating habits are so important, I’d like to think it’s worth the struggle. If that’s what you’ve grown up with then it’s just second nature.

  41. I have never understood the “kid food” construct. Seriously. I’m too busy to cook two seperate meals, and most of what is considered “kid food” by American society just grosses me out (seriously….hot dogs? Ew. Nothing personal to those that do like them!). My kids have always gotten what we had, and if they didn’t want/like/whatever it, they could go get a string cheese and some fruit or veggies or whatever pre-prepared snacks were in the fridge (seriously, as soon as they were able to open the fridge I started keeping the bottom shelf stocked with prepared fruits and veggies and individual crackers, cheese, yogurt, etc for them to help themselves)! I don’t care if they eat what I cook, but I’ll be damned if I’m cooking two (or more) meals every night! Now that they’re older they can fix themselves anything they’re allowed to fix, but 99% of the time they eat what we do. Just because it’s normal to them.

  42. The ‘kid food’ thing works okay for me, as I honestly did like certain kinds of food more as a child than I do now (and was a pretty picky eater), and seem to appreciate a much wider range of tastes and more bitterness now than I did then. When I was a kid, I couldn’t handle spice at all, even pepperoni was too spicy for me. That changed over time.

    (But even as a kid, I couldn’t stomach the gross sugary stuff my little sister liked!)

    At least to me, the “children’s menu” of standard familiar foods was useful at restaurants because being taken out to eat and then suddenly served a foodstuff you’ve never heard of before and don’t recognise is fairly scary. A restaurant is not a good place to try just a bite of what you’ve been served.

    Even as an adult, my approach to new foods is generally “Have a couple of bites and then think about it for a day to decide whether or not it’s edible.” I will never dive straight in to a new food, I have to see how it settles.

  43. See, my brother was an incredibly picky eater and ate pretty much hot dogs and Chicken McNuggets until he was about seventeen and learned how to cook, and now he’s thin, makes great, healthy food choices (when he can afford them), and basically eats like a normal human being.

    I was an incredibly not-picky eater my entire life and I’m ‘thin’ (well, overweight by BMI, but still small enough for a crap-ton of thin privilege) . . . but I’ve got incredible guilt issues over eating things that aren’t (steamed or raw) vegetables and grilled chicken breast. (Due to an ever-dieting and health-food-freak mom who thinks that she’s teh evil because she used to ‘binge’ on ice cream. And by ‘binge,’ I basically mean ‘eat enough calories to bring her back up to homeostasis level.’) I mean, I eat anything, but I feel like I’ve been ‘bad’ when I eat the ‘wrong’ things. (I’m working on it. Slowly but surely.)

    So, based on my familial example, 1.) try not to have food issues, because the same-gender kid will probably get them; 2.) you’ll have more luck if you just let the kid eat whatever s/he wants to, because s/he’ll figure it out when s/he gets old enough to fend for her/himself.

  44. We also believe in not making food a power struggle. We are in charge of making food, and our son (almost 4) is in charge of eating as much as he wants (including little or none). He used to be great about liking a different variety of foods, but in the last year he is much more picky, especially with vegetables (the only veggies he likes now are peas and corn — while before he loved many, including his favorite cherry tomatoes). We do not want to forbid anything (well he’s never had soda and chewing gum and caffeine and alcohol, but other than that…), and we do not want to label any food as bad — rather, we told him it’s bad for your body to have only one food all the time — it’s good to have different things, of different colors. So in that way, we do limit some foods (for example, 1 or 2 eggs, 1 banana, 1 sugary milk that he drinks, etc) But we never label any particular food as bad.
    And now I have a question/ request for advice: He asks for ice cream every time we pass an ice cream truck, and that happens every day, sometimes multiple times. I don’t want him eating ice cream every day from the truck ,because it’s probably chemical/artifical flavor laden ice cream, and it also is preventing him from eating normal food at meals, I suspect. What do you guys think — I feel bad saying no to ice cream all the time (I also say yes all the time — he just asked so much… every time he sees a truck). I don’t want him to be obsessed with it, but I also don’t want him to eat low quality ice cream every day… what do you do?

  45. @nicegirlphd: If you believe in the power of intuitive eating (I do), you let him have the ice cream every time he asks. No food should be treated differently than any other food. The Goal: He’ll stop asking *every day* when the excitement of the “treat” wears off. You might want to keep a better variety of ice cream in the house too and make sure he knows that it’s there for him. I bet he’ll start picking the tastier stuff soon enough…

  46. I’m crossing my legs just thinking about kids, but I have great admiration for my nieces who were raised vegetarian and so can now read food labels backwards. Being herbivores also helps them think about the processes food goes through before it arrives on a plate, and how it affects both individuals and environments.

  47. RE body image — I try to model it. When little one tells me I’m beautiful, I say, “thank you.” Lots of love that is as unconditional as I can possibly be — if little one says that a particular outfit (or pair of shoes or socks or whatever) makes little one “beautiful” I say that little one is beautiful with our without said item.
    The other day, I was hearing from this child “your hair is beautiful” “your nose is beautiful” “your mouth is beautiful” and I had to graciously accept each compliment. (fun)
    I try to balance the compliments about how adorable my child is with how smart, strong, funny, friendly, clever, good little one is.

    My mom has been saying things that are super annoying, like commenting on little one’s belly, or that little one’s face looks thinner, and this makes me mad, but I don’t call attention to it. I’m definitely going to need to have a talk with my mom sometime about this — sometime soon — that these sorts of comments are completely off limits. And my dad is constantly talking about how beautiful, adorable, this grandchild is and I remind him to mention all of the other wonderful qualities possessed.

    Does anyone have a successful example of limiting grandparents influence on body image?

  48. tabbadabbadoo your daughter sounds just like my 10 year old. I have a son who is 3 years younger than his sister and people are always astonished that the age difference isn’t the other way around.

    Both my boys (11 and 7) are fairly adventurous eaters and are big kids. My daughter is tiny and super fussy about food. They couldn’t be more different but they are all the product of the same upbringing. My daughter has been fussy since she was a baby, introducing solids was positively traumatic and it’s been a slow and painful process to get her to even try anything new ever since. It’s hard to enjoy a meal with one member of the family sitting at the table glaring at you as though you are her worst enemy because you’ve cooked something other than plain pasta or rice for dinner.

  49. Tabbadabbadoo – my kid was a preemie, hit exactly average weight by his due date, was right on target for about 4-5 months, and then dropped like a rock. He just got *on the chart* again this year, at his 3 year old checkup. That is, he is as heavy as 5% of kids his age (well, he was a few months ago – he’s gotten skinny again lately.)

    I used to worry we’d be investigated for child neglect. When I finally stopped breastfeeding, it was to test a theory that he was nursing instead of eating solid food (weaning him didn’t make him gain weight). He’s been tested for cystic fibrosis, we collected poop for a week to see if he was digesting properly, we used to pick baby food by choosing the most calories/ounce, the doctor wrote us a prescription so he could have whole milk instead of 2% at his daycare, he’s been to a pediatric endocrinologist twice…diagnosis: small child. Nothing wrong with him.

    And they tell us, again and again: don’t push him toward or away from any foods; provide an array of healthy (and here healthy includes lots and lots of fat) choices; and relax.

    It’s hard. Really, really hard. But unless he has any other symptoms, he’s just at his natural weight.

  50. Yeah, this is something that’s right in front of me now. I’m the crazy childfree auntie of two girls, ages 10 and 3. The older is tall, broad-shouldered, big-boned and starting to gain weight due to the onset of early puberty and her penchant for ice cream. The younger has a much slighter frame and while both will most certainly be pushing six feet tall when they’re full-grown, we think the younger will be the taller. We don’t make verbal comparisons of the two girls, but they’re not dumb, they’ll see their own differences eventually, and how they’re different from their peers.

    Their mother, my brother’s wife, is fat, but physically healthy (mentally, not so much, what with being bipolar and having ADD, as well as dyslexia). She is convinced that getting the lap-band procedure will solve all of her personal life issues. Sure, that’s how it works! She’ll “finally be thinner than” her smaller-framed younger sister, who has always been held up as “the pretty one”. I think she’s convinced herself that being thinner will finally make her family love her, but lemme tell y’all, that hot mess of a gene pool is irrevocably fucked up. She’d have been better off if she’d been raised by wolves. I could tell you stories that would curl your toenails!

    Already the older niece is spouting body-hating nonsense that she’s clearly getting from her mother, and it breaks my heart. I foresee disaster from this situation, both for my sister-in-law and my nieces. Nothing I have said has made one lick of difference. I have printed out, highlighted and notated all the Junkfood Science articles about weight-loss surgery, to no avail. I have to let it go and keep my mouth shut, there’s nothing I can do. I am dreading the next few years, because, quite frankly, I *know* my SIL will never be able to limit her food intake so drastically, and I can see the writing on the wall.

  51. I’m not a parent, but I am a brownies leader (young girl scouts/guides). We got the girls cooking and eating everything from indian curries to risotto to steamed spinach. Most of their mothers were amazed that their kid was eating such a range of things.

    Having them cook from scratch (and these were pretty young kids, aged 5-10) made it interesting, and we had a rule “you don’t have to eat it all, and you don’t have to like it, but you must have two bites of everything”. One of the girls was utterly astonished that the risotto she had helped make (which all along she said “looked gross”) was delicious, and ended up scmoozing to get the left overs to take home for supper!

  52. I’m childfree, so naturally, I know all about raising kids, right?

    But I did have a moment yesterday where I wanted to do one of those V8 commercial head slaps to a woman in the cafeteria. She had her little girl with her, a little wisp of a child, probably about 5 or 6 years old. The caf sucks, frankly, and the options were salad bar, pathetic looking burgers, pathetic looking fish, and holy shit! pizza! So, apparently the kid picked out some pizza, and some chips.

    I’m sitting in the booth near this woman and her child, and the woman is trying to get this little kid to finish the whole slice of pizza before she can have any chips. And it’s a monster slice, the size of the kid’s head, and the kid just really wants some chips. I managed to keep my mouth shut, but really. It’s 8PM, you’re in a hospital cafeteria, obviously someone close to you is ill, because you’d have to be a serious masochist to want to eat there by choice. Let the kid eat some fucking chips, so long as she has some food in her belly, and maybe gets to enjoy eating the chips, because being a visitor in a hospital when you’re a little kid sucks. Why make her eat the giant pizza first? Makes no damn sense.

  53. Well, I don’t have ’em and never will, but as a fat former child with a steel-trap memory I can say this:

    Never give your kid daily lectures about all the horrible ways she will die if she doesn’t lose weight.

    Never point out your kid’s stretchmarks with a sigh and say that you’re sorry they ruined her perfect skin. And that they will never go away, ever. (They faded and my husband loves them, STFU.)

    Never bitch at your kid for eating junk food and red meat and bread if that’s all you fucking keep in the house. Kid’s not going to be able to eat healthy food if the kid can’t find healthy food.

    Never forbid any foods to your child, unless they have a medical condition that precludes them having it.

    Do make sure your kid is exposed to a variety of foods, but don’t mock or criticise if they dislike something. Try it again later or let it go. Don’t harp on it, or for god’s sake single them out if they are the only family member who doesn’t like Aunt Myrtle’s fabulous green beans.

    Don’t serve your fat kid less of anything, or, conversely, make them eat if they don’t want to.

    Don’t comment on how much they eat, period, unless you see evidence of some major problem.

    Be aware of what the other kids in the house are saying about bodies. My parents didn’t slam on fat people, but my elder sister (who was very much a role model for my attitudes, because she was cool and tall and blonde and thin) did, and that did a lot of damage.

    Talk about fat people you see in the media, talk about thin people, and talk about what advertising tries to sell us. Teach your kid to see lies from an early age.

    Have fat friends that don’t diet, if you can manage that.

    Don’t diet. It models dysfunctional behavior for your kids. My eight-year-old nephew was trying to diet because that’s all his mother ever did, and he was really upset that he gained weight after eating an eight-year-old-sized Thanksgiving dinner (i.e. HUGE). OMFG, did I give someone an earful over that.

    Do you really need a bathroom scale when you have kids? I don’t know. If you don’t, though, then don’t have one.

    If you have a skinny kid and a fat kid, make sure they understand that it’s NOT a competiton.

    Never start or end any sentence with the words “You have such a pretty face,” unless it is about THEIR FACE, and not the rest of them.

    Buy your kid nice clothes that fit properly. If you have shitty taste, admit it and press-gang someone with taste into helping your kid shop so that she doesn’t get made fun of at school for being dressed hideously AND fat. The kid doesn’t have to dress mainstream, but the kid should dress with deliberate style, and the clothes should be quality. You never want your kid to feel like she doesn’t deserve nice things just because she’s got a big ass.

    When your pre-teen/teen cries about never being able to get a date, please explain to her that as awful and lonely as it can seem, it is not the end of the world, and plenty of people don’t date until they are much older. If she thinks it’s because she’s fat, please don’t tell her she’s probably right. At the same time, don’t dismiss how painful this phase is for a child. PLEASE.

    Teach your fat kid that she doesn’t have to date the first person who is interested because there will NEVER! BE! ANOTHER! CHANCE! EVER! Teach her that just because she is fat, she does not have to take “whatever she can get.” Teach her to hold out for the awesome, because there is awesome waiting. You don’t want a chunky teenager fruitlessly trying to screw her way to self-esteem. Trust me on that one.

    Teach your kids that fat bodies aren’t scary or gross or smelly. I suggest having a fat cat to snuggle. That helps me immensely even today.

    I’m out of steam, but that’s what I suggest.

  54. Whoever (I think there were quite a few of you!) was talking about grandparents…. I think the best idea is just to outright ban them from talking about food to your kids.

    I was the older skinny one, my sister was the younger chubby one. So *obviously*, my Gran just had to point this out.
    And try to force-feed me, and tell my sister that she’d had enough when she was clearly still hungry. (We used to swap plates sometimes, but still. Not nice.)

    My mum claims that if I ever have kids, she’ll take them out for the day, get them high on sugar and then return them to me, cackling with glee. I’m dreading the thought, but at least I know she won’t push crazy eating messages…

  55. Hannah Darling, yes. All of it.

    I was the fat child with two skinny brothers. My parents, who loved me unconditionally and whose love for me I never doubted and do not doubt for a second, had me on diets from before my memory starts. When my brothers got milk before bed, I got water. When my brothers had whole milk for dinner, I had skim. Starting from the time I was about eight, my daily calories were itemized on a blackboard in the kitchen. All of this done lovingly and with the best intentions in the world. Raise your hand if you remember the 600-calorie-a-day Pilot’s Diet.

    I vowed to do differently by my children (now 22 and 26). I breastfed until they were each 3, because I read that breastfed babies don’t become fat. We ate brown rice and veggies and tofu and other healthy foods – well, they did, I watched them eat while I consumed coffee, lettuce and water and then entire bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies after they went to bed. They had limited television hours and plenty of exercise running around outside the house with the neighborhood kids. They rode bikes and roller skates and took karate and dance classes and played baseball. We walked a mile each way to and from their school every week day. When they got older, we bought a treadmill and put it up in our small city living room and we all used it every single day without fail, because, you know, Teh Fatz will kill you.

    But – here’s the thing. DNA wins. Both my kids are faaaat. My daughter and I play in the size 18-22 sandbox. My son is built like Buddha and wears size 40 pants. He remembers vividly the first day he realized he was no longer the handsomest boy in elementary school, when on the playground some kid pointed out his “boobies” with malicious glee. He now has a plump, lovely, bright girlfriend who adores him. He eats pretty much what he wants, in good variety and quantity, and gets about four miles of walking every day with the dogs. He doesn’t like to see pictures of himself but seems overall reasonably philosphical about his size.

    My daughter is miserable, dates losers, goes on and off the Atkins diet weekly, consumes diet drugs by the handful, and says that FA is for people who have given up and she’s not going to give up. The Fantasy of Being Thin is very hard to let go, of course. But it is painful to watch, and to remember. Any advice from readers and lurkers with older/adult kids would be welcome.

  56. I have two little boys (one three years and one 7 months). I try to let them feel good about their bodies and food, without being too weird about it. I do

  57. I don’t have kids, and others have remarked on this, but no matter what you *say* to your kids, if you’re dieting/making disparaging remarks toward your own body, your child will believe you think that of her body.
    One of my first memories is of my mother looking at herself in the mirror and saying, “I’m so fat.” And honest to moses, that’s what I think every time I look in the GD mirror. I’ve been everything from severely underweight (anorexia) to “overweight” and no matter what I weigh, that’s what I think when I see my reflection. Why? Because my body looks just like my mom’s.

  58. This is the question that keeps me up at night. I read the FeedMe blog(which is great) and get scared. My biggest fear is that my daughter will be so scared of her genetic destiny that she will be anorexic.

    The way I see it is that my best bet is to be such a strong advocate of intuitive eating and HAES that she will see that this is what I truly believe. I want her to at least know exactly where I stand so when other people try to influence her she will have something to compare it with. She will at least know that not everyone is diet obsessed.

  59. Crudzilla. I wrote a big long thing and then my internets crashed.

    Basically, I have no kids of my own, but my fat sister and I have thin younger sibs and thin younger cousins, all of whom we are very close to. Our (thinnish) stepmom isn’t terrible, but isn’t great about food awareness/choices and body image (although she could be a LOT worse, and since she has always been thinnish herself, has never been one to talk a lot of diet-speak and body-hate in front of her kids — better than my own fat mom, in that respect), and my aunt is a nutso constant dieter and body-criticizer (but still not at all what I, at a size 16ish bottom, 18ish top, would call “fat,” just to give you some perspective). We try to model positive behavior and attitudes around them, and when it comes up, we talk to them about how “fat” is simply a descriptive, and not a moral, term. We call ourselves fat in front of them, and encourage them to describe us that way (not, like, constantly pointing it out or obsessing over it, but just if it comes up, or if it came up as an “insult” or a negative thing, we would simply accept it as an adjective, and talk about it in those terms).l The cousins were sort of obsessed for a while with poking our “big fat bellies!”, which after some thought we just accepted, because we decided it was their way of dealing with and processing the conflicting information they were getting, from us on the one hand, and from their mother and the rest of society on the other. Also, it was like they needed to keep testing us, to see if we were really serious that they weren’t crossing a line in describing us as fat. Also, they were pretty joyous about it — “big fat belly!” was said with a smile, not a sneer. They still feel a need to discuss it kind of a lot, which I am fine with — they get a lot of conflicting messages, so if I need to keep reinforcing mine, that’s fine by me. (Example, from the 12-year-old: “You’re fat, but you don’t mind being called, fat, right? Because it’s just a description. Like, you have blue eyes and I have brown hair.” Me: “Right.” Wait 15 minutes. Repeat entire conversation. Wash, rinse, repeat.)

    (BTW, we’ve also had the discussion with them that even though fat is simply an adjective, and my sister and I are fine with it, other people do view it as a negative, so they can’t go around calling other people fat, because that might hurt people’s feelings, not because fat is bad, but because society has told those people that fat is bad.)

  60. Got a daughter. Lot of good food-related suggestions above. Some of the non-food things we do here towards good body image:

    She has a sewing machine. Right now she mostly uses it to sew random scraps together or to make a “quilt” for her teddy bears, but being able to sew will mean she’s never at the mercy of the manufacturers’ styles and sizes–she can make what fits her and delights her. (And I try to model that right now. If I don’t like how something fits, I show her how I can fix the garment instead of decrying the body inside it.) When she’s a little older, we’ll work on crocheting or learn to knit together, too.

    She’s on a swim team. It’s a laid-back team, she doesn’t even do meets, but what I like about swimming is that the coaches (men and women) are all shapes and sizes, and it’s co-ed sport, and everyone’s in the water–no worrying over whose bodies are bigger or smaller or curvier or not. (In a cap and goggles, they all look like bugs, anyway…)

  61. Buy your kid nice clothes that fit properly. If you have shitty taste, admit it and press-gang someone with taste into helping your kid shop so that she doesn’t get made fun of at school for being dressed hideously AND fat. The kid doesn’t have to dress mainstream, but the kid should dress with deliberate style, and the clothes should be quality. You never want your kid to feel like she doesn’t deserve nice things just because she’s got a big ass.

    This is SUCH good advice. I was a chubby nerd in elementary and middle school and I got made fun of for my clothes a LOT. Partly it was a class issue (I now recognize) — I didn’t wear the brand names that other kids did — but also partly it was because my mom, god bless her, was completely clueless about style. It turned out that once I started buying my own clothes, in high school, that I was really into making my own style and I really enjoyed clothes. But in retrospect I really really wish that my parents had just fobbed me off on a more stylish friend or aunt for clothes shopping. It was really awful to feel that my body was ugly and that the clothes I put on (to hide my ugly body) were also ugly.

    Man, I am glad to be an adult. Being a kid is hard!

  62. Harriet Warmer:

    As an adult kid of a still-dieting and somewhat weight-obsessed mom, I’ve had sort of the opposite problem, trying to talk my mom out of body-negativity and joining Weight Watchers (and, mostly, I’ve succeeded, yay!, although my sister and mom and I have been somewhat handicapped in our FA efforts because in addition to being fat, we’ve all had messed-up relationships with food (as have lots of y’all, I’m sure), so trying to convince my mom that she can fix her relationship with food and bingey behavior as a separate issue from being fat was/is sort of challenging, and while she’s still sort of messed up about food, at least she no longer wants to go the WW route). Honestly, I think you have to keep doing what you would do for a young child: model, model, model. Do not encourage or respond to diet talk, negative talk, etc (or respond briefly and clearly explain why you won’t engage in that discussion /yet again/, and then move on). Be a loving, positive presence. It hurts to watch someone else struggle, but there’s a limited amount you can do.

  63. Ack! I’m not a parent, but I think about this all the time because I’m a nanny to two girls, ages 11 & 15, who are being raised by a (wonderful) single father, so I’m the daily female presence in their lives (as well as the one who makes their dinners). They each have their own food/body issues already. The younger one was actually underweight for a little while — her school health classes drilled into her mind that she shouldn’t eat if she wasn’t hungry, but she was going through a tough time emotionally so her body wasn’t telling her she was hungry often! She seems to be more into eating healthy foods and getting exercise now. The older one has the tastes of a picky toddler — she’ll hardly eat any vegetables at all, and turns her nose up at roughly half of what I make for dinner — and has such a busy schedule it’s hard for her to be active. I try to talk with both of them about eating real, satisfying, healthy food, and being physically active (and, of course, I try to model that behavior myself), but I feel I’m walking the fine line between encouraging healthy habits and possibly creating some obsessions!

  64. I have struggled with eating disorders for most of my adult life. I have 2 kids, 6 and 3. I fear I have not done a very good job. So now when I weigh myself (I know I shouldn’t!!) I shout out “Just Right” and when my daughter rubs her belly and says it is big, in a happy way, because she wants to be a big girl, I always say “It is the cutest one I have ever seen”

  65. @atiton: thanks for the advice. I want to say that I do believe in intuitive eating, but maybe that’s not being perfectly honest with myself. I don’t like ingredients I can’t understand (e.g., I’m all for ice cream that is made of cream, sugar, strawberries, but the stuff you buy at the truck has all these other things…), I don’t like partially hydroginated oils, food colorings, I try to buy organic etc. I also pack lunch for school to always include a protein, carb, fruit and veggie, even though my son never eats the veggie. I don’t really, in my heart of hearts, feel that all food is the same : I rather he eat a cheese stick than a lolly-pop. And I really hate it when he sticks his fingers into ketchup and eats it plain, or grabs a huge chunk of butter and eats it plain. It just feels wrong to me, and I am not sure if its my problem that I should get over, or is it right to tell him this is not how you eat butter or ketchup, they are meant to be eaten with something (like bread, or french fries, or chicken). I am conflicted about this. I really want him to eat healthy food, but I also don’t want to make food into a moral issue (and I think we’ve been successful with that so far but he’s only 4…)
    I also am a huge believer in being honest with your kids, yet I don’t feel I really am completely honest with food, in that I try to steer him towards eating healthy (and I try to model it, but often eating lots of ‘junk’ when he’s not there), but don’t label things to him as healthy vs not (just telling him that the body needs a variety of nutrients to be healthy).
    Sigh, it’s hard being a parent…
    (and I welcome comments, including critical ones — I am trying to sort this out, figure out what comes from negative societal impact on me, and what is truly right).

  66. sorry I am talking so much, I just remember 3 more things:
    1) One thing I am sure we’re doing right (imo), is encouraging him to eat as much or as little as his body tells him — doesn’t have to finish food on his plate, can eat very little at times, or can eat a lot and ask for seconds and thirds — just follow what your body needs.

    2) @ naamah darling: I can’t believe you are not a parent — what you are saying is RIGHT ON. I agree with every word of it.

    3) @ Harriet: I am you, at the stage when your kids were still little, and with a tiny bit more awareness. Would you have done anything differently, other than mentally (sounds like you had a goal for them to be thin, which you now view as the wrong goal, if I read you correctly.. but would you practically do anything different?)

    Thanks to all of you for your comments, this is fascinating.

  67. nicegirlphd, yes, I would have done things differently. I don’t beat myself up too much, because I can’t help but be the sum total of my life experience, but I could certainly wish I had more FA awareness sooner. You are off to a much better parenting start if you are reading the collective wisdom of this community.

    In particular, I would have modeled vastly different behavior regarding food. I would have eaten real meals more often and more publicly – and more joyfully. Although we ate dinner together as a family, I tended to eat very sparingly in order to save calories for my late-night treat so that I could “afford” a bag of M&Ms or several cookies and still maintain an acceptable (for an outdated concept of acceptable) figure. And as for breakfast, lunch or snack, well, I didn’t eat those at all beyond a guilty hidden mouthful of some child’s leftovers as I cleaned up.

    I would have liked myself more, or at least been more at peace with myself.

    If I had bothered to really know and like myself any sooner, however, I would never have married that man and these two kids would not exist, so perhaps I am glad to have found this particular brand of sanity later in life. But you can see that my daughter comes by her self-loathing naturally, and is only mirroring back to me the behaviors she saw growing up. Mea culpa.

  68. Nicegirlphd, you raise a ton of interesting questions. With the disclaimer that I’m not a parent and filed this post under “Why I Shouldn’t Breed,” a couple of thoughts…

    My first thought about both the ice cream truck and the ketchup/butter is that you could discourage him on grounds that he’s behaving inappropriately, without making it about the food. With the ice cream truck, maybe focus on getting something from the truck being a special treat, not something you do every day — but offer him ice cream at home if he really wants it. (Which he may or may not. My guess is, he’s mostly into the truck transaction.) If he does want it, you can at least then give him ice cream of your choosing. I think if you make it about the truck, not the ice cream, you can get him to chill out without giving him food issues — and without teaching him that he can get whatever he wants by demanding it. (Intuitive eating is one thing. Insisting on food from a certain source is another.)

    Same thing with the butter and ketchup — I don’t see anything wrong with pointing out that those are supposed to go on other things, not to mention that big people don’t eat with their hands. (I also wonder, based on the butter thing, if he’s getting enough fat in his diet? I know I tried eating butter straight once as a kid — ’cause hey, it makes everything else taste good, why not eliminate the middleman? — and I found it so gross I nearly barfed. That could just be my tastebuds vs. his, but I wonder if the desire to eat straight butter might mean his body really wants it for some reason? Totally just spitballin’ here, and of course I could be way off on a lot of levels.) But again, I think the key is to make it about the action, not the food. I wonder how he’d react if you offered him a bowl of ketchup or a plate of butter with a spoon and told him that if he’s going to eat this stuff straight, he needs to do it like a big boy. Would he even want to bother? (Even if he did, I imagine there’s a possibility he’d get grossed out after a few bites, which might solve the problem entirely.)

    Having said all that, I also think you probably need to find a way to relax a little about what goes into his mouth — for your sake as much as his. (MUCH easier said than done, I know. Just saying I get the impression that you’re putting a little too much pressure on yourself to control stuff you can’t always control.) It’s great to avoid additives, trans fats, pesticides, growth hormones, HFCS, etc., but A) you probably can’t eliminate those things from his diet entirely anywhere except your own home, and B) Having a relatively small amount of that stuff in his diet won’t kill him.

    One thing that’s really helped me get over some of my own food issues is looking at my eating patterns over a longer time period than just a day. So like, if he chose a lollipop two days this week but a cheese stick the other 5, he’s probably doing fine overall, but it can be hard to see that on lollipop day. A little over a year ago, a friend of mine was frustrated b/c her doc said she was supposed to be feeding her baby (post-breastfeeding) X oz. of milk a day, but some days, she just couldn’t get her to take that much. I said, “Well, are there other days when she takes more?” Now that you mention it, yes. “And over the course of a week, does it average out to X oz. a day?” Yep, pretty much. So there you go — the kid’s getting exactly as much milk as the doctor ordered, just not by having exactly the same amount every day.

    I think it can be so hard when you’re struggling over a particular meal to look at the larger picture and say okay, my kid is (or I am) actually getting a balanced diet. But you really can’t see a pattern over one meal or one day. There might be a day when I eat 2 servings of veggies, followed by one where I eat 8 servings. If I thought I was being “bad” on day one and “good” on day 2 (as I did for most of my life), I’d be putting myself through a lot of unnecessary stress — but if you look at the two days together, I’m doing just fine, you know?

  69. I 2nd rowmyboat. Most of my problems with food came from “the bad” being forbidden. AND, because my mom would buy all kinds of candy and sweets for my dad, but forbid us to have them…which of course made me sneak them. And, when I would see all that forbidden stuff my dad didn’t eat and would throw out, it would make me want to take it more. My friends could never understand why I marveled at the concept that they were permitted to eat whatever, whenever. I’ll say it over and over and over…..mother love is a killer.

  70. I’m torn about the lollipop v. cheese stick issue. As a non-picky eater with a picky eater brother (who grew up to be a giant, burly, healthy guy despite eating nothing but cold cereal, cheeze pizza, hamburgers, Dinty Moore beef stew, and baked chicken with no spices from ages 4-12) and as the godmother of the World’s Pickiest Eater and aunt of the World’s Unpickiest Eater, I don’t know what to say about this when I’m caring for kids.

    I really believe that my nephew’s preferred meal of broccoli, cheese squares, black beans and brown rice (with a little salsa if it’s not too spicy) is healthier than my goddaughter’s preferred meal of white rice and a cookie.

    And this is all made worse by the fact that my goddaughter’s mother and grandmother are both really, really eating-disordered and I am probably the only model of HEAS that she has in her life. So I am petrified to say anything or do anything other than offering her some more nutrient-dense choices that I know she likes (apple slices spread with peanut butter, for instance).

    My wish is that she will learn how to eat intuitively and healthily (for her) but I am worried that she won’t figure it out.

  71. My mother raised me to eat healthfully and to love all food. We went on family walks together for the sheer joy of walking. She never, ever, commented about my weight and raised my naturally thin sister to do the same. She never criticized her own body in front of me. I coulnd’t have asked for a more HAES friendly upbringing. But by the age of 8 I was convinced that I was fat.

    Culture is powerful. I really don’t think that you can completely shield children from wanting to fit in and be attractive according to their peers standards. I spent way too much of my life being absolutely miserable about my body, and I know it broke my mom’s heart.

    The thing is, eventually I realized what absolute horseshit the media was trying to feed me. Eventually, I decided to give up the fantasy that being thin would make me like myself. Eventually, I decided to pursue a healthy lifestyle for it’s own sake. And when I finally decided to do that, everything that my mom taught me and modeled for me was there for me as an amazing starting point. I know so many people who wanted to escape the self-hating dieting cycle, but had never had any alternative modeled for them.

  72. No sprogs here! Just cats for me, but I do remember some very positive aspects of my own upbringing. My da’ passed away when I was a babe so my early childhood was spent in the same house as mum, auntie Deb, uncle Pete, and my grandparents. Dinner was very much a tribal affair!

    Any foods that I was encouraged to eat were offered on the basis that they would provide some non-fat-related benefit. Eating carrots makes you see in the dark, eating spinach makes you really strong. Liver (which I loved anyway) would make my guts strong and brussel sprouts (or fairy cabbages, as I was told, until they realised I was a tomboy) would make my hair grow curly.

    I took part in the family cooking; as soon as I could hold a potato peeler or small knife (little cuts were a lesson!) I was helping to prepare meals. We would test sauces together, to decide what extra spices or herbs were needed, and I would see whether meat was ready by being given the yummy knobbly end bit to taste. My input was actively sought and encouraged, and I soon developed preferences for certain spices in cooking, combinations of vegetables and the like. We made our own bread and pasta whenever we could get the time to do so, so I always knew what was in my food. It’s hard to call it “gross” or “smelly” when you made it!

    I also wasn’t fed a diet of “kid’s menu” food (ie chips, beans, fish fingers) Those things were included, but only if that was what we were cooking for everyone. So I was introduced to calamari, mussels, and “gross” things early on. My mum, with her equally open and jolly approach to my all-round education, would poke a winkle into an unprepared squid, then part it’s tentacles and go “Look! Squid willy!”. Food was a plaything and a joy as much as it was nourishment, and there was nothing wrong with mash potato castles with pea soldiers.

    I was provided with Indian, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, English, American, Lithuanian and many other traditions in the kitchen so my tastes were pretty diverse early on. My family also didn’t stint on the tasty bits. If chestnuts and butter make sprouts sweeter, and bacon makes broad beans tastier, then it was added to the dish. No questions.

    Of course, there was the bad as well. Dining table diet talk, jokes about “chubby legs”, insistence on finishing the content of my plate even when I was really full, and later when that actually worked jokes about my appetite. But overall, not as bad as it could’ve been by a long shot. I think most of my issues came from outside the family. I was a lucky girl.

  73. JupiterPluvius, I think it also helps to remember that a kid’s palate doesn’t necessarily dictate what his or her adult palate will be like. I was a really picky eater as a kid and am still sort of picky about some things (raw tomatoes, olives), but there are LOADS of foods I love now that I hated as a kid. And I mean hated. I wasn’t just petulantly refusing to eat certain foods; I was truly grossed out by them. (The way I remain truly grossed out by raw tomatoes and olives in any form today.)

    But as I got older, two things happened: I became more adventurous, and my palate changed. So, like, at our 5th grade international food fair (which the Brownies story above reminded me of), I tried some homemade salsa — something I never would have done a few years earlier, given the main ingredient — and discovered I fucking loved it. (Salsa was still a novelty in white midwestern suburbs at that point, btw.) And that led me to realize I don’t even completely hate raw tomatoes — I just hate them unadulterated.

    I also spent my early childhood disgusted by all kinds of fish (didn’t even like fish sticks, though I would choke them down), then went on a trip to Boston when I was about 8, tried some “scrod” (bland whitefish of dubious provenance, probably with a lot of butter and breadcrumbs), loved it, and was subsequently willing to try a bunch of different kinds of fish. Many of which I also loved. So, in retrospect, I spent very little of my life hating fish (or thinking I did) and most of my life loving it — but those first 8 years were undoubtedly a pain in the ass for my mom.

    I could tell you similar stories about dozens of different foods, but you get the idea. And the point is, by the time I hit adolescence, I enjoyed SO many more foods than I did as a little kid. If you’d been in charge of me when I was five, you might very well have worried that I would never eat anything but chicken noodle soup, peanut butter, and mac and cheese. (And even then, only shitty Kraft dinner — I hated homemade mac and cheese and even the Stouffer’s frozen kind, ’cause the taste was too strong for me. And hell, there’s another one right there — as a kid, I could not stand any cheese with a flavor stronger than muenster or the mildest cheddar. Today, I could eat a block of roquefort like an apple.)

    I’m sure some kids never grow out of their food aversions, but obviously, some do. And you just don’t know which one your kid (or godkid, or niece or nephew, wev) will turn out to be. So I think it’s good to remember that as long as they’re basically healthy and eating something, they won’t die of malnutrition, and the “problem” might very well solve itself, sooner than you think.

    One more thing, which I’ve harped on before. If a kid will eat a “good” food in any form, let them eat it that way. A heap of butter and bread crumbs made me realize I like fish. Deep-fried zucchini made me realize that the whole concept of zucchini wasn’t disgusting — which led me to try sauteed zucchini and steamed zucchini, and find out I liked both. Eggplant parmesan and moussaka got me over being squicked by eggplant (somewhat — I still don’t love it). See also: broccoli and caulflower with cheese sauce, green peppers in sugary sweet and sour sauce, etc. (And if they won’t eat it a certain way, try another way. Sweet potatoes went in the opposite direction for me — I never liked the supposedly kid-friendly sugary, marshmallow-topped version we always got at Thanksgiving. But when I got older and discovered oven-roasted sweet potato “fries” and a savory mashed version with sage, shallots, and pecans, I was like, “WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME HOW AWESOME THESE ARE?”)

    I think parents and other caregivers are under so much pressure to do everything “right” when kids are kids, because of this big cultural myth that what you’re taught in childhood will dictate what you do as an adult. To an extent, obviously, it’s true. But only to an extent. Kids are all different, and the teenagers and then adults they become are often substantially different from the kids they were, in all sorts of ways. Fearful kids can become confident, shy kids can become outgoing, and picky eaters can develop broader tastes without anyone necessarily having to do much of anything, short of giving them love and the opportunity to try new stuff when they’re ready.

    I mean, think of how much wasted stress my mom would have put herself through if she’d been afraid that my five-year-old eating habits would determine my lifetime eating habits. (Since I was the 4th kid, she wasn’t.) She just kept encouraging me to try new foods, and letting me make a peanut butter sandwich when necessary. Sure, I got buttloads of other food issues from her — there were forbidden foods I obsessed over, and after she was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure, fat and salt became The Enemy like they never were before — but on that one, I think she did incredibly well. There’s nothing that grosses me out because I was forced to eat it as a kid, and I gradually found out I liked a lot of different foods because I was gently encouraged to try them over time.

  74. My brother, who’s cognitively disabled and was the world’s pickiest eater as a kid, shocked my whole family by learning to love a wide variety of foods once we became an adult — especially once he moved into his group home. I don’t know if it’s a different style of cooking or just a change of social norms (since they’re cooking for, like, 8 people at once), but he eats all kinds of things now, and when we visit and go to restaurants he’s more adventurous too. Kids grow up and their tastes may change, or (as ego-battering as this might be) they might not like how you cook certain foods. If you’re really worried about a picky eater, you can have them take vitamins (IANAD so do your research on that, obviously!) — the only fallout from my brother’s years of PB sandwiches is that he’s had some problems with low bone density as an adult. Of course, that’s may also related to some of his disabilities, but he didn’t get a whole lot of calcium as a kid because he really hated the usual food sources of it.

  75. I wonder if the desire to eat straight butter might mean his body really wants it for some reason?

    Heh. Okay, I know cats aren’t kids, but once I had a cat who had a weird gastro illness, and the vet put him on a very low calorie/low fat cat food because it was so easy to digest. He lost a bunch of weight, and one day when I was cooking he jumped up on the counter and stole an *entire stick* of butter. He went under the bed where I couldn’t reach him and ate the whole stick, paper and all.
    So yeah, maybe the kid just needs more fat?

  76. SM, your story of your brother reminded me of a trick that might work with small children. My brother is 19 but he has developmental disabilities and is quite childlike in some respects. He isn’t a super picky eater but there are some foods that he just doesn’t like the sound of, so when you say it’s name he shakes his head and refuses to try it.

    For example, last Thanksgiving I made these pumpkin chai custards for dessert and when I put it in front of him and he asked what is was my mom said “custard” and he started to shake his head and pout like it was poison so I said “J, it’s pudding, just try it” he was a little skeptical but once he tried it he had 3 of them, they were a huge hit.

    So the point of the story is if you have a child with a mental block around certain foods, try calling it something else (not lying, just using a synonym or a name of a dish instead of an ingredient, or whatever) if you can.

  77. I don’t have children, but I’m terrified for people who do.

    I watch both CNN and Fox morning shows. Last Friday, one of the networks did a story about meatless options at a school cafeteria. They interviewed a little girl who said she was choosing the meatless options because she was 10 pounds overweight at her last doctor’s visit. I didn’t see an ounce of fat on the kid.

    Yesterday, the other network did a hysterical, handwringing story about parents forgetting about height-weight percentiles when their children reach about 7 years old which is OMG WHEN THEY NEED TO FREAK OUT OVER THEM OMG! They showed footage of a normal-sized child eating a piece of cake (bad food! bad sweets and carbs and refined sugar and butter and BAD FOOD!) Yeah. At age seven, aren’t kids SUPPOSED to start growing fast and gaining weight?

    Yep. The media and medical community are pretty much guaranteeing that we might actually have a real obesity epidemic (booga booga!) by institutionalizing weight loss at AGE FREAKING SEVEN.

    I was raving. Absolutely raving. A normal sized girl was avoiding meat to lose 10 pounds. Is it me, or are they damning her to become obese?

    God, I’d like a lead pipe and five minutes alone with her doctor’s knees.

  78. At least it’s gotten better for the toddlers and infants, what with more breastfeeding and doctors recognizing that toddlers need fat.

    About 10 years ago now, my mom called me up to apologize for giving me skim milk as a baby, because she’d learned in some continuing ed course that infants need fat for brain development. But in 1974 she was told not to breastfeed, and I was allergic to all the formulas they could find, so as an INFANT they gave me plain skim cow milk. (Though, my boob baby is as scrawny as I was, so maybe it didnt’ make a difference. Anyway). Apparently back in the ’70s that wasn’t uncommon. And in the ’80s lots of doctors recommended low-fat food for kids.

    I just hope that things are better for the bigger kids by the time mine is a bigger kid. He’s got food disfunction in all branches of the family (one grandma was anorexic, one had WLS; I went from scrawny kid to Big Girl in one year when puberty hit me, with attendant craziness; his dad has a lot of “fat kid” traume from being chunky for, like, a year before his height kicked in.)

    I don’t have a lot of hope, though – I have a friend who is already evaluating schools based on their food/recess policies. It makes me want to scream. Specifically “Isn’t what goes into her head more important than what goes into her mouth?” But there are good developmental reasons to have lots of recess, so that’s the “reason”, not the weight concerns I hear about otherwise, right? Right.

  79. I guess I’m sort of coming at this from a different angle. It seems to me that mothers of young children (and maybe older children, too?) are encouraged to bond with each other over their anxiety about/dissatisfaction over their children… in precisely the same way that they’ve learned how to bond over their anxiety about/dissatisfaction over their bodies.

    I have a LOT to say about this, too much for right now, but here’s a long prolegomenon:

    The way I raise my kids to have healthy body issues is to REJECT mommy perfectionism with every ounce of my being (of which there are many, ha!), and therefore to scrutinize neither my kids nor my body for signs that I’m failing at prettiness or momminess.

    Which is to say I opt out of the following kinds of interaction, of which I shall shortly dash off a pastiche… NOTE HOW FREAKING SIMILAR IT IS TO DIET TALK!!:

    Mom 1: (deep martyr sight) I’m so frustrated. My child is unacceptable. S/he talks back/doesn’t respect us/is too quiet/is too loud/isn’t reading yet/blah-dee-blah. Meanwhile, since I know that I’m being watched every second by people who want to criticize my parenting and I can’t bear the thought of being criticized by the Watching Others, I’ve tried everything to fix the kid. I mean, I’ve completely erased my whole identity, and s/he is STILL unacceptable. I don’t get it. But I’m not angry, you know, I just… (trails off, obviously angry).

    Mom 2: I have had EXACTLY THE SAME problem with my little tyke. But then I read It’s Your Fault: How Sucky Moms Screw Everything Up by Noted Big-Schlonged Male Expert Who Has Never Actually Been The Primary Caregiver of Small Children. You know what I realized? I have been doing absolutely everything wrong. I was letting my kid bully me/not being nurturing enough/getting sucked into power struggles/hovering/being inattentive/fuckity-what-else. It is MY problem. (And it sure as hell must be mine, because my husband disappeared into his career as soon as the first kid popped out of my body. I’m not angry, though, I’m just…. (trails off, obviously angry)


    Mom 2: Me TOO! Now we can be friends, see? Otherwise we’d be competitors who’d have to hate each other and compare ourselves to each other while making nicey-poo at preschool pickup time.

    Mom 1: Oh, good. I’m glad that’s settled. Hey! Wanna talk about how much we hate our post-kids bodies?

    Mom 2: Yes, lets!


    Seriously, I swear, are how most moms I know become friends now. Indeed, it’s what most mom-friendships seem to consist of, and it’s crazy. Basically the way you learned to be about your body in sixth grade? Is how you learn to be about your kid when you become a mom. Which means young mommyhood sucks exactly as much as sixth grade did. I love my kids, but I friggin’ hate occupying the social space labeled “mother.”

  80. I don’t make commentary on any body belonging to anyone, especially MINE!, that isn’t celebratory. (You ran so fast! Your hug is so strong! Look at how big my muscle is!)

    When my kids say ‘your tummy is squishy” or “your arm is jiggly” (purely observation, not judgment) I say “It sure is! Doesn’t it feel good to squish right into my hug?” or “Yup, that’s my body.”

    If they do start to worry about weight (because the school beats them over the head with Teh Fatz are EVUL!) I say, “Oh well, look around… we come in all sizes and shapes and shades, don’t we? Why do you think that is?”

    I don’t dictate what they eat, but I have them take a “polite bite” of everything, and they never have to finish anything they aren’t hungry for. I ask that they make whole food, unprocessed choices first, and add processed foods in moderation. Food is fuel, so choose the best for your body machine!

    We make meals a social, lively event with lots of talking and sharing.

    We prize exercise and activity and using our bodies. They see me swim and run, lift weights and play soccer, and they all play at least one sport.

    I don’t worry too much about food being a comfort, because dammit, it IS comforting to cook and eat warm cookies and a glass of milk on a dreary day. And I make no apologies for passing on that great Truth.

  81. A Sarah… ouch. I’ve noticed that when I say something that I’m happy about pertaining to my kid, it’s greeted with silence, but when I say, “oh, what a terrible sleeper I have” I’m met with nods and friendliness… typing hard with naked 3 year old between me and computer… who wants to watch Super Why on iTunes… must resist…

  82. wellroundedtype2 — Dang, we should hang out. I would TOTALLY cheer right along with you when you say something happy about your kid. :) :)

    But I know the silence you mean. Can’t it be kind of wickedly fun, sometimes, to say things that just screw up the mommy self-hatred and kid-fault-obsession scripts we’re all supposed to follow? The lines I trot out are, “Yeah, I dunno, I don’t find parenting manuals all that interesting, really, and I figure the boys are resilient so I just do whatever occurs to me at the time without really caring if it ‘works'” and “Well, my kids will have to share a whole world with people who are less-than-ideal, so I figure they might as well start with their parents!”

    But, yeah, nobody knows what to say if you’re not talking about how much you hate yourself for not being the perfect mother, as oh-so-embarrassingly revealed by your KID WHO IS OMG NOT PERFECT WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH MOTHERS THESE DAYS? *rends garments, dons hair shirt*

  83. Yes, I think I would probably crack each other up, and our kids would have plenty of fun.

    Last week, I got on my husband’s case for taking little one to preschool so late (I’ve been going to the gym and then straight to work in the morning), and Monday, they arrived on time, but he proceeded to tell me that when he left the preschool, the kid was sitting at the table there eating colored sprinkles with a spoon. At first I was mortified… what would the other parents and the teachers think about these parents who feed their child a plateful of colored sprinkles for breakfast? But then I thought, hey, they were there on time. Hurray! It’s not like it’s bowls of colored sprinkles 3 meals a day around here, so, we will all survive. I don’t fault the kid for wanting the sprinkes, and dad, well, he was focused on a different outcome.

    I guess the food stuff is pretty lax around here. Most of the time, there is real food (not much kid food), mostly homemade things, so I don’t make a big deal about food, or perfection, or toilet training, or much of anything, really, other than not hitting and using one’s words and the stuff I consider really important. I think it’s about 10% of the time that I insist on anything.

  84. My God, Wellrounded, I never thought of iTunes for SuperWhy.
    We just always play the games on pbskids. Which makes it hard to type in the other window.

  85. Also, A Sarah, you are a genius.

    I never thought about it, but I bet that’s why I don’t have any Mom Friends. I don’t have the right bonding apparatus! (I do have friends, but they’re just my same old friends from Before Kid plus the moms I work with.)

  86. Agrees with volcanista, sugar and sweet things are part of a balanced diet, especially for children who need energy. Why should a child who likes sweet things be denied them? Sweets were rationed when I was a small child on behalf of my teeth, but cakes and puddings were normal, everyday things, I ate them and liked them and I still do. There is nothing morally superior about the five year old who never wants cake. Like my sister, she simply doesn’t like it. I, on the other hand, have always been keen on cake, and always had it for pudding when it was offered. Both of us are well within the “socially acceptable size range”, and neither have food issues. Carrot sticks can be terrific, but sometimes a kid needs a slice of bread and butter so that she can go and run around outdoors, and sometimes she just doesn’t like carrots.

    I haven’t noticed any comments on the economics of feeding families, which is something I remember from childhood. We didn’t have fish-and-chips as often as we would like, because they were too expensive. Likewise, taking too much cream was greedy not in terms of calories, but because there is a finite supply of cream in the jug and everyone wants some. Eating together encourages makes moderation and judgement about food a social as well as a personal thing.

    Nicegirlphd – At 31, I eat (salted) butter in small chunks. It’s lovely. It’s also much better for me to eat that small bit of butter that is the taste I want, than to force myself to shovel down an unwanted slice of toast with it. Given my diet (what I eat, I mean), it is unlikely that I need more fat – I simply like dairy products.

  87. I’ve always been a butter eater. I love the way fat tastes – I add butter, coconut or olive oil, bacon, cheese, or nuts to almost everything I eat. I even used to eat plain Crisco as a child.

    My mom did some great things for my body image, which has always been healtheir than average. She is very comfortable being naked, accepts her body and doesn’t talk about it in negative terms, eats what she wants and enjoys food, always told us people came in different sizes and that’s normal and fine. She did awful damage to my relationship with food, though – she controlled my eating to the point that I didn’t want to eat anything at all. I had to eat with perfect manners, couldn’t get up from the table, we had to eat as a family always but the children weren’t allowed to talk (and often the dinner table was the place where we got yelled for transgressions during the day), I had to eat everything she put on my plate (no matter if it made me gag, gave me heartburn, or what have you), wasn’t allowed to make any food choices, wasn’t allowed to snack, and unhealthy food was forbidden. When I got an allowance I would blow it all on candy and Doritos because I never got to eat more than a little bit of sugar.. To this day I can’t eat in front of her. Oddly now that I can eat junk food whenever I want, I don’t desire it whatsoever. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

  88. First time here, but I can’t help commenting. I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant, and this is this first time in my entire life that I haven’t been focused on dieting. And I’ve only gained 16 pounds in this pregnancy so far. I’m eating well for the baby (and having a brownie if I want one) but I’m also exercising because it makes me feel good.

    Growing up – my mom always limited me to 1200 calories a day. ALWAYS. I was a long distance swimmer, and was working out with my swim team 2 – 4 hours a day. on 1200 calories. Now, when I got older, I would eat more at lunch at school or whatever – but at home? Skim milk. Diet soda. From the beignning of time. And weight watchers at age 12.

    When I graduated college, I decided to persue trialthons. I must admit, I have a pretty decent body image – no idea WHY. Maybe like someone else mentioned, because I was always on a swim team? And always saw many different body types? Anyway – I was training for an IRONMAN (this is a race with 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 mile bike ride, and then a marathon – all in the same day). You can imagine that training for this was brutal. I weight 220 when I started training, and 220 when I got to race day. I was getting annoyed with all the working out I was doing and the fact that I wasn’t ‘thin’ (note that at 220 I was a size 16 – I don’t feel that is huge – I’m a large boned gal also). The nutrionist first asked me how much I was exercising. I told her. She then asked how much I ate a day – I told her. And she said, even I take into account that most people are at least 10% off when telling me how much they eat…. you are only eating like 1800 calories a day! For the amount of exercise you are doing, I would think you should be eating 2500, at least. I tried that for a while – because she thought I was starving myself. I didn’t GAIN weight – but I also did lose anything. When she started pobing into my childhood eating – she recognized that the way my mom limited my eating made it so my body could pretty must exist on 800 calories a day.

    800. Calories. A. Day.

    Now, while this has made me an excpetional long distance athlete (most long distance athletes have issue with staying ‘fueled’ for longer races – it’s totally messed up.

    I find myself hoping to have a boy. We don’t know the sex of this baby – but I certainly don’t want a girl to grow up with the same body issues that I have. Somehow – I certainly don’t HATE my body – being so athletic has made me appreciate it for what it can do – but wonder if I’ll be tempted to limit my daughters food intake if I see her getting ‘fat’? At the same time – I know that my mom’s limitations caused many of the issues other have pointed out – the fact that we NEVER had ice cream or cookies or potato chips in the house made them seem all the more sweet to me. To this day, I can easily eat a whole pan of brownies. Yum.

    Wow – vrey long comment, and I could keep going!

  89. Cece — wow.
    I feel the need to tell you to try not to worry if you have a girl. It might be harder for you in some ways in terms of making you confront what you were raised with, in regard to food, but having a boy might trigger the same things anyhow. Ultimately, you may find healing through making your home a safer place, food wise, than the home you grew up in was. And you may find yourself feeling some understandable anger at your mom as you see how it’s entirely possible to do things differently.

  90. Yesterday, my three-year-old nephew told me I’m wide. I said, “I am!” and held my hands away from my hips, even wider. And he said, no, you’re wide even when you’re not trying to be. I said, “Yes. I am large, I contain multitudes.” I’m not sure what he said next, his enunciation is still a little hit-and-miss, so I replied with “Muh-Nuh-Muh-Nuh,” his mother said “doo-do-do-doo,” and we did the whole song while he laughed.

    I hope that was the right way to handle it.

  91. This is a really interesting subject. I don’t have kids of my own yet but I’ve often thought about this. I was raised by both my mum and grandma until I was about 4 or 5 when my grandma moved out, and Grandma’s views have always rather confused me. She is an excellent cook and always encouraging me to try new things, also she is very good at doing parties with either a large meal or a buffet, and I can’t recall any squabbles about the food I ate when I was young – they tried to get me to drink milk for a while and persuaded me to eat some of the vegetables I don’t like, but I ate a pretty varied diet and they catered to that. When I just lived with my mum she worked so she started teaching me to cook for myself, and we settled arguments about bread by getting one loaf brown, one white.

    But on the other hand, my first memories of diets were of unexciting foods being put in the fridge, my grandma has been a member of weight watchers forever and has been making references to my size for about as long… She encourages overeating at parties but then makes comments about what I eat, and once told me to eat less pasta and cheese. I said, “I’m a student, that’s practically all I eat” :)

    I guess what I’d ideally like is if my kids, should I have any, don’t think it’s somehow wrong to enjoy food, and if they enjoy most things from runner beans to chocolate fudge cake (though not together, obviously), but most of all, if they think of their bodies just as a part of themselves, not too thin, fat, short, or tall, just them.

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