Last spring, I wrote a piece called “Piece of Cake.” It was about our turmoil of what our kid ate and eats and the fact that she doesn’t eat. I introduced some ideas of how to handle it better and we gave it a try. Over 6 months, I have learned more about food, parenting, and my own relationship to my body that I could have imagined as a result. So here’s an update of where we’ve arrived so far.
We implemented the notion that she could have one treat a day, any time, treat of her choosing. She was excited about this and chose a treat for breakfast nearly every day for a week. Then it stopped. She instead had a treat around dinner for a few days. Then it stopped. She has gone back to this notion periodically but in general has lost interest. But what has changed is that when treats arise, at a birthday party, or get together, or a Sunday morning donut run, we just let her eat what she wants. I actually think she eats less treats today than she did then. They have lost their luster, and instead are just food. Which is what they are, just food.
We also asked her to consider leftovers. She has gotten much better about wasting food, and either finishes things or put the extras in the fridge for later. And she’ll eat them most of the time. Part of me wonders if taking away the battle of finishing her plate has made it so she actually pays attention to her hunger instead of the battle between she and I. Although, we are currently struggling in that she doesn’t eat enough and feels hungry at bedtime, so we’ve been trying to encourage her to pay closer attention at dinner.
As for the types of food she eats, I gave up on this. I offer her several foods, often in threes and she eats what she eats. I quickly learned that if I want to teach her anything, it’s that her body will tell her what she needs, likes, and wants. I told her this. So she follows it. And even uses it to her advantage on occasion…
The other night, I asked her if she could take the final bite of her grilled cheese and she said that she was full. I asked, “you sure?” She said, verbatim, “Mom, you said that my body will tell me what it needs and right now it says it’s full.”
Okay, point for the kid.
This also came up one morning when she wanted a push-up pop for breakfast. I reminded her that good energy doesn’t come from candy for breakfast. Again I got, “my body says it needs a push-up pop right now. You said that my body would tell me.”
I’m officially losing.
But let me be clear in that it’s not really a game. The only win that I want is that she sees food as nourishment and that she listens to her body when it tells her what she wants and needs. I feel that this has to a be a good first step in helping her maintain a positive and loving relationship with her body. And I think it’s working.
I have a few friends who have kids or niblings (gender neutral instead of niece and nephew), that have shared stories of the kids talking about their own bodies as being fat. Or the kids criticizing my friends or others for their size. And I’m talking about 4-6 year olds. So far, this has not been the conversation in our house…yet.
One day in the car, my daughter and I were talking and I mentioned something about someone being the skinnier person (I have been working on just using the words as what they mean). “What does skinny mean?” she asked, “Does it mean less fat?” All I could think was “yes, our conversations have been working.” I worked early on to teach her about fat. That it’s something we all have, that we need it for energy and that everyone has different amounts, and that all of that is okay. I’ve heard her describe people as having more fat that others. And innocently. This maybe sounds awful, but it’s not. She’s simply being descriptive, not harmful. I have never heard her tease about it, or say something negative about size.
The closest we came is that she told me I had a jiggly belly. I simply said, “Yes, it is. You and your brother were big babies so I had to make some extra fat to keep you safe and warm.” She brought it up again later around my partner, and she laughed a bit about it. He corrected her and said, “Yes jiggly is silly, but it’s not nice to talk about a person’s body in that way.” I invited her over and showed her something. That she grew on my right side and her brother on the left. That I get to remember that my body created them every time I see and touch my belly. She’s still obsessed with the jiggle. She just likes to touch it. But when she does, she points and says “I was there and brother was there.”
And, I think it’s important to add here that yes, I gave birth to two 10lb babies so my belly is stretched. But I love my belly and my body. I feed it what I want and what it says it needs and wants. It felt too complicated in this moment to tell her here that in some cases food can also make you have more fat, as she’s still early in her understanding of what this all means. But the truth is simply that, and we will talk about that one day. That loving yourself is accepting how nourishment shows up in your body.
I recently read two important pieces that I want to bring attention to. The first mentioned that we as adults are the first set of bullies about weight for kids. We pay attention to the kids who are heavier and feed them less treats, make comments about what they eat. We do this. We need to stop.
The second is this article. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s about being a better human and about where society has come to around weight.
“Everything you know about obesity is wrong” by Michael Hobbes.
I have two kids, the first is built like a set of sticks. The second is cuddly and plump. They both have their own relationships with food. Hers is much more stringent, his is about exploration. Both things are good and right.
As I touch my own squishy belly, a belly I have been doing deep work to love with all I have, I know that this all matters. What I eat matters, how I talk to food, about food matters. How I talk about exercise, sugar, junk food, fast food, health, it all matters. I am working to teach her that some choices can better for our bodies than others depending on what we need. But we still make choices every time and we don’t get down on ourselves when we make the fast food choice, or have donuts on Sundays. We love food and I want us all to love our bodies. The article I just shared shows how weight is not the problem. Structures are. The food system is.
I will teach her the nonsense of the food system one day. And we’ll continue to make choices as they come.
I do this for myself every day, so I am also doing it for them. I know that if I can live in this body I was gifted, for me, not for anyone else, then I can set the stage for them. They’ll know it’s not their place to judge how people choose to live in their bodies, or what they do to take care of it. Their body is their only business. They should love on it, feed it great food, treat is with chocolate cake if they want. They should make time for things like mediation, baths, play, friendships, partnerships, sunbathing, stargazing, etc.
In the words of my daughter, “my body is telling me I need a push-up pop.” So do it baby. From the words of one of my most favorite people ever, Dennie, “your body has all the wisdom it needs.”