“Mommy, you should eat slower so you don’t eat so much,” she slipped into our dinner conversation.
I jumped, without thinking.
“We don’t tell people how to eat, not how much or what speed or their choices,” I sternly responded.
I wish I had replied more gently, made it a moment to share why. But I was angry. We don’t talk about things like that in this house. In fact, we make a point to try to make food simply a way to feed our bodies. We even have a night during the week where you get to choose whatever you want. And she’s chosen jelly beans and starburst. We think it’s important that she learns how her body feels and responds to food. That she listens to her desires and wants. I am trying to do the same, and without judgment. I want her to avoid the judgment as long as possible.
She’s doing great. If I push too hard, or we ask her to eat in a way that out of this alignment, she calls us on it.
“But my body is full”…”I am listening to my body”…”My body doesn’t like that”…”Mom, that’s not listening to what my body is saying.”
I am so grateful in these moments, woven in-between my frustration that she eats only a handful of things and is stubborn when trying something new. It’s clearly more than being stubborn, likely anxiety producing to eat something she is unfamiliar with. This same behavior is seen with new friends, new events, new after-school activities, new places. I let it go most of the time, allowing her to trust herself and feel it out.
I am doing my best to not be a health troll even though I feel responsible for her livelihood, her health. My doctor certainly makes me feel so asking what she eats and encouraging her to eat more things.
But health is a hoax. Well maybe not all of the way. But it is a way to control people, to make us feel like our individual role in health is the sole way to be healthy. But the truth is that this world is not set up for kids. In fact, it makes it very hard for them. Restaurants don’t serve healthy choices for kids, and I don’t want to pay three times the amount for her to try something new. It’s easier to pay for what I know she’ll eat. It hinders her risk taking, and my openness to her risks as her parent.
Jellybeans on her plate one day a week won’t ruin her health. And my words will certainly not deter her body’s language in telling her that they are delicious. This is the contradiction for all of us. You tell us it’s not healthy, but our body loves it. The sweet taste of chocolate ice cream as it kisses your tongue. The bubbles of soda pop tickling your throat. The scent of warm baked bread straight our of the oven. The satisfying creaminess of cheese in any form. It’s a lie to say these aren’t healthy. They aren’t by the medical fields definition. But maybe they are healthy to my mind. To my control to choose what makes me happy every once in a while. To choose food without shame, remorse, or thoughts of what people might think with every bite.
I was so mad when she questioned the speed of my eating. Not at her, but wherever that message came from. I suspect it won’t be the first. And honestly, I’m surprised it came at age six when so many six years are all too familiar with diet culture.
I know I’ll talk with her about it more in the coming future. My rage is not the answer in her early learning of the appreciation of food. And I need to learn myself what my body is telling. I’ve spent so long listening to doctors, people, media, strangers, that my voice has chosen to stay silent, tired of being shut down by all of the messages. Maybe when I can welcome back this part of me, can I then think about how to respond to my kid’s criticism of my eating. In the meantime, I’m just listening to what she sees and hears. And having jellybeans for dinner every once and a while.