Still eating that piece of cake…and learning

Two of my most read blog pieces were about dealing with food and my kids. See them here and here. Writing is a way for me to put to paper, to the world sometimes, what is going on. And it’s a way to show my learning. Both pieces I wrote feel out of date, and ages ago. Both pieces show some of my own ignorance around food. And my own enticement by the food and diet industry.

Today, I am exploring, even choosing to do it differently. To see how this goes. I’ve found the movement of intuitive eating, which really is just eating. When I understood what it meant for me, I was in. ALL IN. The idea is simply that we eat to survive and that any type of restriction causes the body to go into stress and famine mode. It explains my deep obsession with ice cream, pizza, and “they take forever to bake” brownies. Seriously though, I may not be on an active diet but I restrict and enact rules about the food we eat every day. Here are some examples…

  • Food waste is unacceptable, finish your plate or eat it later…there are starving children in this world and we won’t waste when others don’t have. TRUTH: my eating has little impact on the food access for the rest of the world. We need changes in policy, capitalism, and humanity. And our composting gives this food back to the earth.
  • Meat and dairy are bad for you. You must eat less of them. TRUTH: My genetics, lifestyle, and environmental circumstance will kill me before any steak or glass of milk.
  • Sugar is a treat and is to be limited, controlled. TRUTH: sugar is energy, all of your cells need it to survive. And sometimes your body craves it because it’s fucking starving and needs energy to get through the next 10 minutes of it’s life.
  • My kids don’t eat enough…of this..or that…or in general. TRUTH: their bodies know better than mine after 37 years of restriction and obsession. Obsessing over their food is simply displacement for obsession over my own.
  • Weight equates health. TRUTH: I am now seeing how this is not true. That health indicator variations are found throughout us as humans no matter our size. That only 25% of health indicators are a result of our choices, the rest are out of our control. That the stress we put on our bodies through restriction is far worse for your health than Cheetos. Or Chips Ahoy. Check out Health At Every Size if you’ve never heard about it.

So here’s where I’m at…

Desperately trying to unplug all of the restriction I place onto my own body. And to do so, I’m eating unrestricted. And, I’m eating a lot. Normal amounts according to the healing process. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s terrifying. What if I gain all of this weight? Society might hate me, but I can love me. What if I get sick or have bad health indicators? Then I can look to my stress level, lack of sleep, and genetics.

As I eat, I’m deflecting restriction to my kids. And I’m trying to hold the fact that my restriction of them also makes them want to eat, a lot, right now too.

So what’s next? I’m healing this body of mine. And I’m letting things go for these kids right now. It’s ever present in my mind how to teach them better, but I’m giving myself a break for a bit. I know myself. If I let myself obsess over parenting, I’ll ignore the whole point of this…to heal me.

Which in turn sets the example for their own healing and a life hopefully free of food restriction.

Don’t worry, you might about my health or theirs. But know that we are simply allowing ourselves to eat. As Caroline Dooner says in The F*ck It Diet, our body doesn’t know we are dieting to fit into absurdly small jeans, it just knows to make you eat to live. And that means you should listen.

If you’re still worried, here are my parenting to dos for the upcoming months….

– make sure this house is in fact body neutral.

– never talk about bodies, talk about people

– use the word fat as a descriptor not as an insult, and absolutely not as a self-insult.

– to talk about food as neutral, food has no morality so it can’t be good or bad.

– shift our talks about food to discussions on lifestyle and nourishment, what fuels us.

– eliminate the notion of exercise for weight loss and emphasize movement and only in ways that we enjoy it and it makes us feel good

– wear whatever the heck we want.

– laugh, a lot.

– love ourselves deeply – These bodies are amazing. Our feet help us to walk everyday. That’s evolutionary magic. Our body fuels us to live, love, laugh, move, experience joy, pleasure, anger, sadness. Your skin feels the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the rain and the tickle of your toddlers kisses on your check.

Fucking amazing…

*So many resources are teaching me. Here are a few…

Eating that piece of cake

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.”

Piece of cake

I want to talk about parenting and food, because goodness do I have no idea what I am doing. I am frustrated with myself by the things I say to my daughter:

“Finish that or no treat for dessert…finish that or we won’t go…eat that or I’ll take away this…three more bites…you have to eat…ok let’s just go straight to bed…you should have eaten at dinner, I’m sorry you’re still hungry…etc”

So many messages in there, most of which I don’t want to pass on. Here are the messages I unintentionally provide daily:

– You must always eat all that’s on your plate.

– Food is a privilege, it can be taken away. I can take it away.

– Sweets are a goal to get to.

– I don’t care that you’re full, eat more.

– I will punish you if you don’t eat what I decide is best for your growing body.

– You only get to eat when I say you eat.

Meanwhile I eat what I want when I want and so does my partner. I nurse the baby at their request. They eat as much as they want when they want. She’s the odd one out, surrounded by unfairness, no control of her body or her nourishment. Why do I get to be the authoritarian? When will I let this go?

Here’s what I want her to know.

– Food nourishes your body, keeps you alive, helps you live, gives you love and energy from the earth.

-Your body tells you what it wants, how much it wants, when it’s hungry and when it’s full.

-Food is not a privilege, it’s a right.

– There are people everywhere stripped of this resource, so what resources we choose are important because it impacts others. This includes working to not waste them and giving care to our food.

Here’s an idea we are going to try with her. I will write more as we explore this. I see there being three major changes to our approach to food.

1) She can have one treat per day if she wants to. And whenever she wants it. This does not include a treat we decide to gift to her. The treat is always her choice and our gift does not replace this choice.

We started this already, the first day she ate it before dinner. Since then she has nearly forgotten about treats. I’d like to think this may be because they are no longer incentives. We’ll see where this goes next.

2) She does not have to finish her food. She’s done when she’s done. We still push a time limit because I’d like her to treat food with care rather than eating while distracted. Any leftover food gets put away for a future meal.

With some unpacking, I went deep into why I cared about this so much. As a kid, I watched my dad get so upset when we wasted food. So upset that he’d just consume the leftovers. As an adult, I get it. I type this shortly after eating a watermelon airhead (which I’m pretty sure isn’t really food) because she didn’t like it and wanted to toss it. Food not only costs money but there are people with no food and what a jerk move to just waste it because we can. So instead of making her feel bad about it, we are working to remind her of her leftovers for snacks and simply serving them with her next meal. So far, most leftovers are getting eaten.

3) This one we’ve only started to explore, but here is the concept. Meals are broken into four groups and are currently titled: proteins, grains, fruits, and vegetables. For this, she gets three options in each category to choose from. The key is that all four categories get some coverage in a meal.

In my head, I envision a magnetized board where I can put the day’s choices, but my time is limited for such a craft project at the moment. So instead, I’m laying the groundwork by offering her choices in threes. Rather than saying “what do you want?,” I’m going with “here are your choices, what do you want?” In full five year old style, when I ask her simply what she wants, she always says “I don’t know, you pick.” Of no surprise, she says no to all of my picks. She has also given push-back on the three choices when I offer this model, saying that she wants none of them. But when I’m patient and let her think for herself, she almost always chooses one of them. She’s still at that age where everything needs to be her ultimate choice so it’s a balance of autonomy and direction.

Here’s what I don’t know yet: what to do with meals I cook. She currently rarely eats them. I need to move beyond my own hurt feelings when no one eats what I’ve made because it’s not about me or my cooking. In reality, I cook what I want, what my body asks for. Or I cook what I think they need or want. This is mostly because I live with two eaters who don’t decide what they want until they want it. This brings me right back to me deciding what nourishment goes into their bodies, when I have no knowledge of what their bodies are asking for. I need to figure our how to help her learn what her body is telling her.

I have two other ideas to help balance this…two dinner nights that are standard. The first is try something new night. We make a new dish that we haven’t all had before and we all try it. The second is whatever you want night. On this night, we all fend for ourselves and eat whatever we want to eat. Even ice cream…which will likely be my choice.

I figure this will set the stage for being explorative and curious with new tastes and foods, while also opening up space to explore your wants, desires, and hunger. For all of us.

There is still so much to learn and unpack in my relationship with food, both for myself and as a parent. But I am growing and exploring how to give my kids more autonomy, more ownership of their bodies, as I seek to find a better relationship with mine. I desperately want to lay the groundwork for them, in the hopes of preventing the same misunderstandings I’ve had along the way. To prevent any socialized shame, guilt, or misinformation the world tells us about nutrition

I’ll admit this all came to head when we were attending a birthday party a few weekends back. We had a two hour food disagreement where my socialization overtook my heart, and I heard my words in a deeply troubling way.

She wouldn’t eat her lunch so I threatened to take away cake at the party. She had that look that told me she doubted I’d actually do that, so she held her ground and “lost the privilege.” Guilt consumed me so I made my partner come up with a compromise so she could “earn” it back. He made peanut butter crackers for her and she had to finish them to get cake. There were three. In the car on the way to the party, she ate two. We ended up granting cake if she took one more bite of a cracker. She did.

Participating in and leading this two hour long ordeal, and hearing what we said to her along the way, felt so wrong. It felt like we had to win. And it felt like she had had enough of our authority.

In the end, she had the cake and my partner and I came up with this plan.

Ready, set, here we go.