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You need to eat more ice cream

icecreambar-insideDo you remember this post? It was going around about a month ago. The mom found a note written by her 7-year old daughter listing all of the ways her daughter was going to lose weight. The mom was understandably upset and she was also flabbergasted because, “Our attitudes are reasonable and balanced. Weight has never been an issue in our home – it is, for the most part, irrelevant.” Later the mom finds out that her daughter learned about dieting from another little girl.

I’m glad the writer shared this story with us because it’s a reminder that our kids talk to other kids. And even if weight seems irrelevant in our homes, it is relevant out there in the rest of the world so we need to talk about it — explicitly and often. You want to be the boss of this conversation, right? Certainly you don’t want the media to dictate how your child feels about herself. And you don’t want other kids in charge of whether or not your daughter feels pretty. That’s why you have to talk about it.

Help your kids be critical

Point out the lack of body diversity in the media and explain why we see only one kind of body on TV. Make a point of celebrating all kinds of bodies, definitely. But you also need to talk about how not everyone thinks all kinds of bodies are just right. Explain that this is a prejudice that your family doesn’t participate in. (And you don’t, right? You don’t talk about your weight or your friends’ weight or how fat your favorite actor has gotten, do you? Because that’s gotta stop.)

Talk before their friends do

Head off the diet talk your child will inevitably hear from friends by talking about it right now. Tell them that sooner or later someone they love will call themselves fat or compare their size to someone else. Sooner or later someone will tell your child that she is too fat or too skinny; it’s inevitable. I tell kids that children — especially in the tween/teen ages when they’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on with their bodies — do a lot of comparing and they talk about these comparisons. They say, “Why do your thighs touch? Why do you have an outie instead of an innie? Gosh, your arms are so bony!” It’s going to happen but you can limit some of the harm by talking about it now. That way when another little kid on the soccer team says, “You’re eating fries?!? Don’t you care about getting fat?” your child will have an answer ready. I know this is hard for a lot of parents because they hope if they don’t bring it up their child won’t have to deal with it. Trust me, they’re dealing with it. This is the soup we’re all swimming in and as Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” I know the guy’s a louse but he has a point here.

Diet really is a four letter word

Diets are bad for kids and other living things. Food deprivation — not eating when we’re hungry, not eating until we’re full — screws up our metabolisms and there are a slew of studies that show they are especially bad for children. Calorie restriction (says the research) actually makes children fatter. Really. And it also messes with their natural ability to read their bodies’ satiety signals.

Eat more ice cream

This is why you have to eat regular old “junk” food now and then. Now I’m not telling you to hit the golden arches every time you have your child buckled into the car seat but you do need to teach them how to be competent eaters. That means not avoiding a whole class of delicious food because it doesn’t meet high nutritional standards. Denying is tatamount to dieting and remember we need to avoid that. Our children need to see us eating food for fun and for celebration and because it’s delicious. They need to see us model enjoying our food and not feeling guilty about it. They need to see us push our plates away when we’re full and dive in full of enthusiasm when we’re hungry. We need to learn to be competent eaters, too.

Don’t demonize food

I know this is hard, especially when we’re having such intense discussions about organic and go local and factory farming. These are important discussions to have but when our kids are young they need to figure out how to listen to their bodies first and foremost. I worry when I hear about parents showing their young children Fast Food Nation or Forks Over Knives. These documentaries can get in the way of a child’s natural ability to understand appetite. You can live out your values in ways that help our kids instead of harm them. By all means, go to your local farmer’s market and get everything you need to make a big, beautiful salad but don’t beat yourself up (and definitely don’t do it in front of your child) if you end up at the local Big Box supermarket picking up non-organic lettuce some weekend. Likewise you can help your child talk about how he feels after he eats a box of sour gummy worms without shaming him. Kids are going to eat too much sometimes. Eating is opportunity to learn, which means sometimes eating too much or too little or not what our bodies want. Making mistakes is part of the process.

On eating well

intuitive eatingAs we wind down to the end of January, many of us are contemplating where we are regarding our New Year’s resolutions around eating well and some of us are feeling pretty grouchy about our progress. Changing our diets is hard — it takes new planning, new habits, new skills and sometimes new tastebuds.

There’s no such thing as failure

Most of us, especially when it comes to the food we put in our bodies, view failure as a big, shameful black mark. We carry a lot of other things in our plans to eat better like negative attitudes towards our bodies, fear-fueled concerns for our health, and values we learned at our childhood dinner tables. Suddenly a stalk of broccoli or a bite of white bread gets awfully mixed up with a bunch of other emotionally-charged ideas. This is why we need to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves.

Here’s the good news about missing our New Year’s resolutions: Not reaching a goal is an opportunity to get a better understanding of what works for us and what doesn’t. When we’re talking about how we fuel our bodies, we need to look beyond our physical well-being and look towards our spiritual and emotional well-being. Changing how we eat confronts essential ways we nurture our bodies and souls and sometimes restriction confronts the ways we need to do a better job of covering ourselves with kindness.

There is no one way to “eat right”

We are all carrying different bodies. We are not physically, culturally or spiritually identical to any other person. How our bodies respond to different foods and ways of eating is unique. Some of us do better with a greater variety of foods or less of a certain kind of food and that’s just fine. If your plan was to eat less carbs or more greens and you’ve found yourself heading back to your 2012 ways of eating, it may be that you do better with a menu that’s different than what you envisioned when you were making your new year’s resolutions. Choking down a food you don’t like or depriving yourself of one that you love isn’t the best way to long-term physical or emotional health. Think of yourself as an explorer lovingly discovering what suits your life best and honor the fact that you are an ever-changing human being. What works for you today may not work tomorrow; be flexible.

Going beyond dieting

If you have missed your goal perhaps it’s time to write a new one and use the information you gleaned over the past few weeks as an impetus for loving change. Perhaps you can look back and tune into what your Self (not just your body, but your heart and mind) were trying to say. Did you feel nurtured, nourished and cherished? Or deprived, afraid and resentful? Were you hungrier than was comfortable? What did work? Even if you didn’t succeed in all of your goals, did you discover a new food that’s delicious and makes you feel good? Or a new routine that makes you feel more energized? Celebrate that new information and give yourself permission to incorporate those “imperfect” successes.

You can also take The Fat Nutritionist‘s tagline to heart: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” When you give yourself permission to eat “too much” or “too little” and do it in a mindful, present way you can learn an awful lot about what works best for you. Instead of cutting out whole swaths of food on someone else’s say-so, you may want to give yourself the time, space and attention to eat those “offending” foods and see if they actually are a problem for you. I know that leaning on a plan can feel very comforting but you may find that someone else’s “perfect” diet only works for you when you let go of the rigidity that defines them. Paleo, primal, raw or vegan can be guides to what makes sense for your body in general instead of inflexible how-tos that set you up for failure.

Stay in it for the long-term

Being healthy goes beyond fueling our bodies a certain way; we also need to take care of every other part of ourselves. For some of us, the spiritual or emotional costs of giving up a certain food may be greater than the physical costs of eating it. By all means, add a green smoothie to your morning routine if it makes you feel great but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s not a habit that makes long-term sense for you. It’s ok to have one when you can but skip them on the days you’re over-scheduled or just don’t feel like cleaning out the blender. After all, adding green smoothies to your routine is supposed to make you feel better not worse and if it’s not improving your life, feel free to chuck it and try something else.

Remember, none of us will ever be perfect so instead aim for good enough and know that with every new thing you learn about yourself, you’re also getting better.


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