A few months ago, my daughter and I were in Trader Joe’s, looking unkempt and bedraggled after some serious park time on a blustery spring day. Along with everyone else, we elbowed our way through the bottle neck at fruits and vegetables, continued bumper to bumper past meat, and finally arrived in frozen foods—a wide boulevard of an aisle where shoppers can exhale and leisurely peruse all things chocolate-covered.
On that particular day, we were after TJ’s mint chocolate chip ice cream, which is an object of worship in our house.
I was just catching my breath, grateful to escape the sea of humanity two aisles over, when a fellow shopper bellowed “Oh, I see a young Dakota Fanning,” as he peered at my daughter.
A young Dakota Fanning? Funny —I see the scabs on her knee, the ketchup on her chin, and the greasy sunscreen in her hair. And did I mention she’s two? Not eleven, or even eight, but two.
I assume he was giving her a compliment, his intention benign. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I, like most parents, feel a certain amount of pride when my little ones are praised. But his remark represents our culture’s relentless attention to female appearance, a process that starts before our daughters are even out of diapers.
If you have young children, you know that taking them out to eat requires a lot of patience and humor and napkins.
Some parents chose to forgo this experience altogether by leaving the kids at home when eating involves a menu and a waiter. Not me.
It’s not that I enjoy the disapproving glances of other patrons; it’s not that I like getting down on my knees, sheepishly, to pick up half-eaten pieces of bread, broken crayons and greasy forks. It’s just that flavor becomes skittish and makes itself scarce when I put on an apron in my own kitchen. When I cook, it usually doesn’t turn out so well. And you can only eat so much frozen pizza. So I’m left with few options, save the early bird special at our favorite diner. (Or so I tell myself to justify the money we spend eating out.)
Here are some tricks we use to increase the odds that our time out is more fun than frenetic:
I have a thing about spiders. I didn’t grow up having any particular thoughts about them, other than the vague notion that they were benign or even helpful (Charlotte’s Web was great for spider PR).
In those days, my high tolerance for critters was probably due to the fact that I spent so much time in the arroyos near my house, which put me in proximity to things like lizards, horny toads (yes, this is what we called them in Santa Fe), and caterpillars.
Subsequently I left the high desert and lived in highly populated, urban areas. There, I was not concerned with creepy, crawly things. Parking tickets? Yes. Getting run over by careening, wayward taxis? Yes. But other than rats and pigeons, there were few living things to contend with.
Now that I’m back in Santa Fe, things have changed. I am surrounded by black widows. They stare at me while I sleep, and wait to bite my toes when I slide them, unsuspectingly, into a pair of shoes I’ve not worn for months.
Deprivation is not my friend. Although I have tried to make use of it in past diets—depriving myself of particular foods I deem off-limits or forbidden—it always comes back to haunt me. Most people who have tried to restrict their calories or change their diet will say the same thing—they end up eating more than if they had not tried to cut down in the first place.
It is the rare person who can sustain deprivation for any length of time, and even those who can (such as Anorexics), often become bulimic or overweight when they can no longer endure the physical and emotional fatigue that accompanies scarcity. This is why diets do not typically work.
When we are told (or when we tell ourselves) that we cannot have something, we want it all the more. I experienced this recently with my two year old. She wanted to chew on a greasy, filthy kitchen sponge, and my best efforts to talk her out of it only intensified her interest in doing so. If I had a greater tolerance for germs, I might have avoided a power struggle by letting her chomp away. But my squeamish nature got the better of me and I vied it from her hands once it became clear that she wasn’t backing down. (You can imagine how this ended up.)
Some days, my daughter eats a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast.
It all began with these amazing cookies that my husband started to make. If he had offered me one on our first date, our courtship would have been much shorter.
Recently, said cookies have become an object of contention in my house. If this doesn’t make sense to you, then clearly you are not living with a two-year old. You would be forgiven for not understanding that something made of chocolate chips, butter, and walnuts could become a battle ground of sorts.
Wouldn’t it be great if all your issues with food and body image took a vacation during the months of November and December? Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Food plays a starring role in nearly all celebrations, and most socializing takes place around a well-dressed table.
But it’s not just the food that proves challenging, it’s the people who eat the food that can really do you in. No holiday is complete without some well-meaning but meddling relative who comments on everything you’ve eaten or notices the change in your weight. Or asks when you’re going to get married, have a baby, get a job… You get the picture.
It’s no surprise that recovery can be challenged this time of year. But, with some planning, a few tricks in your pocket, and a lot of deep breaths, it is possible to stay on track.