When you become a parent, suddenly everyone has advice on what you’re doing wrong or what you could be doing better. The same is true when it comes to health, weight and size.
In fact, the advice is eerily similar — and somehow you’re always at fault.
Below, in her poignant post, parent and licensed professional counselor Ashley Eder, LPC, reveals how these tips often overlap — and are laced with criticism and inaccuracies.
Eder works in Boulder, Colorado, with teens and adults who would like to create more satisfying lives.
Learn more Eder at her website at www.ashleyeder.com.
But Have You Ever Tried Self-Flagellation? The Surprising Overlap of Dieting and Motherhood
My 15-month-old son is sick.
He gets everything, and now I do, too: flus, colds, viruses, ear infections, indigestion, dry skin.
I know, I know … it’s because he . . .
It’s because we . . .
. . . and, well, we even had an un/medicated birth.
If only we’d listened to the well-intentioned advice of experienced non/parents everywhere, we would never need to visit the pediatrician/osteopath/craniosacral therapist again.
Though there are many new experiences coming my way this last year as a first-time mom, getting unsolicited, subtly critical feedback about things I don’t entirely control is all too familiar. After all, I’m a woman in the United States and I have a body.
The average girl in the United States begins dieting in elementary school. Seventy-five percent of women report an unhealthy relationship with their bodies, including eating disorder behaviors and symptoms. That means that if you walk down the street, three out of four women you pass have experienced emotional or physical distress about the size or shape of their bodies.
They have restricted their food intake instead of honoring their natural hunger and satiety cues; their perception of their bodies has kept them from feeling happy; and a third of them have purged through vomiting, diuretics, diet pills, or laxatives. These years compile into an extensive history of self-hatred and denial by the time a woman is in her early 20s.
If self-hatred led to weight loss, our national “obesity epidemic” would be in decline.
If you’re wondering how this relates to parenting…great! Hang in there: I promise this comes back to my experience as a parent. But before we get to that, I’d like to introduce you to Size Acceptance or Fat Acceptance, which includes in its philosophy the radical notion that your body has a set point that it will seek in the absence (and often even the presence) of disordered eating, and that the ultimate effect of dieting is almost always to gain back more weight than you lost.
Research supports this. For the vast majority of people, there simply is not a safe, permanent way to alter body size. You can be as dissatisfied as you want about your size, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, unhealthy, or likely to change. What’s revolutionary about this idea is that it means you are not a bad/lazy/mean/unlovable person just because you wear a size 6, 10, 14, 20, or 26.
You may be fat, but that’s as far as it goes. Fat isn’t wrong, fat isn’t a moral issue, and fat certainly isn’t hanging around your waistline just because you are too scared to “let the thin you out.”
Of course the fear-mongering around fat clings to the idea that fat is unhealthy. Actually, what we know to be true is that “overweight” people outlive “normal”-sized people and that the overweight have a 17% lower mortality rate.
We know that the dangers we commonly attribute to obesity and the benefits cited for weight loss are actually tied to exercise and eating behaviors, not weight. We know that average weights and average lifespans have increased in tandem.
What, then, is the antidote for shaming ourselves for not achieving something we do not control?
Health At Every Size is a revolutionary philosophy that asks us to acknowledge that the “war on obesity” has contributed to eating disorder behaviors, self-hatred, discrimination, and poor health.
In spite of the popular message that fat is unhealthy, Health At Every Size addresses that demonizing fat, serial dieting, and blaming ourselves for our body weights are harmful to health.
Self-hatred and fat-vilification are ineffective and even counterproductive for weight loss. Fat-shaming does not make people thinner.
The Health At Every Size approach encourages nurturing the body you have now. It espouses the adoption of healthy behaviors including:
True healthcare for the body you have now means accepting it as it is — and how it likely will remain — and releasing the blame we mistakenly place on ourselves and others for body size and shape. Hating your body is incompatible with taking good care of it.
If you have spent the last 20 years of your life in pursuit of weight loss because you thought it could make you a better or happier person, pause here to reflect.
Now keep reading, parents, because what I’m also suggesting is that you are not a bad/lazy/incompetent/unloving parent just because your kid has a perpetually runny nose, a wallflower disposition, or the inability to take a two-hour nap.
If we apply the Health At Every Size approach to parenting, we end up with the mandate to love and nurture our children for who they are instead of berating them or ourselves for who they are not. It means that we would slow down enough to really see them, including their particular temperaments, attentiveness, and energy levels.
Seeing kids as unique and valuable human beings in spite of the things that bug us means stretching beyond our habitual judgments. It means we love the tearful ones for having so much heart, the rambunctious ones for their enthusiasm for life, and the distractable ones for their creativity.
Accepting the inherent challenges of a fussy toddler who has a smile to light up a room is not so different from loving your soft, aging body because of its ability to pedal a bike or take a deep breath.
What having a child with low grades and being a woman with a large thighs have in common is that they are both stigmatized. We trap ourselves when we agree that the shape, size, and youthfulness of our bodies or the behavior, germiness, and grades of our kiddos are more meaningful than just those simple details.
The simple exit from this loop is accepting our children (and their parents) as they are. It involves releasing the blame we place on them and ourselves for being the loudest passengers on an airplane or for having to say “get back in bed” 18 times before it finally sticks.
Of course this doesn’t mean those things are easy — far from it. It is absolutely easier in our culture to parent a mild-mannered, obedient, friendly but non-interrupting, academically gifted, athletic superstar. But that might not be your kid. Your child — and your body — came to you with some pretty specific ideas about their developmental paths.
Fighting those tendencies is frustrating, time-consuming, and ineffective.
I dislike the idea as much as you do of spending the rest of my life vainly trying to change the way I look or throwing money at the latest parenting book on how to curb thumb-sucking without tears. So I’ll tell you what — let’s not do that.
Instead of the Sisyphean task of pretending we can dramatically, permanently, and safely change the genetic predisposition of our bellies or our offspring, how about we take the winding road to self-acceptance instead?
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Last reviewed: 13 Mar 2012