The Battle Begins
It all started in high school when she started worrying about her weight. She was involved in many activities including basketball and track, as well as other extracurricular activities. She also tried to be active during the off season and ran whenever she had the chance. Her eating habits were not stellar. A sweet tooth caused her to eat more sugar that she should have. But it was high school, right? So it didn’t really matter. Everyone would tell her, “Don’t worry, you have a fast metabolism.”
She was able to maintain a healthy weight of 135 pounds at 5’8″ throughout those years, but when it was time to go to college, her fear of gaining weight intensified. She told her mom that she was “afraid to get fat.” She had heard about the dreaded “freshman 15,” and she didn’t want to be the girl who came home for summer break with an extra 15 pounds. The truth was this wasn’t the first time she had these fears.
She thought about gaining weight A LOT. It terrified her.
Her mom tried to calm her fears and encourage her by saying that as long as she stayed active, she didn’t have to worry. Her mom had good intentions as she simply wanted her daughter to be healthy also. This girl took the encouragement to heart and vowed to be at the university gym every day. She succeeded in this goal, maybe a little too much. She justified her dinners that consisted of popcorn and way too many peanut M&M’s because she would just go work it off the next day. She was constantly comparing herself to other girls on campus and longing to look just a little skinnier. She thought about food a lot. When was the next time she would eat? What would she eat? Would she be able to “work it off”? Food and weight became the most important thing to this girl.
The Battle Intensifies
At this point, she was 125 pounds, and everyone said she looked great. The comments from her friends fueled her obsession to lose weight. She began running more and more. Although she never completely stopped eating, she would skip many meals. She was stuck in a cycle of unhealthy eating behaviors. It was very obvious to her that this was not normal. Hatred grew in her mind for the way she was thinking. Obsession with food choices and exercise ruled her thoughts. She wondered why she couldn’t be like the other girls who seemed to just be skinny with no effort. It felt like a never ending battle. She was exhausted and continually fearful and obsessed about her weight.
This girl was me.
It got worse before it got better, but in a different way. I got married 2 weeks after I graduated from college and moved across the country to California. For the first time ever, I was away from my family. I had a boss that I disliked very much, and I really didn’t have many friends. I was a bit depressed. Ice cream became my source of comfort. Quickly, I gained 30 pounds that year. I had become exactly what I had feared all of those years earlier.
Winning the Battle: Finding Control
We moved back to New Mexico in May, and I started graduate school at the University of New Mexico. I was doing a rotating internship in hopes of sitting for my Registered Dietitian’s exam the next year. I knew I had to get control of my eating habits. How could I help others be healthy when I was so unhealthy?
Throughout the next few years I slowly learned some of the truth behind all of the lies I was believing. Slowly, I learned that I really was in control of my food choices. I let go of the “control” I wanted over my weight, and I started working on changing simple habits like eating more fresh vegetables. I learned about calorie balance, what kinds of exercises were actually good for my body, and how to make better, more informed decisions about my meals.
It was a slow process, but I eventually lost 20 pounds and arrived at my “happy weight.” I call it my happy weight because I am not obsessed about it. I don’t worry about getting fat. Most of the time I eat very balanced meals, and I am able to include an indulgence from time to time. I pay attention to my hunger cues, which has really helped me to eat when I am hungry, and (most of the time) not eat when I am not hungry. I don’t obsess about what I am going to eat next or when my next exercise session will be. I know that feeling good and being healthy matter so much more than how I look. I guess you could say I have overcome my disordered eating pattern I was stuck in for so many years.
Teaching our Girls
I don’t know about you, but this story is not what I want for my little girl. I pray that she is healthy and happy and takes care of her body. Unfortunately, disordered eating is happening to our girls at a younger and younger age. As their mothers, we are their single most important influence when it comes to eating habits. So what can we do to influence them in a positive way? I have come up with 5 suggestions that I believe will truly make a difference in your daughter’s life.
1) Be a good example yourself.
This is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice in this article. This means YOU need to take care of yourself. Whether you realize it or not, your daughter is watching what you eat. Don’t be afraid to try new foods. Eat your veggies (even if you don’t LOVE them). Don’t skip meals. Don’t obsess about how you look.
2) Encourage her to eat for nourishment, health, and growth.
Help her understand the words “hungry” and “full.” Help her pay attention to her hunger cues and listen to them.
3) Don’t go on a “diet.”
The idea of a diet creates a perpetual cycle of restricting food accompanied by feelings of deprivation, and then often overeating accompanied by guilt. Neither of these habits are healthy. If you desire to lose weight yourself, focus on changing some of your bad habits and making them better ones.
4) Don’t obsess about how you look or how she looks.
Compliment her on her character or her accomplishments. An occasional compliment about her appearance is fine, but don’t make this the norm. Focus on the things she does and who she is rather than on what she looks like.
5) Have healthy food available in the house.
Planning ahead is key here, but try to make sure there are fresh fruits and vegetables ready to eat for after school or play. Make good sources of protein available like almonds, yogurts, or string cheese. At my house we have a snack drawer in the refrigerator. It is stocked with carrots, cucumber slices, and red bell pepper slices. It also has apples, grapes and other fruit, depending on the season. When my daughter is hungry, she can choose a snack from the drawer. She often helps me wash and prep the snacks too.
Let us all, with some love, be good examples to our daughters by encouraging them to eat for nourishment, choosing our words and compliments carefully, and making sure that healthy foods are available in our homes. With a little intentionality, all of us can be better at encouraging our daughters not to be the girl in this story. Thankfully, my story had a happy ending.