Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Outgrowing My Mother

Okay, I admit: I haven't had to grapple (much) with the effects of aging yet. I haven't hit the 30-mark and honestly, I'm more worried about building my nest egg, having healthy kids, getting my hubby through a few more years of medical residency than things like gray hair popping up on my head. Still, I know from my mom, who isn't someone you'd describe as vain despite her inner and outer beauty, has said approaching 60 has been more challenging than she'd imagined. She has said the biggest challenge is that she'll look in the mirror and be shocked at what she sees - not because she thinks she looks bad but because she feels so much younger than she thinks she looks.

Yet, she's also quick to silence any negative thoughts about her aging and to be grateful for those lines of life (what we call wrinkles and what so many women are trying to erase with Botox, facelifts, or in the very least, expensive creams) because it means she has outgrown her mother whose own life ended at the young age of 46.

This Thanksgiving, I remember the grandmother I never knew. She passed away on Thanksgiving Day 39 years ago. I also welcome any harbingers of old age that will eventually come my way as signs as that I have lived a long, happy life. And I say a prayer of thanks for the wonderful relationship I share with my mom, my daughters' Gaba.

Now here's a guest post called "Outgrowing My Mother" written by Eileen Pankow, my own lovely mom:


For what it’s worth, I figured I’d be dead by now. As an adult orphan, I can’t really visualize myself growing old gracefully. Really, I can’t picture myself growing old at all.

When my mother succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 46, she had beautiful skin, hair in all the right places, few wrinkles and very little cellulite. So that’s the way I always figured I wanted to go – not the dying of breast cancer part, but looking good when I went. So it was a rude awakening when I looked in the mirror a few years ago and saw long, graying nasal hairs, crow’s feet and dimpled thighs staring back at me. Instead of just being happy that I was still alive at 51, I found myself scrutinizing every wrinkle and age spot.

People say women turn into in their mothers, but my mother didn’t live long enough for me to turn into her. Or maybe I’ve lived so long that I’ve somehow outgrown her. I was 16 when she died, and sometimes my mental image of her is fuzzy, much like the old, faded pictures I peruse through, searching for a likeness.

I don’t have a model to compare myself to as I age, but there have been a lot of other things I’ve missed as I’ve gone through life without a mother. I often wonder if my mother enjoyed reading Janet Evanovich-type novels? Did she fantasize herself in the embrace of one of those fictional hunks? Did she ever wish she had been a bounty hunter or a forensic scientist? I can’t remember what types of books she liked to read or what heroines she admired.

Then there’s my health history – something people with parents take for granted. I cringe when I have to fill out one of those long medical questionnaires.

“Does breast cancer run in your family?” Yes. That’s easy.

“Did you ever have chicken pox?” Hmmm… I vaguely remember pulling a bandage off of my knee when I was about 6 and seeing one little bump. My siblings were both getting over chicken pox, so I was very pleased and excited to see this tiny, red bulge. I didn’t want to be left out. I’m not really sure if the bump was chicken pox, and I have no mother to confirm or deny my symptom as being anything more than a mosquito bite.

“German Measles?” I had one of the measles, but I don’t know if it was of the German, or Polish or Greek variety.

“Does anyone in your family have high cholesterol?” How do I know? My mother (and father) died before they even started testing for cholesterol, the good or bad kind.

Then there were the landmark moments in my life when I really felt my mother was missing. Planning a wedding can be a stressful affair for any bride, but being 18 and without maternal assistance, it can be devastating. Undaunted, I planned one, canceled it and planned it again, all in a three-month period. I didn’t doubt the love of my future husband (now of 37 years), but a part of me didn’t want - couldn’t picture - a wedding without my mother there to share it with me. It’s a visual thing. My child’s eye, even as an adult, can’t envision some things without Mom at my side. And maybe if my mother had been alive, she’d have talked me out of those bright yellow and white floral bridesmaid dresses.

My first pregnancy brought its own set of problems. Was it normal to throw up every morning for nine months? How much weight did my mother gain? And when the bundle of joy arrived, I wondered which end to powder. I was clueless, but I was on my own, except for Dr. Spock – a poor substitution for a mother’s wisdom.

Despite many unanswered questions, there are some things I do remember about my mother. For instance, I know for a fact that my mother was a fastidious housekeeper. I have pictures to prove it. And I – for better or worse – share her fervor for cleaning and organizing. The smell of ammonia, washing down cabinets, alphabetizing DVDs, ironing sheets and trying out a new vacuum cleaner make me tingle all over.

I also vaguely remember my mom having trouble with clich├ęs. I wonder if it’s a genetic disorder since my daughter, older sister and I all share this unique challenge. Are we all a chip off the old shoulder?

I’ve lived almost four decades without my mother, and there are many things I’ve forgotten or wonder about. But what I do know is that I still miss her, that my mother was my best friend, that she laughed at and with me, she made me feel like I could conquer the world, and she loved me unconditionally, even when I squirted ginger ale all over the freshly painted ceiling. And when I think about it, I’m happy to say I'm probably everything my mother would have been after she turned more than a half-a-century old – wrinkles, cellulite and all. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the cart.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now THAT'S a pregnant woman!

Ever since I read Kate's post about pregnancy,weight gain and body image, I've been thinking about writing this post. Kate, I love you, but I know I am not alone. When I looked at that pregnant pic of you, I chuckled. I had in mind myself in pregnant form. As you can see from the posted photo, there are many differences to comtemplate!

It took some hunting to find this particular photo. It is one of the Infamous Seven Photos of Cathy on the Day of Delivery. We decided it would be fun to take a "last photo" of the pregnant mommy just before she headed out the door to the hospital. This one is of me in July of 1999, on my way to the hospital to deliver my fifth child, John.

Unlike Kate, you can see that I was not sporting a "basketball belly." This picture is a good indicator of what I looked like during most of the around 70 months of my life I've been pregnant. I get BIG. During this particular pregnancy, I was at my fittest. I was seeing a nutritionist and was walking several miles on a treadmill every day up until he was born.

What strikes me about this photo is how strange my face looks. I gained weight everywhere, including my face. My nose always seemed to take on a new shape. I recall that my toes looked like sausages, and I couldn't wear most of my shoes.

I'm writing about this and sharing this photo because I find it so interesting that even though Kate and I looked quite different while pregnant, we both found it challenging. When I looked at her photo, all I saw was a beautiful, thin, young mom. I was jealous, I admit it. When I look at myself pregnant, I don't find anything very attractive! (It's OK if you agree with me -- it's true!)

I may not have been physically attractive as a pregnant mom, but since I did have seven pregnancies, there must have been some reason to do it that superseded my desire to be attractive. Of course there was. I was able to understand that my role as a woman was not only to be "beautiful." I was certainly fulfilling my calling as a wife; becoming a mother was meant for me. I was not always attractive or comfortable being pregnant, but I have absolutely no regrets.

There is s measure of humility, in fact a considerable one, required of us when we are pregnant. We give up our bodies for our children. We let go of our control, our figures, our vanity. It is not easy, particularly in a world where women like Angelina Jolie are held up as the ideal.

So I share this photo of myself, in humility, yet proudly. It was not easy for me to do, I must admit! But I wanted to encourage those of you who may look more like me than Angelina. We are beautiful, we mothers, willing to sacrifice what is necessary for the great blessing and privilege of motherhood.

(Because I am not yet purged of my vanity, I will direct the curious to my other blog, from the field of blue children, to see cute photos of me as I look now!)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Makeovers

I'm experimenting with new templates for this blog, so bear with me! Like everything else in my life, we're going through a bit of transition here.

It is fun to do make-overs, but sometimes, especially when dealing with technology, they can take time. Thanks for your patience while I work this out. In God's Image is still here, even if we look different every time you visit!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Acting Up

I belong to a community theater group, and as such I spend time with talented women who can act, sing, dance, direct, design costumes, tweak sound systems and identify lighting elements.

They are a great group of ladies, ranging in age from teen to senior citizen, and normally I enjoy their company immensely.

I'm currently a cast member in a show that features tap dancing, which is definitely a stretch for me. I have never worn a pair of tap shoes and was fairly confident, up until about a month ago, that I would never don a pair. But now I've been cast as Maxine, who not only dances but dances well, and I'm striving to do my best, to use my imperfect body in a new and challenging way. (Note: tap dancing is MUCH harder than it looks!)

Anyway, I've been toughing if out at rehearsals, and rather enjoying it. I find that it's good for my body image to push myself this way, to acknowledge that I can try new things, and that even if I'm not perfect in form I can do lots of really amazing things.

So I'm at rehearsal the other day, having a good body day, feeling strong and fit and rather snappy learning these steps. Soon I'm having the wind taken out of my sails, because these talented women I'm spending time with are women, after all, and the conversation had to turn to our bodies.

Scene: A rehearsal space. Dorothy, Vera, Maxine and Bonnie are all attractive women in their mid forties.

Dorothy: (to Vera and Maxine) I saw the pictures online from that show a few seasons ago. Wow! You two have lost so much weight since then!
Vera: I was 40 pounds heavier then. I was disgusting.
Maxine: Well, that was about 20 pounds ago for me.
Dorothy: Well, you guys look great now. (How did we look then? Horrific?)
Vera: No, I'm gaining again. I can't even squeeze into any of my sixes.
Maxine: (Rolling her eyes.) You look great.
Vera: My feet have been hurting lately. I think it's because I'm so fat. I'm a solid eight now.
Bonnie: (Chiming in) I think women are too thin at size six. (Bonnie is a very fit and attractive size eight.) Women look best at size eight. Some women can even look acceptable at a size 9/10, or even an 11.
Maxine:(who is a curvy size 10 or 12) I think larger women are attractive, too.
Vera: (she has a very trim waist and large breasts) I'm out of control.
Andy: I've lost thirty pounds.
Vera: You look so great.
Andy: The divorce has been awful. I've always had meat on my bones, but now look how thin I am! I didn't really do it the right way, though.
Vera: But you look awesome now!
Maxine: Let's learn these steps.
Vera: (grabbing Maxine's midsection) I want one of those!
Maxine: (embarrassed) What?
Vera:(who just said her size eight body is disgusting) Look at that cute little chub.

Fade out as the middle-aged women meekly line up to begin the dance. Maxine, for one, is demoralized. In the background are the younger members of the cast, two girls in their early 20's. They are much larger than the middle-aged ladies. They are not a part of the conversation. They are, no doubt, talking about something much more interesting...


Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps it is inappropriate to comment on one another's bodies? I have found myself complimenting other women's weight loss because I want to appear friendly, because I'm nice and I'm trying to make a friend. Recently I told someone she looked like she'd been losing weight when she looked the same as ever (curvy and "overweight.") I like her and knew that she'd feel good about herself if I commented this way on her body, so I lied about it.

Wouldn't it be better to comment on her kindness, charity, wisdom, wit, or sincerity?

Because I truly admire all those things about her, and I'd like her at any weight.

One of my friends has recently lost about 25 pounds. She did this during a period of depression by eating one can of tuna each day and chain-smoking. So now I'm supposed to rave about how fabulous she looks, and tell her I'm so proud of her? Am I supposed to like her more now than I did when she was "chubby?"

Earlier this year I was about 10 pounds lighter than I am now. To achieve this I had to write down every morsel I consumed and log all fiber, fat, calories and carbs. I walked for hours each day, went to the gym to lift weights, and forced down gallons of water. I was consumed with my weight loss; it was all I had passion for.

So now I'm heavier. So what? I have time to write and clean my house and tap dance in a show. Are my friends disgusted with me? Maybe they are, sadly. Maybe the only way then can tell if I deserve a compliment is if I'm wearing a size eight.

I'm really going to try to change my habit of commenting on other women's bodies. I'm not going to bring up their weight loss. Instead I'm going to focus on the things I love about them that have nothing to do with their size.

I hope they will return the favor, and love me as I am. Even if I can't tap dance, thin or fat, or somewhere in between.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Growing Pains

I'm almost 20-weeks pregnant with my third child (that's me pregnant with my second bambino), so I'm supposed to be gaining weight. This is the sign of a healthy baby. I know all this, but it doesn't mean it's easy-peasy for me to watch my waistline disappear and to see that number on the scale steadily rise every couple of weeks.

I wish I were one of those preggos who felt like a hot mama during pregnancy. When I became pregnant with my first, I eagerly stocked up on black Lycra tops that would hug my bump. (Think Angelina Joile.) I envisioned myself embracing the whole fertile goddess image. But eight months into my pregnancy I felt like I looked more like a Killer Whale than Angelina in my slinky, black tops (even though others said I looked small; like most women, I'm my own worst critic). While I'm always certainly thankful to be pregnant (or at least to be having another baby), I often find myself mourning my old body at some point during the nine-month journey.

I doubt I'm alone in my feelings of body angst during pregnancy. Even though many women don't share my eating disorder history, it's not most women's idea of fun to pack on the pounds.

For me, seeing my body give way to a softer, fuller form really is a constant struggle. I do have days where I find respite from my body hatred. I'm more focused on growing this beautiful baby (as I always should be), but I've admittedly found that this pregnancy has been tougher than my others and that I've had more bad days than good.

Maybe it's because God was the only one who planned this pregnancy (whereas my first two I'd been eager to conceive and was using natural family planning to do just that). I suppose I wasn't ready to relinquish control, and that's what it's really about for me: Control. When I'm not pregnant, I know - as unhealthy as this sounds - that I can skip a meal or push myself hard during a workout and make that scale budge in the direction I want it to (not that I act on these impulses since being "recovered," but it's in the knowing that I can that somehow makes me feel less anxious).

But when I'm pregnant, I have a baby depending on me. I have a growing little one who needs nourishment and needs me to fuel my body with healthy food, even when I'm feeling nauseous or gross. I have to surrender to the scale and allow that number to climb.

This is why, I've realized, that pregnancy is so good for me. It's always a challenge, but it forces me to stop focusing on my weight, the way I look in my jeans (there's no such thing as skinny jeans when you're a preggo), and to stop being such an idiotic control freak.

I have also found that there are certain measures I can take to help me to better appreciate my new bod. (And, whether you're pregnant or not, I think some of these tips can be helpful for anyone hoping to overcome body image problems.)

So, my friends, here are some simple ways to help you love your preggo bod and to get over those growing pains:

  • Get moving. I've made an effort to exercise throughout all of my pregnancies (except, of course, when I was on bedrest for three weeks with my second). I've found that exercising – moving a little bit every day despite the fatigue or nausea – makes me feel not only healthier but also more comfortable with my new shape. Aside from those exercise endorphins, maybe my elevated self-esteem has to do with the fact that I'm doing something healthy for my baby and for me. Plus, regular prenatal exercise has been shown to boost energy levels, help prepare moms-to-be for childbirth (the biggest "workout" of your life!), relieve stress, and may even help women bounce back to their pre-pregnancy figure. I do a lot of walking and also try to do some prenatal yoga and Pilates. Just be sure to get the green light from your OB/GYN or midwife before you start (or even continue) a prenatal fitness routine.

  • Shun the scale. My current midwife is amazing. I was very upfront with her when I was pregnant with my second. I explained that I struggle with gaining weight during pregnancy and that it's not even really about what the scale says. I divulged my eating disorder history, and I asked her if we could just not make my weight an issue unless it was posing a risk for my baby because I was gaining too much or too little. She has been so sensitive with my previous and current pregnancy. At some appointments, she tells me I don't even have to step on the scale. Not knowing an exact number has been very liberating for me. Instead of fretting over my weight, I can just enjoy being pregnant and focus on taking care of my growing baby.

    Whether you're pregnant or not, try freeing yourself from the scale. Weighing yourself once a week is reasonable, but don't make it an everyday thing and, never forget that your self-worth is so much more than a number on a scale or a clothing size.

  • Accentuate the positive. Sure, varicose veins, puffy ankles and a behemoth bottom (I always get a bigger bum than tummy) are no fun, but what about the positive changes pregnancy brings like a curvier bod? Why not embrace your femininity? Don’t go for the frumpy look, and avoid anything that looks remotely like a tent. Go for modest but chic looks. I’m very thankful that maternity clothing is so cute and fashionable these days, and I try to not “hide” the fact that I’ve been blessed with another baby.

  • Celebrate your pregnancy. Okay, I’m really not the artsy-fartsy type, but I did something really cool during my first pregnancy after I wrote an article about an artist who transforms women’s fertile forms into pieces of art. This was completely out of character and frankly, it made me nervous, but I agreed to have a cast done of my torso when I was eight months pregnant. Elizabeth Barnes of Artful Expectations was the artist who cast my belly and then painted it to look like Ivy, my parents’ yellow Lab. (Sounds a little strange, I know, but this pup-belly ended up being the perfect artwork for my daughter’s room since she's crazy about Ivy.)

    When I saw what my body actually looked like housing a baby (rather than scrutinizing it using the carnival mirror in my head that has a tendency to distort how I see my body), I realized that my pregnant form was absolutely beautiful and that my baby, as cheesy as this may sound, was a piece of art my husband and I had co-created with God. If that doesn’t break the funny mirror in my mind, I don’t know what will.

    If a belly cast isn’t an option, why not ask your husband to take photos of your pregnant bod? I've always been envious of women who showcase their belly shots throughout pregnancy; I've never been brave enough to do that, but maybe someday I'll get to that place. As it stands, I too often avoid the camera when I’m pregnant; yet, I know that down the road I’m going to want to see pictures of me carrying my children. In fact, I didn’t like the photo above when it was taken when I was about seven months pregnant, but now it’s one of my favorite snapshots. I love how my older daughter's hand is on my belly and how I’m not recoiling from her touch. We both look so content, and it's clear we were celebrating a new life together. The bottom line is having a baby – accommodating not one but two souls in the temple of your body – is always worth celebrating.

  • Forget about those pre-baby jeans. After giving birth, you’ll be slightly thinner, but don’t expect to look like Heidi Klum. Most normal women – as in all of us who don’t have the luxury of personal trainers, nutritionists and chefs at our service – should expect to look about five months pregnant after delivery. Cut yourself some slack and focus on motherhood.

    Besides, even if you never fit into those skinny jeans again, who really cares? As moms, we should have a whole new appreciation for our bodies after we deliver and often nurse a baby. I know I did. I never feel as amazing or empowered as I do after I give birth and when my milk first comes in. I’m lucky because I haven’t yet experienced baby blues in my early postpartum days. It’s more like baby mania. I feel so gloriously happy to have a new child and also in awe of my body that not only grew a baby but was also able to get the child out on its own and then feed it. I am Mommy. Hear me roar!

  • Pray. I have some really tough days when I’m pregnant, days when I hate my body, days when I’m tempted to take drastic, unhealthy measures to be in control of the scale. There are days when I take my baby and my body for granted. When I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I meditate on Jesus’ words: “This is my body and it has been given up for you.” And isn’t that really what we do as moms whether we're ever blessed enough to physically carry and/or nurse a child or not? Every time we embrace another pregnancy, nurse a child, hold a toddler until our arms ache, drag ourselves out of bed to comfort a frightened child, or even play a game of catch with our kids, we’re employing our bodies to be mothers. Really, how can we not love our bodies, knowing that we're using them in exactly the way God intended?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Reasonable Life

I'm going to cheat today.

No new ideas from me -- just some wisdom from the awesome site Body Positive.

My favorite? Healthy weight is what you weigh when you are living a reasonable life.

Am I living a reasonable life if I obsess about numbers on a scale? Is it reasonable to only consume foods that have been weighed and measured, that I'm told my some "authority" I can eat? Is it reasonable to punish myself with exercise, or deny myself food when I am hungry?

Lots to think about. Spend some time at Body Positive and explore thinking about these things in a new way.

And please, BE REASONABLE!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Unnamed Eating Disorder

The Great Scale Experiment is, I'm sad to say, not going well.

The blasted thing has made itself comfy on my bathroom floor once again. I keep trying to ignore it, at least, but it practically shouts at me to step on it every day.

Like I predicted, my vacation from weighing (and dieting) has left me several pounds heavier. I am not a happy girl.

I watched Ruby Sunday night. She is 474 pounds, morbidly obese and enchantingly lovely. She is rightfully concerned about her health, and with the help of a personal trainer, an internist, an obesity specialist, a nutritionist, her friends and family, and millions of Style Network viewers, she's setting out to get in shape.

No audience is watching my struggles, and next to Ruby's, they seem tiny, almost nonexistent. I am overweight, but nowhere near as much as she is. I would be thrilled to be just 10 or 15 pounds lighter. I don't need to lose over 300 pounds, like she does, but I feel I am have an equally difficult battle in my life.

Ruby says she is addicted to food, and is simply unable to stop eating. I don't feel that way about food -- I feel that way about dieting, about weight obsession.

Even though I look "normal", I feel fat and unattractive. I judge myself my what I've eaten and what the scale says. I feel my happiness is dependent on which jeans I can fit into, not on the many, many blessings in my life.

Something is wrong with me.

Ruby also has a psychiatrist on her team. I'm wondering if I, too, might benefit from therapy focusing on my weight/dieting/body image issues.

I know resources are available for those suffering from anorexia and obesity. They wear their disorders for all to see. They are so thin or so fat that the world takes notice and acknowledges their pain. There are many of us who suffer from an equally debilitating challenge -- we hate our own bodies and live daily with obsessions, confusion, and distress. Is there hope for us, too?

I don't think a TV show will be made anytime soon about women like us, the kind who try to exercise and eat right, but will never measure up to the standards we have set for ourselves. I suppose it would be a very boring show. The same episode would air day after day, month after month, year after year. If would feature an attractive woman, slightly overweight, hopping on and off the scale, trying every diet that comes along.

I want to change the channel, don't you?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ruby.....revealed

You may have seen ads, in the mall or on TV, for the new Style Network show "Ruby," a reality show about the experiences of a morbidly obese woman from Savannah.

I listened in to a portion of an interview by Lisa Hendey (of catholicmom.com fame) with the star of the show, which premiers Sunday, November 9.

What first struck me when I checked out Ruby's website is how authentically lovely she is -- despite her size, some would say.

Lisa's interview revealed that Ruby is in fact a Christian who considers her walk with God to be the most important journey she's on. She says that she insisted to the show's producers that her faith be incorporated into the program, and she explains that her attempts to now lose weight and regain her health are motivated in part by a recognition that she was "made in God's image."

Something we can certainly agree about!

I think I'll check out the program. If you do, come back and tell us what you think.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking Candy from the Baby

Halloween and its association with sweets in excess is tough for a mom like me. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder and makes an effort every single day to teach my kids to be at peace with their bodies and to practice what’s known as mindful eating – eat when they’re hungry, don’t eat when they’re not, I find the readily available heap of goodies puts me in a bit of a quandary. I want my kids to enjoy their treats without feeling guilty, but I don’t want them to fill up on so much junk that they stop eating healthier foods until they have eaten their way through their sweet stash.

Now Madeline is only 3 (almost 4!), and she wasn’t out trick-or-treating all that long. Still, she made quite a haul of sweet stuff for such a tiny stomach, and the girl loves candy. What kid doesn’t? (Don’t tell me the apple of your eye prefers carrot sticks over Pixy Sticks). I’ve tried hard to not be a no-junk-food-ever-fascist and to let her know that all those delish treats are fine in moderation, but when she has access to such a huge pile of candy, it seems to whittle its way into her conscious so that all she can think about is when Mommy is going to let her have another taste of chocolaty goodness.

When I really start to think about her eating habits though, I realize that I don’t give her enough credit. Sure, she’s excited about her loot. However, one thing I’ve noticed about both my kids is that they do seem to practice mindful eating for right now and it’s my job not to mess that up. Just this weekend we were enjoying homemade peanut butter cupcakes we made for my mom and while the adults stuffed the big things down their throats, Madeline stopped when she was full. “I can’t eat anymore, Mommy,” she told me, pushing a large chunk of her cupcake away from her. “Can you save it?”

“Of course,” I replied.

So we put her leftovers in a plastic baggie and she’s forgotten about them for now. I hope she’ll always be like this. I really have to work on not making food an issue between us. I’ll sometimes hear myself telling her that she can’t have a snack when she says she’s hungry because it’s almost dinnertime (I can bet most moms have been guilty of this same thing at some point). Then when it’s dinner, I tell her she needs to eat. What I’m doing is teaching her to not listen to her body. I’m telling her to eat by the clock instead of eating when she’s truly hungry. If she wants a snack 15 minutes before dinner, I should offer her something healthy (which on a good day, I do). If she asks for a cookie, I don’t always have to say no. If she’s not hungry at dinner, that’s okay. She won’t starve.

As for my toddler, she starts chucking her food off the highchair when she’s finished, and I know not to ply her with more carrot slivers or cheese cubes. She’s finished and she knows it. Sometimes she eats a bigger serving than I do; other times she chews five raisins, spits one out, and calls it a meal. Again, that’s okay. Just like her big sister, she’s not going to starve and she won’t stuff herself until she feels sick. That’s what adults do because we’ve stopped listening to our bodies. We don’t know how to eat anymore. Food too often either triggers either guilt or a sense of longing. We’re either depriving ourselves or eating like it’s the last meal we’re ever going to have.

So how do we teach our kids to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies?

In my own experience as a parental unit to two girls, teaching kids nutritious eating habits is a lot like so many other aspects of parenting. We can’t force our children to sleep, for example (I know this all too well having one insomniac under our roof), but we do have the responsibility to create the conditions for sleep, including a safe and comfortable sleeping environment and a soothing bedtime routine. As far as food goes, I don’t want to be a controlling mommy who’s always saying “no, no, no” and dividing food into good or bad categories. But I don’t want to be the mom who lets her kids eat Twinkies every day for an afternoon snack and makes excuses for my children when their BMIs are no longer within a healthy range (“Oh, she’s just really big boned.”). I have to walk a thin line (pun intended, I suppose) to teaching my kids to respect their bodies and to love them for their own unique shape and for encouraging them to make the most of what God gave them. We’re not all fashioned to be wispy thin, but we shouldn’t be so afraid of ruining our kids’ healthy body image that we constantly allow them to nosh on junk food, afraid that if we tell them to put the Oreos away they’ll have a complex for life. Really, we shouldn’t even be buying the Oreos – at least not on a regular basis. I aim to keep our pantry stocked with healthy eats, so they can pretty much choose anything they want and it will be an acceptable snack.

So, yes, I may end up taking some Halloween candy from my babies (and giving it to my husband who has a mutant metabolism and never gains a pound no matter what he eats), but not before I let them take pleasure in a few prized selections of their loot (Madeline is like her mommy and seems to favor Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

Here are some other creative ways to make sure your kids don’t gorge on their Halloween candy:
• My aunt freezes some of the candy that would make good embellishments for the gingerbread houses she makes every Christmas with her kids.
• I give my preschooler the option of using her candy to “buy” a toy. In other words, she can trade in some of her loot for a small trinket (maybe a book or a puzzle). Last year she wasn’t as in to candy and quickly decided on “buying” a toy. This year, she’s considering her options.
• Along this train of thought, I’ve heard of some families who have a good witch come and take some of the candy and leave a toy in its place.
• Last year we took most of the chocolate candy and mashed it up. We then added the pieces to a basic chip cookie recipe. We shared the cookies with friends – they were delicious. Every cookie was a surprise since some would have a Butterfinger crunch and others would be chewy with caramel or peanut butter.
• Since Halloween, I’ve been allowing Madeline to choose one piece of candy to eat every day. She can eat it whenever she wants, but once she’s had her daily allotment, that’s it.

What about you? How do you keep your kids from turning into real “sugar babies” after Halloween or any holiday where junk food is in easy access?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Protecting our Girls

Recently a friend told me she was concerned about her middle daughter, because she has been "putting on weight."

She is one of three lovely teenaged girls. They are all beautiful, bright and talented. They do well in school and are dancers who take part in their school's dance team.

The youngest, at 14, is 5'3" and weighs 98 pounds. The eldest, at 17, is so thin that size zero dresses hang on her. The middle child, the one who Mom is concerned about? She's 5'4" and is tipping the scales at 118.

Her mom was worried because the jeans she bought in August are getting snug. She's gained SO MUCH weight that her pants are too tight! Horrors!

I didn't quite know what to say to my friend, whom I love dearly. All I could come up with when she told me she finally had her daughter get on the scale to verify how much she'd gained lately was a lame, "Well, she's certainly in the normal range. Why don't you just matter-of-factly tell her you'll get her some new jeans?"

I'm concerned, not just about my friend and her daughters, but about all of our girls. Why is it that we "worry" that we are simply too fat when we are just normal?

Pressure is so great to conform to a certain standard. I know that my friend, who is extraordinarily attractive, a size six, and an avid hater of her thighs, still struggles with body image at age 45. She loves her daughters and worries that they stay healthy and love themselves. But is her "concern" really healthy?

Don't our girls deserve better than this?