When I was the age my oldest daughter is now, some of the adults in my life decided my weight was a problem. The way I looked in my figure skating leotard at age 9 brought on discussions of diets and food restrictions that I struggled to understand.
In pictures, it is clear that I was no longer a scrawny child, but I definitely wasn’t fat. Even so, I can remember the skating moms asking my mom what she was going to do about my weight in the same way you might ask what one will do about a bad hair cut.
I have so many memories of adults trying to limit my food, or ask if I really “needed” that candy or ice cream that the other children were eating. My aunt once wondered aloud why my parents gave me two pieces of toast if I was supposed to be on a diet. Was I supposed to ignore my hunger? Was my hunger unnatural or just generally “bad”?
To make matters worse, my older brother seemed to have the opposite problem of being too thin. My mom bought him “weight-gain” milk shakes in a useless effort to put meat on his bones. I can remember the family ordering a pizza and my brother having the appetite and metabolism to eat half of the pizza himself. This while I was measuring out my two slices with a Weight Watcher paper wedge to know exactly how to account for a “slice” of pizza.
I joined Weight Watchers at age 13 and spent more than a decade losing and gaining and succeeding and failing at reaching my goal weight. A decade that seems so wasted now in using the scale as a measure of my self worth.
With the help of some therapy, I quit dieting at the age of 23, just in time to save my new marriage from my obsession. I followed a decade of dieting with a decade of healing from that experience. I had a few babies and started running marathons and half marathons for fun. I learned to like my not-thin body no matter how much it weighed. I also learned to eat without counting or worrying about the way each bite would affect my body.
In the past few months, I have noticed my older daughter’s body start to change. As I watch her grow, I have started to feel a bit of anxiety creeping into my thoughts. I worry she will go through what I went through at that age. That her body will change in a way that will make others comment, or make her self-conscience. I have always prayed that my children wouldn’t have the weight issues I had.
One thing I plan to do differently from my childhood is to make sure I don’t make my girls’ weight an issue for them. I feed my whole family healthy foods and encourage them to play and be active. But I hope to never make them feel as though they are overweight or in need of a “special” diet or exercise plan.
My difficulty in losing weight has so little to do with what I eat as with the unhealthy relationship I have with food and my body. I have recently started a new diet with so much more success than I have ever had. Even so, I struggle with a deep feeling that dieting is a punishment instead of a means to an end that I actually want and deserve. I have to fight my negative thoughts about my body each step of the way, even though I am thinner now than have been in my adult life.
I just finished reading a novel by Kate Rockland, “150 Pounds: A Novel in Waists and Measures.” It follows two extremes in excessive dieting and being happily overweight. One idea in this book really turned on a light bulb for me. The idea is that most women will be many different weights throughout their lives and that their bodies will take different shapes as they go along. That the shape of a woman does not shape who she is as a person. It sounds simple, but the implication is huge for me.
It really doesn’t matter how either of my girls’ bodies change as they grow. It doesn’t matter if they are chubbier some years and thinner other years. B’ezrat Hashem (God willing), they will grow to be women and their shapes will grow and mature and change. They will probably gain weight they don’t want at times and lose it at other times. All I can do is teach them to love themselves and to realize what has taken me decades–that your body is not who you are–and that it doesn’t HAVE to look any certain way. What matters is that you are healthy and happy and loved.