This is another scary post for me to share. It’s scary to put out there on the internet that I might be a little bit crazy. However, I wanted to share this, because I think many parents might be able to relate to the experiences and fears I talk about. This post is about a drastic shift in the way I think about parenting with regards to food and weight issues.
I am a first-time mother. During pregnancy and the early newborn days, I put a lot of pressure on myself to “Do Things Right,” which partially meant “different from the way things were done when I was a kid that I found painful.” I’m sure I don’t have to tell anybody that there are So. Many. Resources. available to parents now on Every. Philosophy. Under. The. Sun. on Any. Aspect. of Parenting. about which you have Any. Level. of Curiosity.
When it came to feeding my baby, I was attracted to breastfeeding and Baby Led Weaning.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone that the touted advantages of breastfeeding often include “lower risk of childhood and adult obesity and type 2 diabetes.” That wasn’t a main reason I chose to breastfeed, but it certainly sounds appealing to most people, doesn’t it? And I really liked the idea of giving my kiddo control over his own food intake. I remember my own food intake being policed from a young age in the form of disapproving looks from parents if I took seconds at dinner. Most of what I read indicated that if babies were in control of the process, they were more likely to learn to self-regulate. Or something. Nowadays I question a lot of what I read on the internet. I’m not here to sell BLW as a parenting decision; I’m merely explaining what the appeal was for me personally, and why that was appealing based on my history.
Anyway, I was happy with the “results.” My kiddo loves food and tries everything we offer him. He isn’t a picky eater at all. If you believe that parenting influences these things (I believe this less so than I used to!), then this parenting decision happened to work out well for us.
While my son was an infant, our family ate very little processed food. I believed that helped our kiddo develop good gut health and whatnot. Never mind that I had low energy and developed health issues. Kiddo’s health was important, dammit. He was gonna have better health than I do if I had any control over the matter.
At some point though, I noticed some of my own disordered thinking spilling over into my food choices for kiddo. For example, I started adding more grain foods back into my own diet, but I was reluctant to feed them to kiddo because I still feared them a bit. That led to me eating meals when he was asleep, because I didn’t want him to see and feel “left out” of any food choices I made. I believed that this was the best I could do under the circumstances. I believed that even if I was “addicted to junk food,” the best I could do was not pass my “addiction” onto my kiddo while I worked on figuring things out for myself.
When I was growing up, my also mother dealt with a lot of anxiety over her children’s weight and health. I was “overweight or obese” in elementary school. The pediatrician we saw was harsh and judgmental about this. My mother was, understandably, terrified about what would happen I was enrolled in a weight loss class for children at the local hospital, where I remember being taught about food journaling, dressing in a “flattering” way, and exercising in the same gym where the cardiac patients were walking on the treadmill. Food was tightly controlled at home, and was encouraged to pursue thinness. At the grocery store, every label was read out loud and decisions on whether to purchase a food were determined by the number of grams of fat and sugar per serving.
My mom was scared, and trying to do what the experts and her family were telling her was “the right thing.” I’m pretty sure it didn’t have any affect on my weight whatsoever, and encouraged disordered eating patterns like hiding food. Even as an adult, I still enjoy eating alone, probably more than the average person does (although I’ll be honest, the enjoyment of eating alone also has a lot to do with the fact that there are no small children grabbing my food, or trying to feed me, or having to jump up and get a million things for someone).
Anyway, all this parenting out of fear of fat business is something that my mother has told me she feels very guilty about. I try to tell her that I understand that she was doing the best she knew with the resources available to her at the time, but I know she still feels guilty about it anyway. And as a grandmother, she has been very supportive of our own feeding decisions with kiddo, even if she was initially surprised because baby feeding advice was so different when she was raising kids. I was feeling proud of my baby feeding decisions for several reasons, and one of the big ones was that I was “minimizing the risk that my son would grow up to be fat.”
I remember where I was standing and what I was looking at in my house when I changed my mind about this. Suddenly I integrated all the information I had been processing and all my childhood experiences and realized that it didn’t match what I was saying about parenting. That habits determine health outcomes more than weight. That most people who try to lose weight do not sustain weight loss for a long period of time. That body type and genetics play a role in how easily, and where, a person stores fat. That I myself had passed on so many experiences because I believed I needed to get my weight under control before I focused on anything else. Or because I felt socially ostracized. That my childhood had been very painful, but none of that misery came from actually being fat. All of the misery came from the way I was treated at home and at school. The bullying and the ostracism at school. The pressure and scrutiny at home. If not for that, being a fat kid wouldn’t have been so bad.
All those things had been stewing in my own mind for months, and I was mid-sentence in a conversation with my husband about how interesting it was that picky eating appeared to be a genetic trait. I was commenting to him about how moms I knew whose children were picky eaters said that they had been picky eaters as children too, and wasn’t that interesting? And then all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks: I could breastfeed my kid until age 5 and let him self-feed healthy food all I wanted, and he might still grow up to be fat. And that might be a lot less under my control than I thought it was, given his family history. And that needed to be okay. I needed to be okay with that. If it was okay for me, it had to be okay for him. Or history could repeat itself. I realized I have no control over his weight (if that was a “thing,” my mother would have gotten it right), but I do have control over attitudes about food and weight and bodies in our home. I can choose to make our home a part of the stigma, or a haven from it.
We already did not discuss food, calories, and weight (our own or anybody else’s) in a negative way in our home, but I knew I needed to do more. I stopped restricting foods from kiddo’s diet on the basis of “I kinda fear them.” (We still keep certain foods away from him due to food reactions, and we test these every few months to see if he still reacts to them). I started relaxing on “non-paleo-ish” things like gluten free bread and pasta, and nuts and dried fruit (no corn or dairy products, as he reacts to those). He loves eating some of the same things he sees his friends eat. He eats anything we eat now, unless it contains corn or dairy.
Know what? The world didn’t end. The sky didn’t fall. Kiddo didn’t start getting sick more often. We are all fine, and feeding my kid feels a lot more relaxed and less stressful for me, which I think will have lasting positive effects on our health.
Anyway, with all the rhetoric out there about the dangers of childhood obesity, I wanted to put this perspective out there. Based on my own experiences, I’m far more concerned with childhood eating disorders. I realized that if I am pro-HAES and pro-body positivity and pro-size acceptance, then that means relaxing on trying to control my own kid’s size. This has been another post that has been difficult for me to write, because it’s hard to admit that I am not perfect and have made mistakes in an area where I had good intentions. But I feel the need to share it, because I know other parents who might be able to relate to having the same fears and experiences.
Got a similar experience to share? Drop me a line!