“You’re looking pretty fat, Charity!”
That’s how my grandpa used to greet me when I came to visit as a kid. A scrappy little girl with skinny legs and a poochy tummy, I looked like Eloise. Just substitute a mobile home on a tiny farm for the Plaza hotel and there I was.
It was the eighties. Daisy Duke zoomed through Hazzard County in a bikini top with shorts that may as well have been bikini bottoms. Flat stomachs were in. Mine wasn’t.
Around the playground I’d say things like, “I look like my mom, but I’m built like my dad!” Your “build” was a very big thing. And by middle school my friends were totally supportive. “You’re just big boned,” they’d assure me. That’s because my Guess jeans were one size bigger than theirs. Which translated into being one size worse than them.
The problem with this thinking of course, is that it sticks with you.
Your body becomes a measure of how valuable you are. Whether anyone will ever love you.
And the answer is, probably not. Not until you lose some weight. Whether it’s 5 pounds or 55 doesn’t really matter. The problem is still there. The problem is you.
When I was very skinny
It’s no fun to be an apple shape in a world obsessed with pears but there was a time when I was really skinny. At my lowest I weighed 119 pounds, all five feet and four inches of me. And I loved it. I could wear a bikini! For the first time ever I didn’t worry about how clothes looked. There was only one problem: I was skinny because I stopped eating. I was in despair. My father was dying and I’d broken up with the love of my life. It literally hurt too much to eat.
So I shrank.
And everyone celebrated.
“You’re skinny!” my grandmother cheered in surprise as we hugged during a visit home over Christmas. Never mind the grim circumstances. Let’s buy some size 4 clothes!
Eventually that love and I rekindled and got married. Four gorgeous kids and 10 years later, my middle is poochy again. And to be honest, I’ve felt really bad about it. For years. At a recent wedding with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, I was embarrassed about trying to fit into an older dress and described my size 8 body as “my ultimate fatness”. What does that even mean?
It means I hated my own body.
The body that made four of the best people I’ve ever met. The same body that walked me down the aisle at my wedding, the one that navigated a stroller through the streets of Rome when we lived in Italy, the one that now manages a home, this blog and busy school lunch catering company.
Welp, that’s over now. All that griping. All that pining to just loose 10 pounds is done.
And if I have one iota of say about it, none of my girls will EVER feel the way I have.
What does eating healthy even mean?
Of all the dreams I have for Foodlets, it all boils down to loving food. Good food, shared with people.
Food is one of life’s pleasures. It’s a gooey strand of cheese as you lift a bite of lasagna. It’s an ice cold popsicle on a hot day. It’s sitting around a table filled with faces you love, passing a platter heaped with roasted lemon chicken.
You can’t do that if your habit is always refusing to try anything new, so encouraging mini foodies to be brave is a big part of it. (One of my favorite lines for reluctant eaters is: What if you’d never tried chocolate ice cream? Just think about what else you might be missing if you stop trying new things now!)
Food is also nourishing. You literally have to eat to stay alive but there’s more to it. Fresh, hearty food makes bodies feel good. That’s harder to come by when you’re eating out so cooking at home with fresh ingredients is a surefire way to get nutrients you need.
Do you know what food isn’t?
There’s no bad food.
I know. Most of us grew up thinking we were “good” when we skipped lunch and “bad” when we ate the whole bag of Doritos. Nope.
I’m all done with that. And I’m not going to let my three daughters even start. (And yes, body shaming happens for boys too but right now I’m talking about what it’s like to grow up as a woman in a culture that idolizes Kardashians.)
If you are reading this right now — no matter how big or small, lumpy or lanky, tan or pale — your body is rocking it right out of the park. You’re so strong! Your lungs are amazing. Your brain is sending more messages to more places that I can even describe. Your body is an actual miracle.
Let that sink in.
5 things I want my daughters to know about food
I grew up thinking that I shouldn’t eat dessert. That it was bad to have a burger, especially if you were already a little chubby. “It doesn’t look like you’ve missed many meals,” the same grandpa once muttered when I whined to stop at McDonald’s on the way home from a family road trip. Mean spirited messages stick. But like the advent of car seats, I want something better for my kids that what I had.
As a writer, I think a lot about it. And as a mom, I demand it.
Free from weirdly distorted body images, the only messages I want my kids to learn about food are simple:
- Cook at home with fresh ingredients often.
- Never be afraid to try new things.
- Notice how your food tastes.
- Eat when you’re hungry.
- Stop eating when you’re satisfied.
I LOVE eating a little bowl of ice cream at night. I do it often. I get the richest possible chocolate flavor of good quality ice cream and scoop myself a little bowl. It’s so good that a small amount is really satisfying. I once heard the difference between hunger and appetite described like this: Hunger is your body telling you it needs food. Appetite is what sounds good. Have you ever eaten a whole bag of low-fat cookies but still felt dissatisfied? A friend described this as eating around a craving. How much better would it be to just have a cookie instead of eating a peanut butter sandwich, then munching on some chips and chowing down an apple–all to resist the cookie that you’ll probably eat anyway?
Stop thinking about food as something you shouldn’t have.
But what about obesity?
Obesity is a big problem in America today but I’m not sure if gluttony is the culprit. What if we’ve just lost touch with how to think about food? As a source of nourishment. Food can even be spiritual. But not if you’re eating out of a sack on the way to soccer practice. Or in between three jobs. It takes time to cook, to eat together and even more to savor the whole experience. Instead of lack of willpower, the culprit might be money plus a feverish sense of busyness. Most suburban parents feel like we need to maintain hectic lives so we don’t miss out. So our kids don’t fall behind.
But what if we could throw that out too? Making time for eating good food as a family might be the best thing we can do to help our kids. To connect, to recharge and to really feel nourished.
Yes, I want my kids to avoid diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure later in life. But I also want them to notice the glory of their own bodies right now.
No one cares how much they weigh and exercise is supposed to make you feel good. It’s invigorating. You get endorphins. Your muscles and joints feel better. To paraphrase an awesome meme I once saw, exercise isn’t supposed to be punishment for eating. It’s a celebration of what your body can do.
I might be a lost cause. I’ve been told by so many people — directly and indirectly — for so long that my body isn’t good enough that it’s practically part of my DNA. Like my freckles. But I’m working on it. And as I try to retrain myself, I’ll be working hard to build the confidence in my girls that I’ve always lacked.
To mine and all the other mean grandpas out there, I forgive you. But I’m also not having it anymore. Not for my girls.