Many of the women with whom I work tell me that they feel pressure, both from themselves and from society, to diet all. the. time. At the very least, they must constantly watch what they eat, lest one too many cookie go into their mouths and everything falls apart.
The first thing I ask a new client is to identify the top three goals they’d like to accomplish through our sessions. Overwhelmingly, moms of young girls tell me that they want to change their relationship with food so that they can teach their daughters to find a balance between healthy eating and feeling crazy.
At first, as a non-parent, I didn’t fully understand. Can’t kids be taught something that we ourselves don’t do? Can we not pass on a more idealistic version of eating?
Then I had a baby. And now I get it. Starting very early, babies observe us and our actions and, as they get older, begin to mimic us. Older still, they model their behavior on what they’ve seen us do throughout the years.
The New York Times’ Motherlode blog recently had a wonderful post about a woman whose 8-year-old daughter innocently asked her, when do adults stop eating breakfast? She had observed that her mother never ate breakfast (a result of severe dieting in her 20s), and concluded that there must come a time when morning meals end and semi-starvation begins. The mother was devastated, unaware that she had unknowingly encouraged this notion.
As parents, our food habits can profoundly affect our kids. As women, it can be extremely challenging to model the behaviors we’d like our children to have. Growing up, many of us may have been taught–either purposefully or unconsciously–that our bodies could use some improvement. As grown women, we’re at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to eating and body image. The diet industry has invested billions of dollars in making sure we know that we’ll never lead successful, happy lives unless we can just have more willpower and lose those 5 extra pounds. In fact, this industry’s entire revenue stream is predicated on making us feel terrible about ourselves every single day.
But, as hard as it may be, it’s a battle worthy of our efforts. Studies show that an estimated 42% of girls in 1st through 3rd grades want to be thinner. A whopping 81% of 10-year olds are afraid of being fat. It gets worse with age: Ninety-one percent of female college students said that they have dieted to control their weight. Clearly, we need a different model of what normal eating looks like and better strategies for how we can achieve that.
For you moms out there, have you worried about passing along bad habits to your kids? Have you promoted a different relationship with food than the one you were taught growing up? I’d love to hear your thoughts.