If You Are a Mum, This is Why You Shouldn’t Diet
My mother took me to a dietitian when I was 12 years old; I wasn’t fully developed yet, but apparently, I was on the “pudgy” side and didn’t conform with the idea of how a 12 years old should look like.
Let’s make this clear: my mum is amazing, she has powered through many storms in her life, and she has always put family first. Still, being skinny was really ingrained in our culture, and unfortunately, it still is nowadays.
The dietitian told me to cut down my caloric intake (obviously), and allowed me to have pizza on the weekend; I have always thrived on plans and organisation, and going to a doctor specialised in food and nutrition really made me happy. I had finally a goal and something that I could share and do with my mum.
I was on the “pudgy” (I really wasn’t) side because I hadn’t developed my taste buds as yet, and I thought that having dessert at every meal, and 8 cappuccino and hot chocolate throughout the day was what people did. I enjoyed the bingeing session with my friends, although there wasn’t an emotional attachment to eating at all. We were just trying to find our way, and enjoying foods we wouldn’t normally be served at lunch and dinner time. To put it simply, we were young, careless, and free.
Going to a dietitian changed that entirely; all of a sudden I had to prove to someone I was a “good girl”, and that meant I couldn’t enjoy what I wanted when I wanted. People around me started supporting my newly developed obsession, and the more I lost, the more I got complimented on my physical appearance and willpower. For the first time, I started noticing articles and pictures on women magazines, and although my interests were elsewhere entirely, I started devoting some extra time planning my diet and chopping off images of beautiful models from every single magazine I could find. Diet got me hooked.
It took me approximately 25 years to get out of this spiral, and I don’t wish it to anyone.
I have recently spent plenty of time researching diet culture, and the anti-feminine message behind it all. I got angry reading “Health at every size”, and listening to silly, biased, misinformed notions that are sold to the public every day by our corrupted health system. Lose weight if you want to conceive, lose weight if you have PCOS, lose weight after having a baby, lose weight to be liked, to be taken seriously etc.. While we are so busy losing weight, and so busy making ourselves smaller, the world keeps spinning, and we miss out on life, and we don’t allow our voices to be heard. How sad is that?
And most of all, how did it work for us?
What if, for a change, we go the other way? What if we embrace that beautiful body we have, and we start eating for pleasure and nourishment and exercising for fun?
What if you can be the one teaching your daughter/son to do that?
Your children mirror what you do. They are affected by peer pressure, society, environmental factors and marketing and advertising in general. But they do look up to their parents, especially in the first 12–14 years of their life. That’s where you can step in and make a change.
Don’t comment on your body or other people’s body. It sounds very simple, but weight stigma and diet talks are really sneaky and they keep showing up in our day to day conversation: “Does this dress make me look bloated?”, “Look at that woman, she should wear a different swimsuit”. Do you now understand where I’m coming from? It also happens mindfully, when watching a movie “Look at the hot body of Jennifer Aniston, and she is almost 50”. Maybe you are meaning well, but you are putting a seed in your child’s brain, and you are making an association between looks and worth.
Don’t go on a diet, or skip meals. Unless you have a condition that requires you to modify your diet (you develop an autoimmune disease or you find later on in life that you are celiac), avoid dieting or diet talk altogether. If you complain about the size of your belly, if you go Paleo because is trendy, if you cut down entire food groups because you wanna shed the weight, remember that your child is watching, and will, later on, mirror your behaviour.
Don’t over exercise or prioritise exercise over sleep. Movement is healthy, necessary, and it brings fun and energy in your life. Going for a walk or a swim with your daughter/son can be a nice way to connect with nature and nurture your relationship even more. Movement doesn’t need to be stressful, or cause pain; prompt your child to join a club, run around the park, meet new friends. Move because you want to, not because you have to. Your child will benefit incredibly from it.
Cook together, share and compromise. When I started dating my husband (many moons ago), we would meet in the kitchen, and we would chop veggies while drinking a glass of wine; we then would sit down together while the food was cooking on the stove. It was such a comfy, safe moment that I will forever treasure. I also remember making gnocchi with my mum on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and ate them raw, as I couldn’t wait dinner time to finally taste those golden, floury nuggets. The kitchen can be a very nurturing place where to bring people together. Share ideas, teach what to do, but be ready to listen and compromise. It is ok if sometimes cake comes before veggies.
Don’t buy the wrong type of magazines. Cheap magazines and women’s magazines, in general, don’t normally empower women, but they make them feel less of. Diet articles are always present, along with cosmetic surgery, misogynistic point of views, and unhelpful tips on how to skip meals or shrink your body size. If you enjoy reading magazines, choose a good one, such as Wellbeing (for Australian readers) that can teach you how to nourish the relationship with your body, environment and people around you.
Expand your group of friends. Are your friends looking a lot like you? Then it’s time to expand your group. We can learn and grow so much from people that have different traditions, upbringings, and beliefs. If you meet up every day with people that speak, talk and look like you, how can you grow and thrive? Expose your children to a different environment, and they will benefit tremendously from it.
Enjoy different topics of conversation. You really don’t need to talk about diets, nutrition or body sizes with your children. You can teach them to love who they are by simply showing them how much you love them and yourself. Don’t talk to them or yourself down. I know some days can be harder than others, but it’s your job as an adult to build a strong and nourishing connection with your little ones.
Remind your children they are loved, no matter what. I heard a young girl says to her mother on Mother’s Day “I hate you”; I wasn’t shocked, she didn’t know the meaning of the word hate, and she didn’t know how much she was hurting her mother by doing that. What really shocked me was her mother’s response “I hate you too”. Remind your children that it doesn’t matter what happens, you will always have their back, and you will always love them. That’s the most powerful thing you can do as a parent.
And remember to give children non-appearance compliment; it doesn’t matter how beautiful they look compare to how smart, funny, clever, insightful, resourceful they are.
Claudia is a Qualified Nutrition & Dietetic Consultant (BHSC) specialised in hormonal balance, women’s health, and disorder eating behaviors. She sees clients online and in clinical practice; you can find more about her or the Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery program by following her on Instagram, Facebook, or by checking her website.