What To Do Instead of Worrying About Your Kid’s Weight
Trigger warning: Discussion of body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
Last week, one of my childhood best friends (Belerma, on the far right) posted this picture she found of us taken during our sixth grade camping trip, circa 1982. I was 11 years old. That’s me, in the yellow, in the middle. The girl to my immediate right was my other best friend, Stacy.
Here’s what it was like to live in my 11-year-old head: I believed, truly and fully, that I was ugly. I believed that I was fat. Not chubby or baby-fat, but full on, big as a cow, big as a house, FAT. I looked in the mirror and saw a body that looked deformed to me. I look at this picture and I see myself hunched over, trying not to look like the tallest — which equated to big, which equated to fat, which equated to bad in my preteen mind.
That little girl hid food and ate it in tears until her stomach hurt. She fantasized about cutting her one little handful of belly fat, that only showed up when she lay on her side, with a steak knife. She hated herself for not being brave enough to make herself throw up the food she ate.
Here’s a sort of eerily-similar picture I took last week of my daughter Ruby on her first day of fourth grade. She’s nine. That’s her on the far right, in the yellow. Like I was, she’s the tallest girl in her class.
I love how tall she stands.
I love that she loves that maybe she’ll be taller than her daddy some day.
I love that sometimes she just randomly says that she loves having long legs, because it makes her a faster runner, which makes her a better soccer player.
I do not worry about her weight. Ever.
I don’t worry about her weight because I know the damage a parent obsessing over a kid’s weight can cause. I know that warning lectures about “you’re not fat yet, but if you’re not careful…” and slapped hands when you go for seconds and advice about making sure you burn the most calories while you’re riding your bike might not seem like such a big deal (might even seem helpful) — but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t worry about her weight because I am Tiger-mom level protective of Ruby’s self-esteem. I never want her (or any of my kids) to feel the way I did when I was 11, and really, from age eight through my adolescence and my twenties and most of my thirties. I don’t want her to wake up one day and find that all of her attempts to fit in and be normal (forget perfect, I just wanted to blend) have culminated in her being actually fat instead of just holding the potential for it.
I don’t worry about her weight because I refuse to contribute to her having an eating disorder. It’s the same reason I don’t bad talk my own body in front of her, even on days when I can’t turn off hating it.
I thought I’d share my top three things to do instead of worrying about your kid’s weight.
- Make sure that your kid has access to a wide variety of foods of all kinds. In my opinion, it should be unrestricted. Trust that without certain foods being taboo, your kid will naturally gravitate toward a balanced diet. And that without any food hangups, they’ll eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. They were born with that, and if you foster it they’ll hold onto it. I believe they can also relearn it. Check out any books by Ellyn Satter for more information.
- Make sure your kid has plenty of opportunity for active play. Dance classes, soccer teams, family hikes, a dog to play with in the backyard. Limit time with technology, and your kid might just decide to go outside and play. (They might also decide to read, which is good, too.) Don’t push it. Don’t make it a big deal. Just offer up fun ideas and then help your child engage with whatever makes them excited. Does your community have a YMCA or Boys and Girls Club? Join if you can. Take your kid to the park. Make after-dinner walks a family tradition.
- Do not engage in negative body talk. Ever. Not about your kid (please!), but also not about yourself. Or that fat lady at Wal-Mart. Don’t share laughing-at-fat-people pictures on Facebook. Don’t talk about your latest diet. Don’t hate on your belly or your thighs or your saggy boobs. Kids are sponges and they will pick up on it. They’ll internalize it. Over time, it’ll start to feel normal. Like they’re supposed to hate their bodies. Follow steps one and two yourself — you’re the best model your kids have.