can we normalize food?

Yesterday I posted this article with a small write-up about how I got it and some questions I had after reading it like can we truly help our young women or is it a battle we’ll always be fighting? As someone who would love to get into programming for young women (high school and college-aged) on how to make food and nutrition fun while also promoting a healthy body image, after I read the story, I felt discouraged that I could never do that in a successful way 😦 So before getting sad, I felt like I’d open the discussion to you before I talked about my reaction. It was nice to hear what you had to say and also like always, it made me feel better 🙂

For background, it was stated that in 2002, a study showed that more than half of high school students had engaged in some form of disordered eating whether it was from fasting, diet pills, bingeing, purging, laxatives or even smoking. My research from the survey I did from all of you (thank you thank you thank you) actually follows a similar pattern because 85% of you either have an eating disorder, have recovered from an eating disorder or know someone who’s had an eating disorder. While I’m not surprised, it was just sad to see it in plain numbers.

But while so many are worried about the state of obesity in this country (and don’t get me wrong, it is an issue), people are not also realizing that some of the obese are actually eating disordered too. The more we talk about the food, the more polarized we’re getting instead on focusing on a true health. Sounds like the past health care talks if you ask me…

So what can parents truly do to help their children grow up in a healthy environment where there are few “good””bad” labels and where food is a normal, delightful and fueling experience rather then one that brings a sense of guilt and shame? Like Elle said, I’m actually scared too about having a little girl one day. Not because I don’t think I could handle it, but because I don’t want to be so nervous about her eating enough to make it a worse experience.

I think the key is to open up the conversation of food, feelings and body image where it’s a safe and comfortable place. My mom always made me feel comfortable to talk with her, it was sometimes MY perfectionism that thought I couldn’t. Which is a whole other issue. Even if we open up the conversation, who’s to say what her perceptions are or herself and others? But I thought the author’s ideas were interesting to when she decided to model healthy living instead of just talking about it.

I’ve tried to forget all I once knew about calories, carbs, fat and protein; I haven’t stepped on a scale in seven years. At dinner I pointedly enjoy what I eat, whether it’s steamed broccoli or pecan pie. I don’t fetishize food or indulge in foodieism. I exercise because it feels good, and I never, ever talk about weight.

But while that sounds like a great plan, she goes on and says how completely unnatural it is and how it actually makes her more conscious about what she’s eating in this “antidiet.” I think there’s a harm in pretending everything fine too because it shows an air of perfection and no one is perfect.

We’ve come full circle with still no answer. Parents are trying to help their daughters by normalizing, but instead un-normalize it by showing a faux sense of health or concern.

To put the cherry on the top, her little girl at six years old looked up at her and said Mama, don’t get f-a-t, O.K.? and while the author said that at least she didn’t hear it from her, what are we truly fighting against? Society or ourselves? which leads me to another great article here that I’ll talk about tomorrow….

How was food talked about in your family as you grew up? Did your parents have a healthy relationship with food? If not, how did it affect you? I have a friend who’s mother used to measure everything she ate and who’s father over-exercises and still doesn’t think he has a problem even though they recently helped her recover from her own eating disorder 😦

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5 responses to “can we normalize food?

  1. I was very lucky to never have issues with food and my family was extremely active and relatively healthy. But I did have a close friend growing up who struggled a lot. Her mom would make her weigh in once-a-day and her weight was recorded on a sheet of paper in the pantry!! I never understood what was going on when I was little, because my family did not even own a scale. But, looking back, this probably played a big part in her unhealthy relationship with food later on. 😦

  2. I feel SO lucky to have a mother that never dieted or anything in front of me. She has been naturally thin her whole life and thus never really gave a second thought to food- something I think was beneficial to me in the long-run. My dad was a bit heavy as a child (gotta love those sturdy Germanic genes) but now is a healthy-sized adult who has a very balanced outlook on food and exercise. Had he been a woman, though, I think he would be carrying around a lot more baggage now because of it.

    I remember seeing the mothers of my friends doing diet things when I was young and I could never wrap my mind around WHY. They always seemed so… normal and not in need of weightloss.

  3. I always try to think how my parents affected me – my mom and dad are both moderately overweight and my mom went on Weight Watchers a few times when I was young.

    I wish my mom had talked to me about it when I was in middle school – she probably could have helped me then. But by the time I was in high school with a full blown eating disorder my mom yelling at me to eat and crying didn’t really help at all.

    My mom was always really open with me, but she never asked anything or told me anything about food/nutrition, although she did try to encourage positive body image. I was pretty private when I was a kid so I wouldn’t tell my parents much.

    You can’t control what your children do or hear outside the home or what they think themselves, but just being honest, educating, and setting the best example you can is all you can do.

    I definitely agree with your assessment of the article – it makes me so sad and scared to think about.

  4. I hate to say this, but I learned to binge from my mom. She is definitely an emotional eater, and growing up I watched her eat whenever she was stressed, bored, whatever. When I got older I took that behavior to an extreme, and would then go through restricting phases to try to “make up” for the bingeing phases. I got help and have made a ton of progress in this area; unfortunately my mom has an attitude of “I’ve been doing this my whole life, so what’s it matter now?” which makes me so upset sometimes…

    Great post!

  5. I have truthfully never had a problem with food or weight. Both my parents have gone on “diets” before (first it was the SlimFast diet when I was about ten and later my Mom tried South Beach when I was in high school with success but neither of my parents have been severely or even moderately overweight) however this never skewed my perception of myself or my weight. In high school I can remember my Mom explaining the South Beach diet to me. It wasn’t until second semester of my freshman year I decided to lose some weight and began running and making a point to eat healthier. My parents were very supportive, my Dad even ran my first 5K with me!

    I would say that exercise has a big part to do with this. My mom was a dancer in high school and college and my dad has stayed active in lacrosse since he was in high school. All of my siblings and I have played team sports (then I later started riding and working with horses–talk about a workout!) so we are encouraged to stay active. My younger sister for example, gained some weight when she was about ten. My mom took her to the pediatrician who was able to give her a better explanation of healthy eating (we had a really great pediatrician growing up even though she always creeped me out) and after starting playing field hockey recreationally my sister lost that little bit of weight she had gained.

    My best friend unfortunately has not had the same upbringing food-wise. After her parents divorced her Mom (who rarely eats and has had medical complications from it, staying at the same weight for the past few years) became very image conscious. Her sister even took up running to lose weight and it is a constant source of ridicule and conversation at their house.

    I credit my parents for never making food an issue in my house. We have started eating more organic and whole foods in the past year or so but my parents always encouraged us to find something active to do on a nice day (I loved to ride my bike as a kid) and eat a well-rounded meal so I never connected eating with my parents and always felt that I could make my own choices–healthily or otherwise. We always love to pack in the ice cream on vacations!

    Um yea this got really long but I’ve just been in the writing mood lately! 🙂

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