A few weeks ago I embarked on a pretty strict diet. It's the first time I've tried something like it, but for various reasons, the time had come. I was torn though, about what to tell my little girl who, I fear, at the age of 10 is becoming ever more susceptible to the messages all around her that thin = happy, that looks are valuable, that beauty equals worth.
As a mom, I feel one of the most important things I can do is teach my daughter Isabella to have a positive self image and a healthy relationship with her body and with food, not just by what I say, but how I treat myself. So I really deliberated over what I should do.
Should I downplay the diet, I wondered? Try to hide it all together?
That would be tricky, even if I wanted to. For one thing, this is one of those diets where you mix up powdered shakes and other pre-packaged foods, and only eat lean protein and certain veggies in addition to that (no carrots, for God's sake! What is my world coming to?). It would be weird to, like, hide my special food and furtively whip up a soup mix and drink it behind her back.
Hiding my diet would also be difficult because we really get in to our family meals. My husband and I both primarily work from home, so we have the luxury of cooking and eating not just dinners together, but breakfast as well. Going out to eat is definitely one of my favorite activities, and I'm never one to turn down a dessert. Isabella loves to bake -- how would I explain not eating her cookies? And summertime has traditionally meant ice creams at the pool and popsicles after dinner, not to mention all the end-of-school events that seem to revolve around brownies and chip and treats that I usually happily consume.
But most of all, I just didn't want to lie. I figured that it would be better to be honest and aboveboard with Isabella, and try to frame this as a healthy, empowering choice I'm making. So one afternoon, as casually as I could, I gestured to the bag of shake mixes and protein bars I'd brought home that morning.
"I decided to go on a diet," I said, nonchalantly. "I'm going to be eating some special food mixed in with our regular food."
A look of complete and utter shock.
"What?" she cried. "Really?! WHY?!"
Yikes! I suddenly wanted to take back my words, gobble them up and pull out a package of Girl Scout cookies.
Why AM I doing this?
The truth is that I don't feel good about myself, mentally or physically. I've had a very difficult time recently, coping with grief and loss of my sister just after Christmas. I've been eating too much and drinking too much wine, and I knew it all along but didn't care. It's been bad, and my body has taken the toll ... but to be even more honest, the weight gain has been creeping up on me for the last few years. I'm 37 years old, the heaviest I've ever been, and I feel like it's time to make a drastic move and get back into shape. I'm not good at "moderating" so I figured I'd try something really strict. Now or never ... or something like that.
I ended up telling Isabella part of the truth. I told her that I've gained some extra weight lately, and it's not healthy for me. I told her that it was just going to last a little while, and it would help me have more energy and be in better physical shape.
I didn't tell her that I can barely fit into any of my summer clothes from last year; I didn't tell her that I know I've been eating and eating (and eating) to dull my grief and shock; I didn't tell her that I was dreading bathing suit season and feel terrible that though I ran two half marathons in the last two years, since last summer I've gotten to the point where I can barely run a quarter mile.
"It's ok honey," I said. "I've just gained a little extra weight and I want to get back into healthier shape."
Isabella seemed fine with my explanation. Her panic turned to mild curiosity over what snacks I had in my bag, and then she moved on to the next topic of conversation.
But I'm worried. I hope it was the right thing to do. I hope that I'm presenting Isabella with a model of how to take control of your health and your body, and not a model of how to be neurotic about what you eat or ashamed of how you look. I hope I'm doing something that's healthy for both of us.
I felt OK about our conversation, but when Isabella reached for the fat-free dressing the other day at the salad bar, I wasn't so sure.