Every year another birthday approaches, I like to do the math and figure out how old I was when my Mother was this age and recall where we lived (as an Air Force Brat there were a lot of possibilities to recollect), what was going on in my world then, how I remember my parents parenting and just a little walk down memory lane. It used to be that I’d ask my Mother for the story of my birth (only child alert here), but then after three dramatic horrendous births of my own her story of painting her toenails while doing her Lamaze breathing before leaving for the hospital and then “after 30 minutes of some labor I pushed and there you were” which was celebrated with the new mother sipping wine to only be capped off with the fact that she wore her pre-pregnancy jeans home a few days later holding me as Dad drove her back to their house in Germany in a convertible MG. There are so many things wrong with that whole story that I just can’t hear it right now. Or perhaps ever again.
However I digress and recall that this is the year when I remember my Mother dieting. And for the record, at 42 this was her first diet. Ever. At this stage in the game I could probably add up my dieting experiences on all of my 10 toes and 10 fingers plus all of the digits of at least 5 friends.
My Mother was offered $1 when she went off to college if she’d get over the 100 pound threshold by her father. The waist on the shorts Mother has kept over 50 years now from her first date with my father would not have fit over my right thigh when I was in the 6th grade. So here I am in elementary school certainly not a twig but not the chunk I would turn out to be in about five more years, watching my Mother’s dinner plate show more porcelain than food. For the first time that I ever noticed she was not eating the food she had so lovingly prepared and dished out for my dad and myself. There she was counting out celery sticks, eating only half of a grapefruit, passing the butter by for dry toast instead.
Mother has since told me that she just needed to scale back a few pounds as she was entering her 40’s and my parents had just returned from a European assignment so their departure had been food fueled. Mother had never passed up dessert before. A favorite when we were in the States was a McDonald’s chocolate milkshake or her beloved M&M’s horribly hidden in an old Cool Whip container in the back of the Tupperware cabinet.
The book was left on the counter as she did the two week diet and I vividly recall “The Scarsdale Diet” written at the top of a white softcover along with a photo of a smooth smiling bald man in a white lab coat. Dr. Scarsdale I presume. Years later when the news announced that the diet doctor had been shot dead by his girlfriend, my Mother quickly quipped “she had probably had it with the dry toast.” But the dry toast worked for Mother, perhaps a little too well. When my Dad complained at the dinner table as to why it had been over two weeks and she was still dieting, Mother had the look of a Cheshire Cat that she had figured out the key to slimming down. I noticed it in her already slim wrists and ever shrinking waist that whatever she was doing was working. About a week after that again at the dinner table, now a norm that Mother wasn’t eating whatever she was serving, Dad and his ever missing mouth guard shot out “for God’s sake Marcia you look like an Ethiopian.” Sally Struthers had already made her mark on the world so I caught his drift, but my admiration for my Mother’s willpower and continued weight loss had me on Team Mom in this debate. Dieting seemed so grown up. So attractive. Almost like a rite of passage in to womanhood to refrain from the pleasures of eating in a self sacrificial way. And in high school when my clothes started to feel tighter due to eating instead of moving as my coping mechanism with our move across the country I remembered that white paperback and smiling doctor. The crux was limited calories, but oh it was so so boring and hunger inducing. What worked in those two weeks would pile back on plus more for the starve then splurge mentality of a dieting uneducated teenager.
I’m sure that my Mother will be shocked that I can recall her foray in to dieting with such clarity. Don’t ask me about geometry or what my chores were, but boy do I remember what it felt like to take a little peek in to the sacred world of womanhood. What I paid attention to was how my mother applied make up or matched her shoes to her handbag or what would prompt her to open her jewelry box to choose her pearls for an outfit. I paid attention to how to be not only a woman but also womanly. Dieting was part of that education to include knowing what the scale was for, how to take your own measurements and why anything over size 10 was time to start Scarsdaleing. In high school I added in Slim Fast shakes, juicing, Diet Coke and diet pills only to advance to NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, bingeing and purging in college. Never starvation. I apparently wasn’t “dedicated” enough in my own opinion to limit food altogether. I can actually recall being jealous of the willpower of one of my anorexic sorority sisters admiring her restraint out at a Mexican restaurant while the rest of us inhaled chips and salsa lamenting the whole time why we couldn’t lose the freshman fifteen.
Was the Scarsdale book the cause of this terrible roller coaster ride of dieting I took for over two decades? Was it Mother dieting in front of me? Neither I am sure as I am hardwired to be an all or nothing kind of girl with curvy hips, a slow metabolism yet a love for all things sweet and salty. That combination is pretty evil and I’d reckon to say not fair. But it’s only now that I’ve learned how my body can build muscle through exercise and that denying oneself chocolate will only end up in a crazed one track mind binge fest resulting in guilt, fear, body shaming and eventually forced dieting creating another will she or won’t she succeed this time self-abusive cycle.
So there are times when we need to get extra weight off of us – for me it’s after the holidays when I’ve relaxed my limitations as well as enjoyed being more bundled up in winter wear as camouflage. We know what is healthy for us – working out, lessening calories, especially empty calories, bumping up water ingestion, fiber, green veggies and lean protein. But what is healthy for our daughters?
1. Not being on a revolving door cycle of dieting – either on and restricting while bemoaning our weight or bingeing post diet showing no sense of self control or honoring of our bodies
2. Not being ashamed of our naked selves – be it coming out of the shower or selecting our clothes while still in our skivvies there are so many opportunities to verbally assault ourselves in the mirror or grab jiggly parts while moaning or even quickly grab a robe to cover up what we don’t want to see ourselves let alone our daughters to see, but there’s nothing more important than our daughters seeing our self-accepting body language in holding our heads up as we regally walk our lumpy soft self across the room in front of her portraying confidence. Even if we have to fake it, channeling a little Beyonce with our made up catwalk. And why would we put on this show when we demand authenticity and genuine feelings the other 99 percent of the time? Because she is watching and taking notes on how to love herself based on how Momma does it.
3. Don’t use the word diet. Ever. Don’t do it. There’s a reason the first 3 letters spell “die” so kill the word already and save future generations you will never meet the pain of modern day self inflicted torture.
4. If all of the sudden your plate is holding more greens or you are choosing not to eat out with your family if on the run or eat what you serve at home, a very honest and short answer along the lines of “Mommy is focusing on being a bit more healthy and that starts with the fuel I’m putting in my body to build my muscles and give me energy.” Make it age, maturity and gender appropriate because your boys are watching too. Male eating disorders are on the rise, but you also want boys who get a red flag with girlfriends that eating nothing is not eating with the intent to be healthy.
5. Get help yourself if prayer and reading self help books aren’t enough. If you are in need of a nutritionist or a therapist to combat whatever is going on keeping you from being a healthy role model then find the funds, call your insurance, ask your pastor for a referral, do whatever it takes to get yourself the help you need because it’s not just about you any longer.
6. Birds of a feather . . . I cannot stress enough how the diet chatter of the gym or the calorie counting on Facebook workout secret groups or even Pinterest dieting boards is not where you are going to find your healing. All of those serve great purposes in encouragement and education when it’s balanced, proper and healthy. If it’s not then walk away, turn it off, find another entertainment outlet, fake a call coming in, do what you need to do to make all of the space around you positive and healing.
7. Tell your daughter how beautiful she is every single day. And don’t stop there. Compliment her for her internal beauty, her bright mind, her sharp wit, her kind heart, her sparkly eyes, her contagious laughter and on and on and on. Fill up her beauty bucket so she’s not looking for others to pay her the pretty compliment. This is as important for her father or influential men in her life too – even more important says the book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” by XXXX. Again, make it age appropriate, maturity appropriate and in tune with the love language that speaks to her heart. And if you haven’t done this before it’s not too late to start. Could it be awkward getting that first compliment out? Then speak it to yourself in the mirror because you probably need to hear it just as much. As long as you are speaking truth, it will touch her and in turn might heal the little girl inside that you needed to hear just how special you were. How special you are.
8. Compliment one another ladies. If someone’s working her hardest in the gym, give her the thumb’s up or even say “great job.” Speaking words of encouragement go farther than we can even imagine. If you notice a friend is losing weight build her up with a compliment instead of internalizing the little green monster inside who wished it was your 5 pounds lost and not hers. Harboring resentment at other’s successes will drive you right to ripping open that package of Oreo cookies.
9. Speak of health and well being in your family all of the time. Put out lettuce and salad fixings and let your kids create something. Try hummus with crackers. Smoothes are a great introduction. Change out peanut butter and fruit snacks full of corn fructose syrup. Start reading labels. Introduce more water. Take a family walk if the weather permits on Sundays or after dinner if your kids are older.
10. Take the “speak love to yourself” challenge and speak to the girl in the mirror about the body parts or areas or character traits you hate. Find the positive and a way to love your opportunities. Pray about it, ask God to heal you, give you His peace, help you wrap those thoughts up and shelve them once and for all. Life is too short, we all know that, but do we live it? So start with prayers, words, intentions, love and see where that can lead. Hopefully for a little girl someday to be born in your family those will be facts, not just wishes. Truth takes time to foster and old wounds can be painful decades later, but there is healing where there is hope. So hold on sweet sister to God’s truth, not your jiggly parts.