When I was ten and in 5th grade, just like my girl, I hugged my dad goodnight and he told me I had a pretty face but that I should lose a little weight. That was the first of many memories I own where my weight and appearance were mentioned. Many, many. And because I experienced years of eating disorders, counseling, dieting, etc., I was so afraid to have a daughter–not to mention three–because I know the pressures they will face. Those words from my eldest reminded me that even if my girls never hear my husband or me tell them they should trim down or lose weight, they may still absorb that message from the outside world.
I told my husband about what my daughter said and it sparked a discussion. Mostly about how we raise healthy daughters who take care of their bodies and appreciate them as the gift they are.
It's a precarious teeter-totter to guide our girls to live healthy life styles without becoming consumed with body image and negative behaviors. And we don't get it right every day, but these are some of the Do's and Don'ts we want to keep implementing in our house:
We DO encourage colorful food choices. I'm not too concerned with the artistic appearance of food, but color is an easy way to teach kids how to recognize a healthy plate. Focusing on a rainbow of colors usually helps my girls diversify the types of food on their plates with the goal of all the food groups being represented.
We DON'T eat late at night (usually). Once dinner is cleaned up, the cook (me) is off duty for a couple reasons: we want our girls to eat the dinner we prepared and not be picky and we know if they know they can eat later, they are less motivated to eat dinner. And I'm told that eating right before sleeping isn't ideal for our digestion. When I'm peckish at night, it's usually because my body is signaling something else like, "hey, you're tired--go to sleep" not "fuel your body with more food so you can stay awake." A common exception to this is if the kids are really hungry after an evening activity (like swimming practice). Then the next rule kicks in.
We DO allow them to grab a fruit or vegetable snack at anytime. Sometimes this prevents eating unneeded calories: "Mom, can I have a snack?" "Sure, grab a veggie." Loud sigh, "Never mind." But sometimes they do take advantage of it, and even at night, it can be thrilling to see them consuming raw veggies during a bedtime story.
We DO carve out time to exercise and be active as individuals and family. Depression is prevalent in my family, but I have found that exercise is my anti-depressant. The endorphins make me a kinder, calmer momma and wife. So we talk about the benefits of exercise with our girls and 2-3 times a week incorporate intentional exercise into their routine. We do circuits, running, biking, snowshoeing, hiking, tennis, soccer, and lots and lots of outdoor play. Whether or not the girls are athletic is inconsequential. We want them to learn to crave physical activity and carry it with them through their hopefully long, healthy lives.
We DON'T complain about our bodies. I won't use the word "fat" or any other berating term about myself in front of my girls. Never ever. I am their example of a woman and their bodies might look like mine someday, so I want them to know that would be okay. I want them to know that a fluffy middle isn't awful and extra padding is okay, too. Or maybe their bodies won't look like mine and they will be girly versions of their dad–long, lanky and low on curves–and that would be okay, too.
Because regardless of too much squish or no curves or big feet or gap teeth, they are made in His image, fearfully and wonderfully made by Our Creator. And we want to teach them to both appreciate and care for what He has given them.