My pants are tight. My skirts bunch up at my thighs. My shirts gap between the buttons. These are the little nuances I notice lately in my clothing that have caused me to take a step back and re-evaluate my lifestyle habits. I haven’t been exercising or scrutinizing my caloric intake in the manner I once did. As a result, I have put on a few pounds, and my clothes are unbearably uncomfortable.
Ten years ago, the solution was simple: start watching what I eat more carefully and add a couple more days to my exercise routine. Perhaps I would even go so far as to use a dietary supplement.
These days, though, I am not so cavalier in my decisions and actions toward my personal body image. The reason? I now have two teenage daughters. And, like it or not, the way I view myself and project my own self-esteem has a direct impact on how they view themselves.
Last year my oldest daughter began exercising regularly and lost a few pounds. As a varsity athlete being recruited by college coaches, she needed to be “on her game”. And she was. Her fitness level was the best it’s ever been, and her confidence level was equally as high. In a nutshell – she looked and felt great.
But then tragedy struck our community. An F5 tornado swept through the city on the evening of her high school graduation, wiping out over one-third of the city’s businesses and homes, as well as the high school. Life spiraled even more out of control when she learned that one of her best friends was killed in the tornado while he and his father were driving home from the graduation ceremonies.
Suddenly, my daughter – and so many others around us – felt helpless. Initially she simply lost her appetite. Later, she denied herself the joy of eating. She felt that her eating habits were the one thing in her life she could maintain control over.
While, thankfully, her weight loss never became unhealthy, it was nonetheless alarming for her father and me. Soon she would head off to college, and we worried she would eat even less without our constant supervision. On the other hand, we knew if she stayed home the daily reminders of last spring’s storm might eventually become unbearable for her. In the end, we sent her off to school with the hope that her peers would help her realize food was not something she should use to punish herself with. Which, fortunately, is exactly what happened, and today she is back at her normal, healthy weight. Also, she is mature enough to have explained all of this to me over the winter break, helping me to better understand the extent of her sadness and sense of loss from the storm.
During the “summer of our discontent”, she and I were discussing why she wasn’t eating. I told her she just wasn’t eating as much as she used to and this was causing us concern. She responded with, “But, Mom, you don’t eat very much, either.” And that’s what gave me cause to stop and examine my own actions and attitudes about diet and exercise. How can I teach my girls to love themselves just the way they are if I’m constantly trying to change my own appearance? How do I teach them that eating is OK – necessary, actually – if I constantly chastise myself regarding my diet and appearance? While I typically try to stress “healthy eating” instead of “dieting”, I had let my guard down and fallen into some unhealthy habits that I realized my daughters were emulating. It was time to regroup. So, I stopped denying myself “bad” foods like pasta, bread, and dessert. I still discussed my workout routines – but made sure the focus was on strength and health, not weight loss or body image. And I continued to stress the importance of strength, health, and fitness with my children – reminding my girls that looking good in clothes is a natural byproduct of being strong and healthy.
But what happens when our clothes start to fit a little too snug and we realize we have over-indulged a little too much for a tad too long? How do we make the necessary adjustments without calling attention to ourselves? How do we teach our daughters that striving for overall fitness is healthy, not a punishment? THIS is what I struggle with, and I hope I have provided adequate examples that will carry them into adulthood equipped with a good dose of self-esteem and self-confidence. I also wish for them to continue their healthy eating and exercise habits long after they leave the protective confines of their childhood home in order to be better prepared to face the stress and challenges of life.
As parents, we are charged with the task of providing our children – especially our daughters – with the tools they need to be able to make good, sound decisions about themselves. All too often our girls use food as a way to control the world around them, and we must teach them that such behavior is actually counter-productive. What are some ways you teach your daughters to maintain a healthy lifestyle? How do you approach eating and exercise in your own family?
Thanks so much for reading!
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