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Never say diet

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Promoting a healthy body image

I've had my share of issues with my body and with food. I've been heavier at times in my life, and lighter. Eating disorders run in the family, actually, and I've flirted with a full-blown eating disorder myself. It's something that I always, always am aware of, whether I want to be or not.

Promoting a healthy body image
Before we had children, my husband and I talked about this food/body issue. It's an issue that I have worked hard to manage. We agreed that we - well, I - had to break the cycle. There would be no discussion of weight-loss diets in our home, and a focus on healthy eating and choices balanced with activity. There would be a recognition that every one has a different body type that needs to be respected and embraced. It was all, of course, easier said than done.

Not just a girl issue

There was a part of me that was relieved that my first two children were boys. Not that it should be assumed that one does not have to worry about food/body issues with boys, but our society accepts wider variations in appearance in boys. While I knew I still had to be careful, I figured it would be a little less intense of an issue. For the most part, I've been right.

It was easy at first: when the boys were infants, I adored their chunky thighs. As they grew, I worked hard to focus on the healthy habits my husband and I agreed that we would promote. It became a little harder, especially as I struggled within myself. I still obsessed over my own appearance, even if I was careful not to say thing within the presence of the boys. When life became stressful, food and my body would once again become an issue for me, a focus of control when I felt otherwise out of control, and even though I learned to hide it from the boys. Two steps forward, one step back.

The best reason

Then my daughter was born, and suddenly the issue was clear as day. I had to break the cycle, for her sake. "Do as I say, not as I do" was not good enough. I had to show her, every single day.

My daughter sees me eat regular meals when we sit down to breakfast each morning and dinner each night. She sees me eat normal sized portions of those meals, too. She sees me choose yogurt and fruit for snacking, and enjoying dessert a couple of nights a week. She sees me exercise. When she's in my room while I am changing, she sees an imperfect grown woman's body, with lumps and bumps and all that. She does not see me grimace as if I catch sight of myself in the mirror (of which there are few in the house). She does not know that the word "diet" often refers to an effort to lose weight. A "diet" is the food you eat in general, and almost always preceded with the word "healthy."

The last thing I want is to see my daughter struggle like I did. I'm under no delusion that I am the only influence in her life and we'll wholly avoid the issues, but I do know that I have a major impact. I can model for her the healthy eating and activity, and I can somehow embrace a body a touch larger than the critical inner me might prefer. I've had some challenging moments along the way - the food/body issue is such an innate part of me that it's been hard to let it go. I do, however, think I've made tremendous progress. For my daughter - and my sons - it's been worth it.

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