What I Wish All Parents Knew About Their Children's Weight

A child can no more control his or her size than they can control their height or hair color or gender or sexual preference.  It’s also true that children are born knowing how  to eat.  They know what they want to eat and they know how much to eat.  Too often, well meaning parents step in and interfere with that natural process which can lead to years of disordered eating if not full blown eating disorders. If your child seems like they are eating more than they "should" or that their body is bigger than you think it "should" be, if their size has always been consistent on their growth chart, it's time to check your assumptions.  Who says how a big a person is supposed to be? I believe there is a myth among parents that left to their own devices, kids will eat and eat and eat.  That is simply not true.  The body is a biological machine and when kids are taught to listen to it's cues, they will eat the amount of food that is right for their bodies.  That amount might be more or less than a predetermined amount that you think is appropriate.  It might be more or less than the serving sizes on a box.  It might be more or less during a given meal, a given day or a given week depending on how the child is growing and what his/her nutritional needs are for the time period.  It is not up to you.

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Why Counting Calories is Bullshit (for me)

On Mother's Day I posted on FB a picture of what I got from my kids.  They gave me loads of chocolate with the nutritional information blacked out. I was thrilled and posted it, along with the sentiment that "counting calories is bullshit".  This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a loved one who didn't agree with that sentiment. In our subsequent conversation, I assured my loved one that yes, it's true, people can do whatever they want with their own bodies.  And yes, everyone is on their own journey.  And yes, counting calories might be "working" for some people. (But what does "working" mean?)  I do agree that there is no one right way to do anything for anyone. And my work is all about helping people listen to their own inner guidance to help them make decisions and to trust their bodies above anyone else's opinion. So I explained all that, but at the end of the day, I have to say that I still think counting calories is bullshit and I'll tell you why.  What I will caveat that with is - that's totally fine if you disagree!

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Making dietary changes and setting exercise goals in the name of health is often not the way to get where you really want to go.  It might even be holding you back. If you are truly concerned for your health, first, have you gone to a doctor or naturopath and had a full physical and blood work up? Is there something actually wrong with your health?

Ok - so let's say in this case that there is nothing wrong with your health, your blood markers are all in a standard range and yet you still want to have habits that will help prevent an illness or disease.  Or you want increased energy, or you don't want to have more than the occasional ache and pain and you want to feel happy and content and at ease in your life.  These are understandable desires.  How do you do that?

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One Chocolate Chip Cookie

One chocolate chip cookie.  Sitting in a bag on the counter.  How did no one eat that yet? It was homemade and everything.  This is something that a few years ago would never have happened, and I was struck by it's significance. I used to cook up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and I'd eat half the batter before the cookies even made it in the oven.  Nauseous and disgusted with myself I would then continue to eat the cookies until they were gone or I had to leave some for my family.  They were so delicious and the guilt from feeling like I shouldn't eat them only made me want to eat them more.

I stopped making cookies. I couldn't take the pressure and the guilt and the shame of how I ate them and I thought that making them was the problem.  I was clearly addicted to sugar and had no control over myself.

And then I started practicing Intuitive Eating.  There are many parts to this practice but one of them is making peace with food.  This means allowing yourself to eat what you want when you want it.  There is no trickery. It's not trying to get you to eat less.  (Although eating less of something  often happens as a natural byproduct of not restricting.)

To make peace with food, first, you must put weight on the back burner.  Not because you are going to gain weight, but because you will continue to restrict yourself if you still have weight as a focus.  "But I'll get fat or fatter", you might worry.  That is a genuine concern since our society puts an overemphasis on the thin ideal.  But stay with me here and lets walk through what could happen.

Let's say you eat the cookies and you eat as many as you want for as long as you want until you don't want anymore.  It may take a day, it may take 3 weeks.  Trust me, eventually you will no longer want to eat the entire batch in one sitting as long as you aren't trying to stop yourself in any number of subtle ways.  There is a phenomenon called "food habituation" that occurs when you eat one food over and over.  You won't actually want it as much anymore.

So by giving yourself the freedom to eat the cookies, you will stop feeling at the mercy of the cookies or __________. (insert your forbidden food here)

So what is the problem? Why wouldn't everyone give themselves full permission to eat? Oh yes, that dreaded fear of weight gain.  That is a doozy to dismantle isn't it? And when it comes down to it, the fear of weight gain is the main reason most people continue to restrict, abstain and live in fear of forbidden foods.  Or people worry that it's not good for their "health".  This often means they are concerned with their weight, but yes, some people will also restrict because they are concerned with certain health markers. This fear of forbidden foods is even why some people  think they are food addicts.  (For more on dispelling the food addiction myth - check out the awesome Love, Food podcast, episode number 70 with Julie Duffy Dillion and Marci Evans.)

So what sounds healthier to you? Bingeing on chocolate chip cookies whenever you make them and sending your body into a stress spiral and filling yourself with the negative emotions of guilt, shame and sadness? Feeling disgusted and out of control and depressed over........cookies? Or feeling joy at the experience of eating delicious chocolate chip cookies and enjoying every single one that you eat, no matter how many.  Not feeling stuffed and nauseous, feeling nourished and supported and loved.  Which experience would you rather have?

When you are afraid of food, you are in a state of constant stress and struggle. This is not good for your mind or your physical body.  Foods will always seem to be forbidden and tempting.  There will always be guilt and shame and perhaps eating more than you were really hungry for since you don't know when you will have certain foods again.  You will be unable to respond to your internal hunger and fullness cues.

The more you try to control your food, the more it controls you. 

Getting past the fear of food by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat  is the key to break the cycle of stress, guilt and shame.  What it comes down to is basic psychology.  People want what they are told they can't have. It's perfectly understandable. So give yourself full and unconditional permission to eat.  It's the only way out of the fear of food.  It's the only way to leave a chocolate chip cookie on the counter and not hear it calling your name.

I now make chocolate chip cookies again.  When I make cookies now, I eat some batter if I want it, or I don't.  There is no compulsion. I also sit down with a plate and a glass of milk and the warm cookies and enjoy the experience of eating each one.  I usually find I am full after a few and I save the rest for the family. I'm not trying to only eat a few, I am listening to my body and it tells me quite clearly when I've had my fill.  I know I can come back later or make them again tomorrow if I want more.  I have cleared myself of a major source of guilt, and despair and no longer have this Jekyll and Hyde feeling when it comes to food.

Do you have forbidden foods or foods you feel out of control around? For more help on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, you can read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, or check out their Intuitive Eating workbook. If you still find you need help putting the principle of unconditional permission to eat into practice, support from someone who has been there can be helpful too.  You can message me at elizabeth@elizabethehall.com if you want to schedule a session with me for more support.

My Mortality

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Over the last year, I have finally given up trying to control my food in order to control my size.  But what I realized this week is that I am still trying to control my food to control my mortality.  The truth is, we can't control our food, our weight or our mortality and I think that makes us all very uncomfortable, to put it mildly. If I plan out a day's meals, half the time I don't want to eat what I planned. These days, there is no way I'm going to force myself to do so if I am not going to enjoy what I am eating. I am going to eat what is appealing in the moment, whether it's a cupcake or a bowl of bran cereal, a plate of broccoli or a cheeseburger.  It's not sane thinking to think that I can control my instincts or my wants and needs. Not to mention the number of times we think we know what we are doing in the day, week or month and then plans change.  Babies are born, vacations come and go, we move, we get new jobs, kids get sick.  There is always a measure of instability in our lives that is impossible to plan around.

For some months now, I have been okay with that.  It's ok that I'm going to be the size I am because I am going to eat what I want and I'm not going to try and control it, because its futile.  But then I see a new book or read a new article about all the foods I should be eating for my "health". Before I know it, I am back to thinking about how to control my food. This time for "health's" sake. And what do I mean by health? It's ok, I'll say it.  Not dying.  That is what I mean by health.

The media has me convinced that I need to eat certain foods  in order to be healthy and, in my mind, avoid disease (cancer) and not die.  There are lots of people who have cured themselves of disease because they changed what they ate, among other things.  I believe that can happen and I powerfully believe that food does influence and affect your body and even your longevity.  But it's not the only thing that can affect your longevity and it's far from foolproof.  Even those that cured themselves were not only changing their food, they were changing their whole mindset on life and that is the ultimate in powerful healing tools.

I realized yesterday as I was listening to a great podcast -(Food Psych with Christy Harrison) that here I am still trying to control my food and this time, it's not because of my fear of fat, it's because of my fear of dying and leaving my 3 young children without a mother.  I am no longer afraid of fat and no longer think that fat is going to kill me. I have  the book and the movement Health at Every Size (Linda Bacon) to thank for that.  So why am I still convinced that if I don't eat a mostly plant based diet and avoid sugar, alcohol, coffee and fried or processed food that I am a goner?

That fear has gone deep for me and I am only now really beginning to tease it out into the light.  The truth is - I could eat all those things that I equate with a long life and I could still get hit by a bus tomorrow. The bigger and deeper step that food is asking me to do now is to accept the unknown. Accept the uncertainty.  Accept the lack of control.  We try to find ways to control what scares us but the only thing you can really do is let go of the fear.

I woke up this morning to take my daughter to band and saw that a neighbor had crashed their car into a tree on our street.  I don't know if they are ok as I write this. All I can think of is how useless it is to worry about whether I ate enough spinach yesterday or drank enough water.  We cannot control our mortality or the life things that are going to happen around us.  On the way back from band, driving through my neighborhood again and about to pass the accident scene,  a giant deer raced across the street at top speed and I missed hitting it by inches.  The universe is blowing my mind this morning, teaching me to get over this idea of a perfect diet or controlling my food as a way to be sure that I will be here tomorrow.

This is not to say that those who promote such ways of eating are wrong.  This is a reminder to myself that it's not the whole story.  It can't promise anything.  Our bodies also react to the thoughts we have inside and if you are eating healthy foods and thinking toxic thoughts then you aren't doing yourself any favors.  It's a balance. The goal is to aim for the things that ultimately make you feel good,  not feel wrong and fearful.

Don't waste time trying to perfect everything around you, like your food. Instead your time would be much more wisely used to appreciate what you have and to be present for all the things going on around you.  Life is short, and for that very reason, it does not make sense to spend your time living in fear that you are doing it all wrong. It's a lesson the perfectionist in me is still learning, but now that I can see the truth in my behavior, I am resting easier than before.

Let go of the fear, that is the thing that will really kill you.