For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my weight. From childhood into my teenage years and later adulthood, I have never been able to maintain a healthy weight. Despite constantly being “on a diet” my weight has always fluctuated. After I had my son in 2008 my weight was so out of control that I made the difficult and forever life altering decision to have gastric bypass surgery. Though I lost nearly 200 pounds (which was far too much weight), I continued to obsess about being “skinny enough,” and lived in constant fear I would “get fat” again. This cycle of obsessive thoughts continues to this day.
For a long time, I thought my obsession with my weight was a result of the perfectly airbrushed images plastered all over the internet and in magazines. “Heroin Chic” was the “in” look during my teenage years, and try as I might, I was never going to look like the scary skinny, gaunt models presented to us as the ideal image of female beauty. Then I started reflecting on my past, remembering the way in which my mother handled my weight issues as a child. What I remembered was shocking and saddening. I remember always being on a diet, even as a little girl. I remember family members telling me how pretty I would be if I “just lost the weight,” and I remember watching my mother struggle and obsess over her own weight. My mom was always on a diet and she was very vocal about her complete and utter disgust in her “being fat.” I remember her bringing me along to her Weight Watchers meetings week after week. I also remember the many other extremes she went to attempting to lose weight. From Phen-Phen to Hydroxycut, to Atkins, she tried them all, and I was there absorbing and internalizing all of it. It finally dawned on me that my obsession with my weight may not have been driven entirely by the media. Rather, it was a behavior I had learned by watching my mother.
When I had my son I vowed to nourish him with only the healthiest of foods. I limited added sugars, prohibited sugary juices, and soda, and offered him a variety of fresh and healthy foods at each meal. I was determined not to pass on my weight issues as they had been passed on to me.
My son developed a very healthy pallet and has grown into a healthy, active, and strong nine-year-old little boy. Born weighing 10 pounds, my son has always been a big kid. Despite being bigger and taller than most of his peers, his height and weight are proportionate, so there’s no cause for concern. He’s perfectly healthy and balanced. Except, today I learned he doesn’t think so.
This morning as my son and I returned home from our morning Starbucks run, much to my shock and horror, my son announced, “I need to lose weight,” lifting his shirt to show me his belly. Deeply concerned and totally devastated, I immediately replied, “You absolutely do not need to lose weight. You have a healthy and strong body and that’s all that you need to worry about; keeping your body healthy and strong.” He seemed to accept my words as truth and we went about our morning. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get his words out of my head, “I need to lose weight.” Where did he hear this and why does he think this? Always on the go, he plays baseball, basketball, golf, and sails. How could he possibly feel badly about his perfectly healthy body, at only nine-years-old, I wondered?
And then it came to me. He learned to doubt the condition of his body from none other than me. For his entire life, he has watched me obsessively diet and listened to me harshly critique my own body. He’s spent all of his nine years hearing me complain about how “I need to lose weight,” or how, “this outfit makes me look fat.” My precious baby’s insecurities are totally and completely my fault. Never in a million years did I consider that he was paying attention to my issues with my weight. Naively, I assumed as a boy he wasn’t at risk for body insecurities. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He had been both listening and paying close attention each and every time I bashed myself for being “too fat.” I had made the exact mistake I vowed I never would.
With my realization came a moment of clarity. I realized I absolutely need to do better. I realized I need practice what I preach. Like my son, I have a healthy and strong body. My strong arms, legs, and core allow me to practice power yoga four times a week, carry heavy grocery bags in from the car, and best of all, my healthy and strong body enables me to still be able to lift my sleeping son and carry him to his bed when he so often falls asleep on the couch. Once and for all, I need to respect my body and the strength it grants me, and let go of my obsessive insecurities. The fact of the matter is, my son is watching and learning from me. I can reassure him his body is perfect endlessly, but until I change the way in which I treat myself, my words mean nothing. Today I decided enough is enough. It’s been a long time coming, but from this day forward I vow to break the cycle and to be the example my son both needs and deserves.