Once upon a time, I consumed to the breaking point — drugs, booze, relationships — anything to change the channel in my head. Today, I’m a healthy, content personal trainer.
Most of the pieces I've written for mindbodygreen are about how to overcome self-sabotage and stay on track. Instead, this particular post is a list of some of the factors that sent me sailing over the 300-pound mark long before I was old enough to vote. Warning: This is a personal account. Like any personal account, it’s not the whole story.
1. Let the TV talk more than you do.
My grandmother watched me in her tiny Queens, New York, apartment while my folks worked. She was big into soap operas and talk shows. The TV was always on, so we chatted during commercials, mostly about Susan Lucci’s tiny waist and how sad it was that Oprah couldn’t keep the weight off.
I'm sure my grandmother hoped to instill ideals such as “love of family” and “self-respect” in me. Sadly, that stuff didn’t come up much in daytime TV. What did come up were criticisms and judgments of women’s weight, beauty, and sex appeal.
2. Set a bad example.
My family was quick to tell me I should exercise, that I should order the healthiest thing on the menu, and that I should not go back for seconds. Instead of taking those suggestions, I did what I saw them doing:
- I sat and watched television.
- I ate the yummiest, quickest thing I could get my hands on.
- I kept eating until the food was gone.
We learn how to be people in the world by watching and emulating the folks who raise us.
3. Buy into weight-loss myths.
They always gave me advice that they thought would work:
- Do 100 crunches a day.
- Drink grapefruit juice first thing in the morning.
- Drink a big glass of ice water before meals.
- Stop eating at 7 p.m.
- Just take the stairs.
These “weight-loss solutions” are as useless as they are popular. No one has ever lost a significant amount of weight — and happily, healthily kept it off — thanks to suggestions like these.
4. Hope for the best and stop there.
My caretakers would vow to eat healthier or exercise, do it for a while, come up against a challenge or a series of challenges, and quit. This taught me that commitments around health and weight loss were set up for failure and that only folks with tons of money and no stress were capable of following through on their commitments consistently.
5. Encourage emotional eating.
There was a thin wall between my folks’ and my grandparents’ apartments. My folks would fight, and the next day my grandfather would get me a special treat. Twinkies from the candy store. A vanilla butterscotch sundae from Carvel. It was his way of cutting me some slack and making me smile. As I got older, when things were slightly less than perfect, I ate junk.
It’s natural to want to soothe a kid's hurt quickly, and yummy treats are an easy way to do that. While I think it’s okay to do that sometimes, if it becomes consistent we may be setting them up for much greater pain than the pain we’re trying to relieve.
6. Restrict access, but not exposure.
From the time I was 7 years old, my mother wanted to keep my snack-happy stepdad satisfied. In service to him, she filled the kitchen with enough ice cream, chips, cookies, and pasta to sink the Titanic and told me I wasn’t allowed to touch any of it.
Of course, that didn’t stop me. To avoid getting punished, I learned to sneak. I’d eat an entire layer off the top of the ice cream container, careful to leave the remaining surface identical to the surface I’d found.
7. Encourage only team sports.
In grammar school I played on two teams: volleyball and softball. By the time I got to high school, I had zero interest in chumming it up with my peers in organized sports. And so began a 10-year period when I did not move unless I absolutely had to.
Once kids leave school, team sports are hard to orchestrate and commit to. Kids who develop a love of activities that can be done more spontaneously and solo, like bike riding, jogging, weight-lifting, and hiking, are more likely to continue to participate in those activities into adulthood.
What if you’re a parent who’s already making strong choices? What if you are a loving, patient, educated person modeling healthy behavior, and your young daughter happens to be overweight or obese? If that’s the case, relax. You’re doing a great job. You’re giving your precious girl the capacity to love herself as she is, and the ability to take genuinely good care of herself and her body — arguably the most important gifts any one of us can ever possibly give a child. Keep up the good work.
If your daughter ever decides she would be more comfortable weighing less, she will likely have the internal resources, the support, and the sense of self-love and empowerment she’ll need to make healthy changes in a sustainable way. Best of all, she’ll have the self-respect to make those changes — and keep making her own strong choices — in ways that bring her deep pleasure.
To learn the tool I use to make strong choices consistently despite my self-harming defaults, sign up for my free webinar here.
Photo courtesy of the author