“You know, I’ve been thinking, you should try to eat the same way you’d want your future daughter to eat”. Those were the wise words of my partner recently. We had been discussing my never ending plan to improve my diet and gain the weight I (apparently) need to. Which I always talk about but never seem to do anything about. I had been explaining my reasons for making poor food choices which apart from anything else, now just seem to be habits. Not that changing them doesn’t make me anxious, because it does.
His words resonated with me. We don’t have children, but many of our friends do. When I think about Bella, Milly, and Eve, I know I enjoy watching them try new foods and join in with meal times. They run and play, and are comfortable with their bodies, and how they can explore the world around them. They don’t know the meaning of a calorie or what fat is. And I want to protect them from that. I want them to grow up truly believing that being happy, confident and comfortable is more important than being ‘pretty’, thin, or pleasing people. I want them to feel safe managing their emotions and creatively expressing who they are. For food to be fuel so that they can do the things they want to. For eating to be about living life not counting calories.
I know all too well that if I really want that for them, I need to live it myself, too. Words aren’t enough. We all know that children watch and learn from us.
Setting aside any future ‘children’ plans, I know how I’d like the children who are part of my life now to feel about themselves. I’d like them to be resilient, for food and feelings to be – as a general rule – separate entities, not intertwined, distorted and confused. I want them to have self-compassion, so that they can extend that to others.
I know what spontaneous eating looks like. My partner and friends are great at it. I think I know which foods are nourishing and will provide vital nutrients. I see that celebrating Shrove Tuesday with a pancake or eating mince pies at Christmas is part of living life. I know that guilt and shame shouldn’t be synonymous with eating and weight. I know that I would want my child to eat regularly and enough, because life is bigger than food, weight, and physical appearance. I also know I can’t do that myself.