Monday, May 21, 2012

Heading into week 9 of pregnancy, and thinking about multi-generational food abuse

Everything is fine, as far as I know.  I had a checkup last Friday that went well.  Unless there is a problem, I won't have another checkup or ultrasound for another 4 weeks.  Seems like a long time to wait!  I'm so anxious and impatient.

Queasiness keeps me from having too much interest in food, but I am so very grateful I am not vomiting.  I focus on my water intake.  My weight is stable at 250.  I take walks, have slowly started up the strength training again, and I do a bit of yoga each day to ease my lower back pain.  A quick session of child's pose, cat/cow, and downward facing dog actually alleviates pain for a couple of hours.  My meditation practice is non-existent and I want to change that.

Even though I'm not terribly interested in food these days, guess what tastes the best and sits very well with me?  Ice cream.  Honey nut Cheerios.  Lassi.  Toast with jam.  Yep, sugar, dairy, and refined carbs.  I eat salads and fruit and lean meat and hummus and other stuff too, but it doesn't go down as easily.  Binging hasn't been a big problem, but I overeat the hyperpalatable stuff regularly and want to stop.  I haven't forgotten about Brain over Binge or ditched it in favor of some other philosophy...I'm simply tired and out of sorts.  I've started thinking about binge eating recovery more the past couple of days, though.

 I sat down and made a list of things I want to teach my child about food and eating.  What kind of behavior do I want to model?  What kind of household do I want them to grow up in?  Surely not the unstructured kind that I experienced, where the parents hide their special junk food from the kids, the kids are left to grab peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or bowls of cereal by themselves throughout the day...except for dinner, where we would all sit down to Hamburger Helper and canned vegetables and fruit.  I don't want them to binge like me; I don't want them to insist on pairing meals with TV, like my husband does.  So many things need to change.  I'm the fifth generation of obese, food abusing women in my family.  I have verbal accounts and photographic evidence going back to my great-great grandma, who happened to be very large before there were drive-thrus and 1,700 flavors of Ben & Jerry's at the local grocery store and buffets in each town, and I would not be surprised if the problem goes several generations back further than that. 

As much as I don't want to be sloppy and lazy when it comes to the family's nutrition, I also don't want to be shrill, dogmatic, unkind, dramatic--putting kids on diets, making them scared of food or of ever gaining weight, teaching them to look down on others that don't eat like we do.  I know there is a middle ground, but I don't have firsthand experience with it.  My mom managed to cover both extremes: she was not interested in cooking for us at all, but she took my older brother to Weight Watchers with her when he was a boy so HE would learn to eat more intelligently.  He was like 8 or 9, surrounded by crappy processed food at home that he mostly had to prepare himself, with an obese mom and a sugar-loving, chain-smoking dad...and the problem was thought to be HIS lack of self-control?!?!  He found the experience of attending a diet club populated by middle aged women mortifying.  I can't imagine the public weekly weigh-ins and the comments these adults probably made about the one child (probably also the one male; it was the 80's) in attendance!   Today, he is an obese adult with real hostility towards any discussion of eating healthfully or losing weight. 

Bottom line--I'm simultaneously scared about screwing things up for yet another generation, and excited and hopeful that parenting might be that final push I require to nail various behavioral problems and become the person I've always wanted to be. Do any of you know people that re-invented themselves via parenthood, especially in terms of food/eating/weight/addiction?  I'd love to hear about it.


  1. I don't have any hard and fast advice, but I'd just like to tell you a little bit about how I grew up and how I feed my family today.

    My mom was well ahead of her time. We didn't eat white bread, just rye or whole wheat. We drank 2% or skim milk (1% didn't exist in those days). We didn't eat sugary cereal. I remember making Quaker Oats as a child--not the packaged stuff, the real thing. We almost never had baked goods in the house. There were never chips or salty snacks around. I was allowed one soft drink and one chocolate bar a week--often less. My mother made all our food from scratch. When she made egg sandwiches, she moistened the egg with a bit of milk--we didn't even have mayonnaise in the house.

    Sounds great, right? I suppose it was, but I grew up desperately yearning for all the sweets and junk food we never had in the house. Once, when I went to a friend's place where there was plenty of junk food, I ate so much of it I got sick.

    And despite the decidedly "health food" household I grew up in, both my mom and I were overweight. Not terribly, but overweight nevertheless. That is why I truly believe that eating "properly" has very little to do with BMI. You will be the weight that your genetics dictate. I do think that if I had not grown up in a sane food environment, I might have been much larger than I am today. But slimmer? Not much. I have weighed considerably less than I weigh today a few times, for a few days at a time. I basically always go back to my set point. I'm not morbidly obese--far from it--but yes, I'm fat. That's my hereditary profile. All the women in my family end up fat--not morbidly obese, but well padded.

    So here I am, with two teenaged boys. Both are quite slim. At home, we eat more or less the way I was brought up to eat: whole grains, relatively little processed foods, cooking without salt, lots of home cooked meals. But I try not to berate my kids if they ask for a Coke at the restaurant from time to time (no, we don't keep any soft drinks in the house). In fact, the other day, my older son ordered a Coke with his meal and didn't even finish it. He also took home part of his meal. He naturally eats small amounts, but frequently.

    From time to time, I make banana bread from scratch, we often have ice cream in the freezer. It usually takes a week or more to finish the package. We do have some sugary cereals in the house, but I did put my foot down long ago and they always mix the sugary stuff with a non-sugary cereal like plain Cheerios.

    Do we eat "perfectly" in my home? No. But you know me and my belief that "the perfect is the enemy of the good".

    Will my sons stay slim forever? I don't know. They have heredity against them on both sides of the family. I suspect my older son, who is a fantastic naturally intuitive eater, might stay slim. My younger son inherited a very sweet tooth from my husband's mom--their beloved Nanny, who had not the best influence on their eating when they were very young. But it was better to let them eat some junk with her from time to time and get tons of love, comfort and fun. She's gone now--died from smoking, not junk food. She too was pretty intuitive about eating. She ate good stuff and crap, but never gorged. (Sorry about that digression.)

    So, back to what I always say: don't stress, eat mostly healthy stuff, love your kid and enjoy life. Oh, sorry, I was supposed to give advice ;). lol

    1. Hi NewMe, thanks for sharing! It's very interesting to hear about another household, and it sounds like you've done just awesomely with your sons. I hope to create that kind of sane, moderate environment at home too.

      This part jumped out at me:

      "I do think that if I had not grown up in a sane food environment, I might have been much larger than I am today. But slimmer? Not much."

      I understand this. I believe it is my genetic destiny to be larger than average, as it is for several of my family members. But had I grown up in a better food environment, larger would have meant something like 175-200 pounds at 5'5"...not 100 pounds more than that, as I eventually became (I topped out at 275 in my late 20s). So a food environment that doesn't necessarily lead to slimness (especially an unnatural forced slimness), yet prevents morbid obesity, is a very good thing indeed. Certainly good enough for me.

      Hope you are well, and thanks for reading even though I don't post or check in with comments as regularly as before.

  2. I think that the thing to worry about isn't the type of foods you offer your children, but the relationship you allow them to cultivate with food. That relationship for a lot of naturally chubby people (which I probably was one of as a kid) gets messed up when everyone around them starts putting them on diets or criticizing their eating habits. I think most people will eat when hungry unless their relationship with food is screwed up.

    That being said, I know kids (like adults) will eat only highly enjoyable foods if given an option, so you do need to moderate what they eat. If I had a child (and I don't and won't, so take my words for the tiny little amount they are worth), I'd have them approach food as I try to - eat healthy food to fill up and enjoyable food for the sensory joys, but try never to sub the latter for the former or to vilify any food. I'd feed a kid healthy meals with small treats (everyday, as I give myself). They wouldn't have to want for anything that was out of bounds but they wouldn't be permitted to subsist on things which were meant to entertain the tongue. I also wouldn't force a kid to eat anything that was healthy if they hated it, but wouldn't change the overall balance if they didn't eat their dinner and wanted more of a treat to counterbalance.

    For parents, I often think that dealing with food and kids is a real trial because the kids won't eat the healthy meal and then complain they are hungry and want treats later. They don't want the kids to go hungry, but they also don't want to give in, so they have rules about "no treats/desserts" to avoid such patterns. I think being consistent is important rather than being inflexible.

    I have never known a parent who was fat to do a turnaround when having a child, though I have known people who changed before having kids and applied new rules to the children. The answers aren't easy, but I think that you know them already. No morality applied to eating and no body judging. Balance and moderation for the child as well as for yourself and let him or her follow his or her nature with as little interference as possible.

    1. Very good points here, especially about the importance of consistency. I struggle with behaving consistently in different areas of my life, so this is something I am going to have to work on with particular vigor. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I have no experience with children other than having been one myself but I agree with the statements that forcing kids into diet-like behaviors (for instance my brother drank regular soda and I had to have diet soda)can cause a lot of problems. I guess for me, my troubles began when food became something more than it should be so I think that's the kind of thing I'd watch for and make sure that treats are not given some kind of special status. I think the other thing that will be tough is that your child won't grow up in a bubble and will be exposed to things you wouldn't choose to give him/her. I grew up in a normal household with some access to junk food but what I ate was restricted and as a teenager I quickly turned to vending machines thus starting the vicious cycle of secret binge eating.

    1. Hi Arwenn! You are right--they aren't going to grow up in a bubble and it's kinda scary! I can do my best at home, but I can't see myself doing the helicopter parent thing and attempting to police every morsel they consume at school events or friends' birthday parties or what have you. And they make seek out treats secretly, as you and I did once we hit a certain age. :(

      Besides not turning treats into forbidden fruit, I will have to take care that I don't teach my kids that sweets are central to coping with emotional crises. Anytime I was upset, my dad listened to me patiently...after giving me a Little Debbie snack cake from the secret stash he kept in his car. He meant well; his own mother is a major "feeder" and her methods didn't affect his naturally skinny frame, but the same approach used on me created a huge problem. I still go weak at the sight of Nutty Bars and Zebra cakes and Star Crunch, even though they are pretty nasty products.