As a young girl, I heard relentless anxiety and fear about my weight and what I was eating. If I was a good weight in my mom’s view, I had to worry about not gaining. If I was overweight in her view…well, you know, it was a shame because I had such a pretty face. This was discussed while we were being served her cake which she would be upset if we didn’t eat it while she worried if it was good enough. Unfortunately 12 step recovery programs were not around then and she did not realize she was an obsessive/compulsive. Today, this attitude is more likely to be reflected in the women’s magazines with diets on one page followed by cake recipes on the next. The same self-hatred is still there, however. Fix it with a diet or surgery or a pill or a 3 marathons a month or…
As an educational counselor, my take is that we project our anxieties and fears for our young one’s health in negative ways. If we have concerns about the hysterical tragedy of weight gain, we will worry about our daughter’s. I remember the natural signs of puberty – breast and hip developments – as signs I was getting fat. But the reality was that my body was not finished growing. To interfere with the process at this stage disrupts the natural metabolic process. I shot up before eighth grade and was not overweight, but the constant messages about being overweight left me with low self esteem, shame and thinking I was overweight when I wasn’t. So I would seek comfort in carbs.
I think a more promising approach for us is to replace concerns about our daughters’ eating with other emphasis. The real damage is what messages she is getting about her body and her worth, and she will face a constant onslaught from media and some peers about needing to being different than she is. So the best thing is for us to continue to build self acceptance and teach ways to process feelings and be ok. Books and other programs, even positive girls clubs, are doing a better job of this now.
If she is mindlessly crunching unhealthy foods while on TV or computer for extended times, we can make those things happen away from food settings like the kitchen table. We never snacked when I was young but now snacking is routine for everyone. Synthetic foods leave a person unsatisfied, thus crunching more or mindlessly. There are more books out there on mindful eating, yoga, etc. even for young children that I think shift the emphasis to being in touch with our insides and bodies in a healthier way. Introducing them to these or participating with them in these activities set a positive and emotionally warm and satisfying way to connect and reinforce a good connection with themselves. One idea is to put entertaining movement or yoga DVDs on the computer or TV and do them with her, especially the ones featuring kids. I consult the Mighty Girls book lists as well for reinforcing books for girls of any age.
I would not be too concerned if a young girl snacks a little but if it goes into prolonged mindless eating, that would indicate a need to get up from the TV or computer and move, do something else for awhile. Movement is a good alternative emphasis I think. I did not learn to move as a young person. About the only thing I did was ride my bike which I did enjoy. But as an introverted reader, I did lay on the couch and read a lot. Back then we didn’t eat while reading or watching TV. We did crafts or something else with our hands. Of course we didn’t want to soil a book either as it was usually a library book. I think avoiding getting the keyboard of the computer dirty is another way to avoid allowing eating while playing video games, etc. It’s the mindlessness or the avoidance of one’s feelings or mood alteration that is what can be addressed rather than what she is eating, how much, be careful, don’t do that, you don’t want to gain weight, etc. We don’t need to focus on the symptom: food, eating, weight. That sends a shame message that is likely to be eaten over, or worse.
If your woman-to-be likes healthy foods, all the better. Meanwhile, deal with our own issues. Give her body time to develop and see what happens when she is older. Of course we don’t want our daughters, nieces, or others we care for to go through our inherited pain but we can access more support for them now than we had. Meanwhile keep building her emotional foundation and it will be there for her when she needs it and, if she knows what to do with feelings, she’s more likely not to need the overeating.