At the bottom of the stairs, I call upstairs to my children. ‘Ella, Leo, dinner’s on the table. We’re having pizza!’
As the pair bound down delightedly, I make sure to only take two slices of pepperoni and fill the rest of my plate up with salad.
Because although I am currently trying to lose weight, I am painfully aware that, for the first time, I’m doing it under the watchful gaze of my children – and I am determined not to pass on my life-long body insecurities to them.
As a teenager in the 1990s, I had near-constant reminders that my body was most definitely not ‘bang on trend’. The message from the numerous teen magazines I regularly devoured and TV shows such as Friends and Sex and The City, where the main female characters were all stick thin, was clear: If I could lose my hips, my big boobs and never eat carbs, all my dreams would come true.
So I would neck a ‘diet’ shake or survive entirely on bowls of Special K for breakfast, lunch and tea, in the hopes that I’d bag the perfect man, get a cool new job, and live happily ever after… all while being able to pull off wearing a 90’s slip dress.
The thing was, not only did I love food, but I was also naturally large chested and had wide hips. Looking back, I wasn’t overweight, but, in the words of Jarvis Cocker, I was the first girl at school to get breasts.
Instead of embracing my curves, I never felt confident.
It took until I became a parent to finally make peace with how my body looked because it had nurtured my babies and kept me alive when I almost died post-birth. Being there to watch my kids grow up made everything else seem unimportant.
Now, however, I am a mum to a nearly 10-year-old girl and a newly turned six-year-old boy, and my insecurities are back.
Like many, I gained a few pounds in lockdown. Rather than being too down-hearted about it, though, I chose to follow the 2010’s mantra of ‘loving the skin you’re in’.
However, after a knee injury stopped me from running – something I did three times a week – and a career change meant that I was now working from home sitting at a computer, I became far more sedentary, resulting in an even thicker waist.
Subsequently I’m currently the largest, and heaviest, I have ever been, two dress sizes bigger than most of the clothes in my wardrobe.
The messaging around bodies is vastly more positive these days, but while the people around me say I am fine just as I am, I want to get back to the days of getting off the floor without my joints creaking and I would love to wear my clothes again.
But I also want to send the right message to my kids.
With a rise in disordered eating and obesity in our young people, as a parent, it has become a minefield trying to navigate how best to ensure our children are body positive, while making sure that they learn how to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle – especially when you yourself are not body positive or leading a balanced healthy lifestyle.
I have always hidden the critical comments I make about my body, so while I might moan to my husband about my ‘jelly belly’ and my thighs giving me ‘chub rub’, the children are, and always will be, unaware of them.
We never talk about dieting and we don’t comment on other people’s bodies either.
I am still conditioned though, to give myself a hard time for eating a chocolate bar or a bag of crisps and I have to remind myself that my kids don’t need to feel bad for eating the same.
Of course, there should be consideration when giving our kids these foods, but there shouldn’t be one extreme or another, rather a good balance of everything.
Is it OK to diet and lose weight with my kids watching? Absolutely. But it is the language that I use while doing so that I am being very mindful of. Words are everything.
So, we talk about the effects that eating all food types has on our bodies, which foods we need more of and which we need less of. Salmon and eggs are good for our brains, spinach helps our bones stay strong and potatoes, rice and pasta are good for giving us the energy we need to swim, run and play football.
No food is banned, and all food is enjoyed without guilt, regardless of its nutritional value.
This means that my children, as much as they love sweets, chocolate, crisps and cake, don’t ask for them all the time and will often opt for a healthier option without being prompted. Because there are no forbidden foods, there’s no curiosity there.
Exercise isn’t about being thinner, it is about being stronger and keeping both our minds and bodies fit. As a family, we incorporate walking into our daily lives as much as possible and the kids love getting out on their scooters and bikes, they swim and play sports for fun. Moving their bodies is part of the ‘norm’.
And in fact, being aware of how I am approaching a healthy lifestyle with the children is helping me let go of my dieting past and move forward with a more positive attitude towards food.
I’ve realised that I have put all the right things in place with the children, now, I should take a healthy serving of my own medicine.
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