I’ve always had a weight problem. No matter what weight I am, it’s a problem.
Even when I was size 6, in my mind, I was too big.
My whole life, I have tried to be an individual—not to follow the crowd. Yet, when it comes to weighty matters, I am a stereotype. It is hard to stop caring—size matters to me, and to society.
Our children are learning the lesson well. According to the Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders Web site, "Studies report both disorders in children as young as 6 and individuals as old as 26." When it comes to anorexia, "about one out of every 100 young women between 10 and 20 are starving themselves, sometimes to death."
Myself, I was the binge-and-purge girl in high school and college days. I am not proud of this, but I was just like one out of four college girls.
"Women are sold the myth that they can, and should, achieve physical perfection to have value in our culture," says Jean Kilbourne, author of a number of books and videos on advertising images and how they affect us, including the video, "Slim Hopes, Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness."
"Yet, what’s defined and reinforced as ‘physical perfection’ in advertising is an unhealthy standard of thinness unattainable by most women," she says.
Yes, I am most women. It took a number of years in therapy trying to convince myself that, "I’m good enough. I’m smart enough and, doggone it, people like me." And I really don’t think I am there yet.
Enter my children and parenthood.
As it came looming into my life, I made a decision: I solemnly swear not to pass on this paranoia to my offspring. I cannot and will not feed that beast.
Did it work?
I don’t know. But I did work at it.
It was not easy because the weight I gained during my first pregnancy did not come off. I joined a health club, three diet programs and even tried to starve myself. But no matter what, I didn’t lose.
My counselor at Jenny Craig actually accused me of lying. As she pushed out her tiny hip, standing next to the scale, she looked at me as though I was undermining the fabric of society: "You’d have to be losing weight if you were eating what you say you are and exercising the way you say you are. And you haven’t lost a pound. I really think it’s time you started being honest with us and yourself."
More than a year later, my doctor figured out that I couldn’t lose weight; I had a thyroid disorder.
But I did not discuss my weight around my boys or my nieces. I never said, "Do I look fat?" or "I feel like a beached whale." I tried not to voice those constant, nagging voices, which tell too many women, "If I were a better person, I would lose this weight."
And mostly, I tried not to be depressed about my size when I had so much to be happy about—those dear boys.
I had hoped they would dodge the weight bullet because of their gender. I hoped that it didn’t matter to boys what they weighed.
But I was wrong. Society still tells us that extra weight is a character flaw. My 16-year-old, who is now a toned and tall young man, went through periods where he would pork up and then shoot up.
He didn’t tell me then, but he tells me now as though he were a wizened old man—kids were brutal to him. "It ate away at my self-confidence."
"The old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ was never further from the truth," says Jean Huelsing, who runs Camp Jump Start, a weight loss camp for kids. "Words are forever etched in our children’s brains and hearts and the pain is far more debilitating than broken bones."
I met Huelsing last year at Chicago Parent’s Camp and Summer Adventure Fair. Hers is the only weight loss camp in the Midwest. Gordon Kaplan, who heads the American Camp Association, Illinois, pointed her out to me and said, "She really knows what she is doing."
Huelsing’s camp, which I visited this summer, is a breath of fresh air. Kids have fun, kids learn and kids lose weight. They are respected for who they are.
As Huelsing said in her opening remarks, "If you brought your kids here for us to fix them, I have news for you: They are not broken." Huelsing believes, "To conquer the childhood obesity epidemic, we must make a difference one child, one family at a time."
Huelsing will tell you she is not perfect, she made mistakes with her family. But she knows what we need to do. To start, we must teach our children food is fuel and we need to set our priorities straight. So, let me give Huelsing the last word here. And you, our dear readers, the gift of her advice:
• Walk tall.
• Drink a glass of water 15 minutes before each meal and drink eight glasses total everyday.
• Use a small plate and put your fork down after each bite.
• No second helpings, except for veggies.
• Eat on schedule and only at the table.
• No television at meals.
• Eat only when you are hungry; identify hunger vs. boredom vs. cravings.
• Equal exercise activity for equal screen time—television, computer, video.
• Do not eat after 7 p.m.
• No food rewards—spend time together instead.
• No soda.
• And walk everywhere. Walk, walk, walk.
May it be a healthy and happy 2006.