As adults, we've learned hard-fought lessons by now. Pass on any round of shots taking place after 11pm, refrain from using twitter within 48 hours of a break-up, and never, under any circumstances, get bangs.
But how do we pass these lessons on to our children in a way that sinks in? Is there - in any realm of possibility - potential for them to absorb this wisdom via osmosis, rather than have to learn them (painfully) first-hand as we did?
My mind has been racing on this concept for years now. How can I, with my hard-fought journey to food freedom and intuitive eating, ensure that my daughter doesn't have to arrive there by the same treacherous road that I did? How can I give her the best chance possible at bypassing the intrusive food thoughts, the doubt, confusion, self-sabotage, anxiety and comparison that plagued my 18th year of life? How can I Amazon Prime 'same-day ship' her flawless little booty to the self-acceptance finish line? What if - God forbid - she doesn't make it there at all?
I'm beginning to come to terms with the fact that sadly, I may not be able to control the outcome here. But I'll be damned if I don't at least go out with my boots on.
Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Depression included. Let that sink in.
In fact, according to the National Eating Disorder Foundation, the mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12x higher than all other causes of death combined in women ages 15-24, due to starvation, metabolic collapse, suicide, and other complications associated with the disease.
And since eating disorders are more than twice as prevalent in females, I've made it my mission over the last decade to tease out tangible steps that we moms, dads, or parents-to-be can do to ensure we give our daughters the best chance at getting out of this twisted, toxic, and pervasive diet-culture unscathed.
So here's what I've landed on.
#1 Avoid restriction of fun foods.
Of course when we’re raising kids, we want the majority of what we provide for them to be nutrient-dense whole foods. As it would turn out, adequate vitamin and mineral intake is kind of important for healthy growth and development. But when it comes to junk food or “fun foods”, it can be really tempting for parents to restrict their children's intake, especially if a child tends to “go overboard” by their standards.
But if we know one thing in the research, its that restriction actually backfires.
Studies show that when kids who have had their junk food intake restricted leave the house or get older and suddenly have access to these forbidden foods, they’re often ill-equipped to deal with that broader food environment and go on to binge on these foods into adulthood. They also tend to have the highest BMI’s statistically (not that a high BMI is inherently bad, but the repercussions of a high BMI are often what these parents are trying to avoid with restriction in the first place...their child getting teased at school, or having increased risk for certain chronic diseases, etc.). On the other hand, kids with the least amount of restriction around junk foods end up being the leanest in terms of BMI.
The bottom line? Restriction always increases a child’s enthusiasm for restricted foods.
As parents, it is our job to offer calorie-dense, low nutritive foods (yes, you read that correctly) as a part of regularly scheduled meals and snacks and to let our kids indulge.
I know what you're thinking, and YES. Your child might over-do it and get a belly-ache. You know what that is? A lesson learned…and an important one. But if we make sugar some forbidden, elusive substance, we inadvertently tell our kids they have to #1 eat those foods in secret because they’re shameful and #2 that they should binge on them, because who knows when another opportunity might arise!? And that's the real downfall at stake here.
When you feel tempted to intervene (and you will), remember this: a junk-food kick might last a week, a season, or a year...but food addiction lasts a lifetime.
#2 Employ proper division of responsibility around food within the household.
We as parents decide what food is offered, when its offered, and where. Our kids decide if its eaten and how much. Period.
#3 Demonstrate intuitive eating.
Teach your girls to honor their hunger and to allow their bodies to feel full by eating (by large majority) foods we were physiologically designed to be able to consume in unlimited quantities while staying effortlessly healthy. Foods rich in fiber, water, micronutrients and phytochemicals – things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
How can we possibly honor our hunger and make peace with food unless we stop feeding ourselves products designed to keep us unwell and insatiably craving more?
So, count nutrients, not calories. Mom’s: demonstrate this. No small portions here. When you're eating healthy – I want you to whip out the trough! We're talkin' meals that are gunna put some chest hair on you! Load up on the whole starches, hearty helpings of legumes, and massive portions of vegetables smothered in creamy plant-based sauces. If you're walking away unsatisfied, you're doing it wrong.
#4. Encourage your kids to keep their eyes on their own plate.
Remember what we talked about in my blog post on 'Why Diets Don't Work', when we discussed how vastly different everyone's individual metabolisms, nutrient needs, emotional health, coping strategies, and relationships to food are? Run that back one more time for the folks in the cheap seats. What other people eat - or don't - is none of your business, Pam.
#5 If we have older girls, encourage them to unfollow people on social media that make them or their bodies feel inadequate.
How many of us have someone that we follow online STRICTLY because they are obnoxiously beautiful?
I'll be the first to admit it. If Gabrielle Union wants to be my hot best friend, I will GLEEFULLY step in as her Instagram boyfriend/wing-woman/all around ride or die, free of charge. My obsession with the Wade family aside, here's your homework. Screw that big work presentation or those 80 pages of biology reading – that monotony can wait. Tonight you go and unfollow everyone that makes you feel anything less than Kanye West feels about himself.
Sure, I recognize Kanye isn’t typically our north star when it comes to role-modelship. But in the self-love category, I’m willing to make an exception. Yeezy loves him some Yeezy.
We need to recognize and ensure that our daughters understand #1 our social media feeds are most likely complete and utter photoshopped, face-tuned, highlight-reel fiction, and #2 even if they aren't, another women’s beauty is not the absence of our own.
Screw perfection. Think about your favorite people in this life! You likely love and respect them because 1. they standout and 2. they are unapologetically themselves. Unapologetically.
God, the universe, Zeus, the Hemsworth brothers, whoever you believe is the higher power in this world, they broke the mold when they made you! And for a damn good reason. Don’t waste that.
#6 - Tell your daughters your experiences.
Allow them to understand what most adults, particularly adult women, have come to learn the hard way. That perfection is the darkest place they will ever venture.
Turns out our insecurities don’t magically lift when we achieve a certain physique or accomplish arbitrary weight loss goals. In contrast, it’s the wiggle room in life that brings us happiness.
One of my favorite sayings has been floating around Tumblr for decades. Its the concept that our perceived imperfections - maybe those 5-10 pounds we want to lose...that place our body naturally wants be - that's our LIFE. That’s movie night with our man, wine nights with girlfriends, those cupcakes our best friend makes us every time our Tinder matches don't work out. Those 5-10 pounds are our favorite memories, bonding experiences, trips & unforgettable celebrations. They are the evidence of our spontaneity, our bliss, our freedom, our LIFE. Is all of that juicy goodness truly worth sacrificing, for anything? Let alone some frivolous (and ultimately fleeting) physique?
Ladies. Share those hard-fought lessons you’ve learned with your daughters.
Teach them what we grown women know all too well. You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone that doesn’t like peaches.
Our girls need to understand that some people in this life are not going to like them. And they get to choose whether they aren't liked for who they really are, or who they’re pretending & dieting to be.
It’s. just. not. worth it.
Girls, women, mama's, grandmama's: our bodies are incredible. We give LIFE for Christ's sake!
Men, ya'll are special too. Your facial hair is straight-up sultry, your muscle content impressive, and your composure while capturing spiders is downright seductive.
But like, can you guys even cook toes? Can you literally slow roast a human for 9 months, poop it out, put your lipstick on and go back to single-handedly running a household the next week?! I mean seriously – have any of you, in all your tantelizing scruffiness, done ANYthing half as graphic with your vaction days?!
Ladies, what if we obsessed about the things we LOVED about ourselves?! Do you know how many industries would go out of business tomorrow if women just woke up and deeply, wholly understood the magnitude of their badassery?!
You - in the very state you exist in right this moment - are divinely and inherently amazing. Own that.
To my daughter, sweet Camper Capri.
May you come to recognize your body for the exquisite expression of your precious soul that it is. Every soft curve and perfect dimple send Daddy and I into a spiral of relentless inquiry, wondering how we might ever deserve to know such beauty in this lifetime.
And to you, reading this:
What if your daughter or future child could hear how you speak to yourself? What if it became the same monologue they used to speak to themselves? Would it pain you to listen to?
Because more likely than not, my sweet friend, - if you don't make it a mission to demonstrate and explicitly preach to them otherwise, it will be.
Re-write the script. Your daughters, sisters, nieces, grand-daughters, and most importantly - the little girl inside you - deserve that new narrative.
Until next time, my loves.
This post was written & medically reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Grace Pascale, MS, RDN. Grace Pascale Nutrition.