Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Diary of a Recovering Fat Kid

"I enjoy being me. I’ve seen people... who want to be thinner... and how it wears them down. And I just don’t want that in my life." -Adele

Why? Why couldn't I just look like the other kids? Why did I have to be the one they taunted? Why did I have to be so embarrassed I wore my shirt to go swimming? Why?

This is my albatross. Still. Even though that boy is all grown up, the scars remain.

1987: The best chubby picture I could find
I want to grab that kid and give him a hug. I want to gently tell him that everything will be alright. Then I want to suggest he stop drinking glass after glass of ShopRite iced tea. (The granulated kind you mix at home with the big plastic scoop.) I want to tell him that four bowls of Cocoa Pebbles isn't an acceptable after-school snack. That watching Duck Tales, Different Strokes, and Double Dare back-to-back-to-back isn't an acceptable after-school activity. I want his mom or dad to say it's unnecessary to eat mashed potatoes with bread. And that even though something tastes good, and is there, it doesn't mean you have to eat it. Or all of it.

That fat kid still lives inside me. I feel sorry for him and am angry at him all at the same time. I need to forgive him. But I can't yet. First, I have to learn how to live with him.

You see, even though I am in shape. Even though I run half-marathons. Even though I cook and eat healthy meals, don’t smoke and rarely drink. Still, that fat kid has a hold on me. He always might. And I just might have to accept that.

He’s why I often ask My Director if I look fat. (Yes, and she even made fun of me for it in the blog post she wrote for me for my birthday.) And while she tells me I’m being ridiculous, and I know I’m being ridiculous, I never feel like I’m being ridiculous. I always just feel… fat. It’s terrible.

I worry because I don’t want the Peanut to have a negative body image, no matter what kind of body type she grows into. I don’t want her to be fat, either. I know that may sound insensitive and shallow. It’s just how I feel. My Director and I have conversations about it all of the time. Away from the Peanut, of course. It’s all my doing. I always start the conversation with an “I don’t want her eating that” or “You give her too many snacks.” I’m always asking if she thinks we’re teaching her unhealthy habits.

Perhaps this is my good side?
“You run and workout,” My Director rationally answers. “And you have lazy days sometimes. You need to relax.”

She’s right. I need to relax. My Director also points out that Peanut sees that daddy exercises. And that I’m setting a good example that way too.

But I’m petrified for my daughter because she has my genes. Because she’s my daughter and being my daughter means she is predisposed to being a chubby kid, predisposed to being mocked, predisposed to being sensitive about it. I don’t want that for her. But I don’t want the opposite for her, either. I don’t want her to think she has to be thin to be beautiful. I don’t want her to agonize about food. I want her to enjoy it, responsibly. This is by far my most difficult challenge as a parent.

As an adult, I am responsible for my own diet. And for the Peanut’s diet. This is why I am so particular about the food I buy, cook, and feed my family. My dad died of a heart attack at 59. That has a lot to with it too. I cook the meals in our house because I want to teach the Peanut healthy eating habits. (Also because if I didn't cook we wouldn't eat.)

I know if I wanted to I could eat an entire box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies in one sitting. This is the main reason why I couldn’t bring myself to answer “Cookie Monster” when Peanut asked me who my favorite Sesame Street character is.

Maybe my parents didn't know enough back then. Maybe they really did think it was “just baby fat,” as my mom would always say. I can’t really blame them either, even though they are at least partially at fault. Because there is a sad fat kid inside of me I also know that depriving the Peanut of dessert is also not the answer. This is the tightrope I walk as a parent. This is the internal debate in which I participate every time Peanut asks, “Daddy may I have a snack?”

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is yes… but what that snack is always depends.

She may not be a fat kid. There’s no indication she will be, but who knows yet. And if she’s not, the mean kids at school may very well find another reason to pick on her. She’s going to need braces eventually. And it looks like she’ll have an issue pronouncing her s’s and r’s as a result of that overbite. Kids could be so mean.

I should know.

In the end, I just want her to be healthy. And happy.

There's a reason I chose that quote by that artist to headline this post. On a car ride home from daycare one evening, Peanut recognized the first few chords of a song that started paying. "Daddy, it's Adele." Her dance teacher plays a lot of Adele songs in class. That gave me hope that Peanut, like Adele, can be more comfortable in her body than her dad is.

15 comments:

  1. This made me think about a lot of things. I guess I never really thought of men/boys having any real sort of body image issues. It's always just been a "girl's problem". I have the same fears for my boys. My middle son is moving in the direction of being the "fat kid" in his class. I don't want the torment for him. I want him to know how to eat healthy, that you have to exercise and the need to be healthy. Even if it means being a little heavier than the stick people, just be healthy. It's a struggle that I find myself in. Though I didn't fight it as a child, once I hit my teens, I had to pay attention to things I never did before. It's my husband and I's job to teach the way to eat and live without overdoing it. I vow to my sons that I will show them that you can have those yummy things, just don't over do it. You have to get off your butt, even when you really don't want to.

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  2. I admit I'm the exception to the rule. It's just always suck with me. Kids were mean. Even friends and family members. It was rough. There's definitely a balance that I've tried to achieve, with the help of My Director. I try my best not to make a big deal out of things, or show Peanut that I have a negative body image.

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  3. I think you are talking about me! I actually have the lap band now and have been tormented by my weight forever. I am not as thin as I would like to be, but I am o.k. with myself now. I worry about my Pooker (like your peanut) who is also 5 and fine right now, but who is a picky eater and is difficult to feed. of course she likes sweets but thankfully she never overindulges in anything. she will push it away half eaten and be done. right now she is eating more and I think it is because she is going through a growth spurt. I have to force myself not to worry about her sudden increase in appetite. also I think she gets too much garbage but there are only so many things she will eat. this is so hard because I understand what it is to be the tormented fat kid and will do anything to make sure this doesn't happen to her. she is so beautiful! I get the "I don't want her to be fat" because it can make your whole childhood miserable! we are making sure she does plenty of activities - she is in swim and gymnastics once a week - plus playing in school. we are also making sure that the school we will send her to has P.E. every day and encourages sports and activity for all. it is so hard but hopefully they will both grow up without going through what we did :)

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  4. This is a really honest post, and it must have been a weird one to right so well done for talking about your struggle. I was a chubby kid too, and at 17 I decided to change it... which ended up resulting in a 6 year struggle with an eating disorder. Even now i'm better, I can't erase my knowledge of calorie content and 'bad foods' etc... I wish I could... and I worry that it's something I'll pass on to my kids. I don't think you have to worry though, By allowing her to have a few treat in amongst eating healthy, as well as the great exercise example you're setting she's unlikely to end up either extreme! xxx

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  5. kids are cruel!! i can also relate to how you still have the fat kid inside. i have one too, and she helped me eat 4 chocolate chip cookies last night before bed. i really have to stop listening to her.. lol
    in all seriousness though, i think you are doing a great job by providing healthy meals to your child and especially by setting a good example by leading an active lifestyle. i think your daughter is going to be just fine :)

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  6. My hubby was the "fat kid" and always worries about our boys. We have made it a rule to just not buy crappy processed calorie dense stuff. I put out a veggie try every afternoon and encourage them to "fill up" on those. If they are not hungry for dinner I don't push it or I offer smoothies. we all exercise. They complain about it but they complain when I make them brush their teeth and clean their rooms so I just figure it is part of the package.

    I feel for you and your worries about your peanut. Just teach her to nourish her body instead of feeding her emotions and you will be fine. Also the snack thing, I have a picky eater too. But he does like yogurt. So I make sure we have that in the fridge. Win Win.

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  7. I can relate to everything you say here, apart from the running-the-half-marathons bit. In my case I've spent far too much of my adult life in gyms when I'd rather be doing anything else.

    Being the fat kid at school undermined my confidence and had a profoundly negative impact on my life - my first and most successful weight loss strategy was smoking, which I did for 24 years.

    My determination that my son shouldn't suffer the same fate led to me restricting his calorie intake when he was two years old, and walking him up to 2 miles a day to and from his pre-school.

    It also caused a family rift, after I restricted the time he spent with my parents, because they would bring him back with a distended stomach, my mother crowing about how much food she had managed to force inside him. When challenged, they blankly deny that I ever had a weight problem, despite the fact that between the ages of 8-14 they would routinely refer to me as 'Jelly Belly' or 'The Slab of Flab' to amuse family and friends. I guess it just wasn't seen as a big deal in those days.

    My son is a skinny, athletic 7 year old now, so I have no worries about him. My daughter isn't exactly wasting away, but I don't feel the need to intervene, so I guess I've 'learned to relax' about it a bit now.

    Having said that, I need to drag my own sorry ass off the gym now...good luck!

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  8. She may have your genes but she also has you as a dad. The positive influence you are, I'm sure your daughter will be just fine.

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    Replies
    1. I agree with John. It's great that you're so aware of this, and so conscious of teaching your daughter healthy habits (not to mention the more important part - that you DO the right things, instead of just SAYING them).

      My husband has a very similar story to yours...and I can't tell you how many times he has said to me about our son, "I don't want him eating that," or "You give him to many snacks." So, I empathize with your wife, but I actually really appreciate hearing the other side of it - thank you for sharing.

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  9. I can relate. *sniffle*

    I think the fact that you exercise and eat as well as possible is exactly what your daughter needs to live a healthy lifestyle as she grows up. Healthy being key. Skinny does not always equal healthy. And overweight doesn't always mean unhealthy. I'm just going for moderation. In everything.

    I think you're doing it just right!

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  10. SOrry I'm late to love on this post. Thank you. As a former fat kid myself, I feel your pain. And the way you are fearful for Peanut. You put into words so many feelings I have about being a parents and putting my own shit on my kid. And yet, you and your DIrector balance each other out, and give Peanut every opportunity to be her own person. Kudos to both of you. ANd every time I look in the mirror I see goofy and fatty looking back at me first. Then I rub my eyes and say, hey this chick ain't so bad. Does the fat kid ever go away in our heads? I don't know. It keeps us humble though, right? LOVE this post.

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  11. All of these comments are amazing. Thank you all so much Sometimes on a post like this, I like to take it all in, reflect, and then respond all at once instead of individually. I hope you don't mind.

    What I've realized is that we DO carry baggage from our childhoods into parenthood. And how we deal with that baggage will determine what baggage our children have. I am confident and hopeful Peanut won't have this baggage. (But may have other baggage.)

    Also, I have been told by a few relatives and friends that they never thought of me as a fat kid. But sometimes perception is reality. And I THOUGHT I was a fat kid. (Still do.) And that cruel kids (friends, neighbors, cousins, siblings) told me I was fat. So I believed them. That's where we as parents have to do a better job. On both ends... the bully and the bullied. I hope My Director and I do.

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting on this very personal post and for being so supportive.

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  12. It's wonderful you're addressing this issue head- on. You are aware and concerned and all will be well. As a former fat-kid with *4* darling daughters, I say don't give monitoring her snack intake a second thought. It absolutely is what your parents should have done for you, and me, and all the other kids chubby or otherwise. You're teaching her moderation and portion control, which are seriously lacking in our society. My 9 and 7 year olds show remarkable restraint when it comes to snacks, they actually think about the food they are eating and whether or not they need it.

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  13. This post struck close to home. My boyfriend's daughter is 4 and is in the 99th percentile for weight and 70th for height. He tries to model healthy eating and exercise habits for her and they talk about the difference between healthy foods and foods that aren't as healthy. Kids as young as four start to notice that weight is "important" and looks are "important." She said that she did not want to be fat a while back. He was shocked, and assured her that she was "just right" and not to worry about that. Healthy eating habits go both ways as we are finding out. She has often heard her mother say things like "Mommy is fat," which she isn't, and his daughter as picked up quickly that "fat" is not something you want to be. It is so important to lead by example, which it sounds like you are doing wonderfully.

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  14. Please please please don't refuse food to Peanut. I have an eating disorder and what I remember about growing up was being told that I couldn't have something but someone else could. Teach her about portion control and how to enjoy her food so she learns what it feels like to be full. I think you are doing a great job though and I'm not saying you will cause her to have an eating disorder- but it's a big issue now and as you have so many hang ups on your own weight (which is normal!) the anxiety can be picked up/reflected on to Peanut. Maybe read up on parents and children and eating disorders? Sorry, I feel really strongly about it- a lot of girls I know who developed eating disorders have mothers that are/were obsessed with dieting-so just set a good example and don't worry!

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