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“Mom, what’s a diet?”

Posted by on Dec 23, 2011 in Blog Posts | 5 comments

So, I made it six years before my kid learned what a “diet” is. I’m pretty proud of that. “Diet,” “overweight” and other similar words have been spelled in our home like swear-words, and I have fed her with the Division of Responsibility, and occasionally talked about how our bodies know what they need…

Well, earlier this week, our young neighbor, and Mommy’s helper was over, and we were giving her some cookies for her and her mom. She said, “Well, I’ll take them, but my mom won’t eat them. She’s on a diet.”

M looked at me and said, “What’s a diet?”

I paused for a second, wanting to be honest, but also not wanting to undercut our little friend’s mother or be disrespectful. So, I said, “A diet is when people try to eat less or different foods than their body wants.” She asked, “Why” and I replied, “Well, people think they can change how their body looks, but it usually doesn’t work. Some people who want to be bigger try to eat more than their body wants.” She looked at me and shrugged and said, “I just eat what my body tells me too.” (If our friend wasn’t there I would have been more truthful about how it “almost never” works…)

Woo-hoo! I loved her answer. We’ll see how all this evolves over the years, but for now I am pretty hopeful that she will continue to believe that her body can be trusted. It hasn’t let her down so far!

How have you handled this with your kids?


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  1. Anastasia

    When I saw the title of this post, my heart literally dropped. I am so scared of my girls being shamed into things like diets. But what a great response. I feel better already.

  2. E

    It seems like you handled that really well! I think your daughter is going to survive the cultural messages just fine because of such solid grounding from home.

  3. Dawn

    We have family members who are more or less permanently on diets and others who aren’t but who make a big fuss about how they should be. We also have family members who make a big show about pushing away food while still hungry or saying no to birthday cake and then making a big show about THAT. We also have other children in the family — the same age as my children — who talk about their bodies negatively including one who is just six months younger than Madison and who recently said, after eating dinner at our house, “Oh I ate so much. I feel so FAT!” I said, “I think you mean FULL. Your tummy feels FULL.” She looked at me like I was crazy.

    I’ll add that we’ve had other discussion about not demonizing fat with this same child because my daughter once referred to me as fat in front of this cousin and the cousin came completely unglued in her concern for me so I told her it was ok, I know I’m fat and I don’t see fat as being a bad thing because I listen to my body, eat a variety of foods and exercise so I know my body is just right for me. She didn’t get it and remained upset. 🙁

    Anyway, because of this I have been very very very explicit with both my kids and holiday season is tricky because I don’t want to get into it with my extended family but I also want to interrupt those messages that I believe are harmful.

    • katja

      Ugh. How tedious. Have you found any ways to address this? There are lots of articles about stopping the fat talk, saying things like, “We are so lucky to be together, let’s talk about something else!” Sounds great on paper, but I wonder how it works in real life. Dieting is a cultural binder, the fat talk is something all women are supposed to have in common. I love your anecdote about the little girl. It’s so sad that our normalizing and healthy comments are so foreign. I suppose we have to just keep trying. The messages are harmful, and we can only hope that by being proactive and consistent with self-affirming messages, that is what will stick. Good luck getting through it all! Have a healthy, happy new year!