I actually struggle about struggling with my weight. I need to lose weight, but I don’t want my kids to really notice it. I do and I don’t. I am careful not to criticize myself in front of them by using words like ‘fat.’ We talk about exercising in terms of needing to be healthy and strong, not in terms of weight. I want to be a good example without somehow drawing attention the example I’m hoping to set. Body image can be such a minefield, and I don’t want to contribute to potential problems in that area for my kids.
I’ve never been particularly happy with my weight, but I have height on my side. According to various charts I’m technically obese, but I have lots of room to carry that weight on a five foot, ten inch frame, so I don’t look to most people like I’m that bad, but it’s not good. I gained a lot of weight after I had Aden because I was concentrating on the baby and I was home all the time. Aden was a very easy baby, and we did go for walks across the park when the weather was nice, but most of the time we were just in the house and there were long stretches of boredom. After I organized everything I could think to organize I got into cooking. My mom’s recipes were all geared toward a family of five, so they work great for us now, but when it was just two of us and a breast feeding child, it was too much. I wasn’t looking at myself anymore because I was looking at the baby, plus breast feeding made me hungry. I’m sure it’s true for someone somewhere that breast feeding helps you lose the pregnancy weight, but it was the opposite for me. I was ravenous all the time when I was breast feeding. Under normal circumstances I’m in trouble because I don’t seem to have a working switch anywhere the tells me I’m full, but when I was hungry all the time it was hard not to keep eating.
When I took a good look at myself just after Aden turned one and breast feeding her was over, I was pretty horrified and got serious. I got into a routine of swimming and walking and kept track of what I ate. It was going pretty well, and apparently I was looking pretty good because I soon got pregnant with Mona. After having Mona I went right back into my exercise routine. Ian was home so I didn’t have to spend all my time in the kitchen. I could escape to the pool or Curves or anyplace that wasn’t the house. Even though I breast fed Mona for a year, I was careful about what I ate and lost over forty pounds. I was really happy about it, because I felt good and clothes fit nicely and I felt like I’d gotten control over something that had always bothered me.
Then came the double whammy of getting pregnant with Quinn and Ian getting deployed. I was really stuck at home in a way I’d never been before. I had two kids who needed to be fed regular meals, and between cooking and cleaning and dishes and even art projects, I felt like we never left the kitchen. The pregnancy put pressure on my sciatic nerve which made walking incredibly painful. After Quinn was born it was a little easier, but I was still trapped. Food was one of the few things that was fun and available and made me feel better. I liked baking with the girls and trying different recipes. It was cozy and simple and very fattening. I gained back all that weight that I’d worked so hard to lose. I was aware it was happening and just surrendered to it. There was so much stress in my life and I just couldn’t feel pressure about one more thing. I bought bigger pants and enjoyed the snickerdoodles.
Because for me to lose weight it has to be at the forefront of my mind all the time. It’s tedious and dull. There are so many more interesting things to think about, and I hate wasting my attention on it, but I’ve reached a sort of crisis point again where I have to do something. I write down everything I eat so I can keep track. I don’t deny myself anything in particular, I just make conscious choices about if the cookie is worth it at that moment (it usually isn’t). I’m making time for the treadmill at night after the girls are in bed. About ten pounds from now when I’m ready to put on my bathing suit again I’ll start taking Quinn with me to the Y in the mornings while the girls are in school. I’ve done this before so I know I can do it again, and this time I won’t get sidetracked by pregnancy, so that’s something.
The trickiest thing is eating with the kids. I still want to sit down to the table with them at meals, but their needs are different from mine. I had a revelation a few years ago about why it’s so easy for stay at home parents to gain weight. I think of it as the ‘juice box factor.’ I was reading an article in National Geographic about how much portion sizes have changed in the US, and they made the point that if you simply added one juice box a day to a normally healthy routine, by the end of the year you would have gained ten pounds. The hardest part about feeding kids while trying to lose weight is embracing waste. The left over fish stick? The last bite of mac and cheese? There’s the juice box. It’s hard to throw those last bits of food out, but I do it. At dinner I do my best not to prepare more food than we need at a meal, but that is far from an exact science with three kids. I’ve taken to not really planning to feed myself at mealtimes. I help myself to whatever vegetables or fruit we’re having as we sit together and eat, but I only have whatever rice or fish or anything else from what they leave. If they eat it all, great. It’s easy enough for me to make myself something else afterward.
I know one of the up sides for Ian about being at Fort Polk is being out of the kitchen. He struggles with his weight when he’s the one home with the kids, too, and he has the added burden of the Army weighing him periodically. He’s in better shape now in Louisiana than he was before he left because he’s able to make reasonable food choices and he can go exercise without having to arrange for child care. I promised him when he comes home from Iraq we will hammer out a better routine for both of us this time. The problem is neither of us actually likes to exercise, so it’s easy to talk each other out of it. Maybe when all the kids are in school and we can do it together we can make it fun. (Or at least less boring.)
So I think I’m on the right track again. And with a little luck I won’t feel like writing another blog post about my weight, even thought it’s too much in my thoughts. I’m hoping by writing my good intentions in a public forum that it will help keep me honest about it, but even I’m bored by my own weight loss struggles. I can’t imagine it’s interesting for anyone else, so forgive me for putting it out there.
But as a parent, I do think about my kids and how their own feelings about their bodies will evolve. I marvel at my children’s perfect little legs and arms and tummies and wonder when they may develop dissatisfaction with them. I hope never, but that’s not realistic. Aden did have a boy tell her once in kindergarten that she was fat. When she told me about it, I asked what she did, and she replied, “I told him I was just right!” And she is. I was proud she knew it. Chances are there will come a day when such a ridiculous comment from a boy may not roll off her so easily. It makes me sad. I wish they could always see themselves the way I see them and know with certainty how amazing they are.
And as a result, I’m kinder to my own self image. I’m someone’s child, too, and it would pain my parents if I were not happy. It’s a disservice to them and myself not to appreciate the body I have. I’m not at the weight I want to be, but I can aim for something better without hating where I am. Wish me luck.