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How my sons helped me confront my food issues

Nobody admits it, but we all think it – the most thrilling prospect of parenting is raising cooler, better versions of ourselves. That’s why I wanted a girl. I wanted to raise Stacie 2.0 – a smart, sassy, caring, funny, confident girl who would love her body no matter what size. That last part would be the most ambitious upgrade in v2.0.

I grew up with a lot of pressure to be thin, which led to a life-long struggle with my weight. I can still hear my mom saying, as she often did when I was a kid, “You’re so beautiful and you’d be just right if you lost 10 pounds.” My mom is beautiful and thin. To this day – she’s in her 60s – people stop and stare when she enters a room. I, on the other hand, am cute – and chubby. I remember being 10 years old and crying about being tired of feeling fat. The saddest part is that I wasn’t really fat. I’ve felt bad about my body even when I looked great. I can say that now, looking back, but in the moment, all I could see was that my version of great was never as great as my mom’s. And these feelings were (and still are) complicated by my deep, passionate relationship with food.

As the daughter of a restaurateur, I grew up in restaurants. I studied food. I now cook for a living. I think about food constantly and write about it everyday. I don’t have to eat a lot to do my work well and I certainly don’t eat junk food but, for me, losing 15 pounds requires eating like a starlet. I just won’t do it. I’d be miserable and anyway, would you buy a cookbook from Lindsey Lohan? Instead, I focus on eating healthy, working out and trying to love myself the way I am.

The eating healthy part is surprisingly easy now that I have kids. I love cooking from scratch, eating nutritious foods including fruits and veggies, and know how to get big flavor out of just a little bit of bacon or butter. I’m not tempted to go overboard the way I used to because my kids are sharing my food. Since our children’s eating habits are largely influenced by our own, I’m adamant about not over-indulging. What message would it send if I fed my boys one thing, but then ate another? (Mommy wants you to be healthy, but she doesn’t have to be! Or, even better: You’re fine, but Mommy’s fat and needs to be on a diet.) So we all enjoy a variety of foods, from the uber healthy in quantity to delicious treats in moderation.

I’m proud of the way my family eats, but that won’t help me achieve the skinny figure I’ve always dreamed of having. So that leaves me with my body – the one I’m trying to love just the way it is. I’m just not quite there yet.

Back to wanting a daughter. Four-and-a-half years ago, I found out I was expecting a boy for my first child. Unexpectedly, I warmed up to the idea pretty quickly. Sure, boys meant trucks and dinosaurs, not dolls and dresses (probably). But, it suddenly occurred to me, boys also meant no pesky body image issues. Boys can eat anything and not worry about their bodies, I told myself. Feeding them would help me be less mental about my own eating. If I had a daughter, I’d inevitably watch what she ate and how much she ate, as my mother had done to me. With boys, there’d be no chance to fail at developing Stacie 2.0 and more time to delay confronting my own distorted body image.

I got so attached to the freedom that I went from wanting a girl more than anything to being scared of the idea. I was thrilled – and relieved – when I learned that my second was also a boy. Maybe I would never have to confront how I felt in my own skin. It sounds weird, but to anyone who’s dealt with this stuff, there’s a big difference between truly healing versus not dealing and pushing it all down. Twisted as it was, I was using my children’s gender as a way to avoid confronting my own messed up body issues.

And then it happened: My 4-year-old noticed.

A few months ago, he woke me up, as he does every morning, asking me to join him for breakfast. I needed to dress first. He exclaimed (truly exclaimed): “No! You take too long, Mommy. Just put on ONE shirt and ONE pants. Not a shirt, a shirt, another shirt. Pants, more pants, other pants.” He’d seen me tussle with my clothes every morning; he’d noticed me looking in the mirror, disappointed. He was watching, and I’m convinced it mattered for him on some level. He appreciated women and their beautiful bodies – or this woman’s body, at least – and he knew I didn’t, at least not as much as I should. I was crushed. It was finally time to confront the person in the mirror.

From the first moment our children are born, we begin a slow and often painful process of accepting parenthood not as an exercise in shaping another human being, but rather in shaping ourselves. Our children aren’t versions 2.0 – we are. And so the time has finally come for me to reshape my relationship with my body. I am going to accept myself the way I am, knowing that I eat healthy and enjoy food and am raising kids who are doing the same. I’m doing it for my sons, for the women they’ll know and love later on, and I’m doing it for Stacie 2.0.

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