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How my sons helped me confront my food issues

How my sons helped me confront my food issues

By Stacie Billis |

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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About Stacie Billis

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Stacie Billis

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27 thoughts on “How my sons helped me confront my food issues

  1. Naturi Beauty Shelley Chapman says:

    Thanks for sharing this article. Very powerful…We’re all mirrors of each other and sometimes the best reflections comes from those closest to us. In this light, your son was able to help you heal and begin re-creating your relationship with food, yourself and family. All the best!

  2. Karo says:

    Thank you for writing this! And, did we grow up with related mothers?! Even now, at age 38, I have flashbacks of my tall, thin and beautiful mother promising “modeling school” and a pair of Guess denim overalls if I “would just lose 20 pounds”. My weight has gone up and down for decades now, and though I’ve never been “overweight” I’ve definitely run the full spectrum from severely-depriving-myself thin to healthy & physically strong but chubby. I’m pregnant now with my first child — a son — and pregnancy has been the first time that I’ve been accepting of my body for such a long period. However, now just a couple weeks away from delivery I’ve found that I am already strategizing on how to drop these 30 pounds and tighten up this tush before my mother visits.

    All that said — thank you again for this article. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this battle. You give me hope and courage that I will someday accept my body for what it is (strong, healthy, a little soft but able to climb mountains!).

  3. Angie says:

    Your post is so sweet! I had the opposite childhood experience. Most of the time I was so skinny, no matter how much I ate, and everyone was always trying to get me to eat. The doctor even, at the request of mom put me on some weight gain medicine several times. I was so self-conscious I never had curves, it really upset me as a teenager. I never even filled out until I was about 20, then I packed on too many, and have been battling that extra 10 or 15 ever since. I only had what I consider my perfect weight after I had my son, and lost it when he was weaned. Now I want another baby so he/she can nurse off all that fat again! Every time I look in the mirror now I see a big belly, but I guess it’s just me because my 3 year old son only ever sees and says happily “Big But” and “Big tatas” At least I finally got those curves I wanted so bad, and my son will hopefully like healthy, or at least this healthy woman

  4. Jaime Mormann-Richardson says:

    Love this article, Stacie. Oh, your sweet, sweet son! I can totally imagine mine saying that.

    Sadly, I sometimes fall into the “Youre fine, but Mommys fat and needs to be on a diet” thing. I am trying to find a balance now for me and my family. Thank you for writing this and opening up. :)

  5. Marj says:

    Thanks so much for the article. I have twin boys, and they are a little young to notice my struggles with my weight…but it’s something I want to work on before they are.

  6. Deanna says:

    What a beautiful post and one that so many women can relate to. Thank you!

  7. Michelle Stern says:

    What an amazing honest discussion of body issues, kids and eating. Thank you Stacie…

  8. Colleen Rocha Levine says:

    Wonderful post, Stacie. The question that my son stumped me with was when he asked why I was putting on make up. It was harder than I expected to explain — why should he think women aren’t naturally beautiful? I settled for I just like to wear different colors on my lips, for now.

  9. Kelsey says:

    This is such a beautiful piece Stacie. I’ve struggled with this too, wanting my daughter to see me at my “high school skinniest” yet I eat better now then I did back then, and I need to fuel my body to get through the day with her. I appreciate your honesty in sharing this with everyone. I am sure it will help many many people!

  10. CheekyKitchen says:

    It’s incredible what our children watch, isn’t it? They are so attentive and aware. It’s such a gift to realize that our own healthiness blesses them. What a beautiful thing to read, Stacie, you’re own awareness. And your willingness to let go of some things in order to be a glowing example to your babes.

  11. Korinthia Klein says:

    I remember feeling sort of grossed out by my C-section scar and stretch marks, but one morning in bed my daughter just kept tracing her fingers over them and told me she loved them. Now I love them too.

  12. BeenThereDoneThatMom says:

    Great article, Stacie. I always assumed I would have girls b/c I am from a family of all girls. I am now the mother of FOUR boys. It’s a great thing to be the mom of boys. You hit the nail on the head. Our kids absorb so much by watching us, quietly. Keep up the great work.

  13. Jennifer Brandt says:

    Stacie, what a beautiful article. As a mom to a (skinny) boy, something you said really resonated: “(Mommy wants you to be healthy, but she doesnt have to be! Or, even better: Youre fine, but Mommys fat and needs to be on a diet.)” That’s so true. Why should he have this wonderfully crafted meal (that I made) but I must eat lettuce and sliced turkey? That’s a terrible example. Anyway, this really spoke to me (as all your posts do!) Thanks!

  14. Anonymous says:

    so so true…post more like these. Having my child has made me confront so many of my on issues. Being around my parents, my son, meal time, I understand too why I was fat growing up.

  15. Shaina says:

    Love the honesty in this, Stacie. It is amazing what kids, both boys and girls, can pick up on, and I’m so glad you’re focused on showing them healthy eating habits and self-esteem.

  16. Stacie Billis says:

    Thank you all for sharing your stories… and appreciating mine. I’ve got to say, I’m amazed at how many women feel the same way. I hope that, together, we can all find power in our bodies, big or small. They after all bore our children!! (What’s more powerful than that?!)

    Korinthia: that’s amazing. thanks for sharing!

    Karo: my mom sent me to modeling school! Lol. i think that maybe she thought it would be motivating. let’s just say i became a “model school drop out”!!!!

  17. Lucky says:

    So I’ve got the opposite problem. Completely. Don’t hate me- but I’ve always been thin though I’ve always been strong and healthy, I got a *lot* of compliments after I had my kids because of the extra 15 lbs that hung around for a few months. People said I looked great but I felt weird. Through no manipulation of my usual diet or exercise I’m back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and I love it. This is where I’m comfortable regardless of what anyone else thinks. It is a bit hard to say ‘forget you *I* like me’ but I think it’s worth it.

  18. Catherine says:

    What a wonderful, soul-searching post. Thank you, Stacie. My favorite line: “Our children arent versions 2.0 we are.” I needed to hear that. I posted it to Facebook, and I may need to post it on my forehead. :)

  19. EatingDisorders411DotCom says:

    I felt exactly how you did when I found out I was having a son – relieved. I felt relieved, believing that because he was a boy, he wouldn’t pick up on my patterns. But as you point out, our children, no matter what their gender, do take notice. I just hope they won’t manifest for him as they did for me. But on the other hand, I do want him to be healthy and I talk to him about healthy food choices. Hopefully it won’t create an eating disorder, but I guess that remains to be seen.

  20. smartypantzed says:

    Do we have the same mother? Did we date the same guys in college? If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “you’d be so beautiful if you just lost 10 lb.s,” I’d be a millionaire. If it’s 10lbs. today, it’s something else tomorrow. Good for you for learning to deal with it from a emotionally mature perspective. Oh- and yes, I have mother who is petite, thin and beautiful. She is also a really good person; she just doesn’t understand what it means to deal with weight issues, even if it is just 10 lbs.

  21. Debbie Bills says:

    That is a wonderful story. It is wonderful what we can learn from our children. I am so glad you are starting to appreciate who you really are. My mother had low self-esteem and it can rub off on our children if we don’t fix us.
    Thanks again Debbie

  22. numbmum says:

    I can really relate to this, but from a mom to daughters point of view. As soon as I gave birth, and my first daughter was old enough to sit up and watch me, I have been aware of the ridiculous, automatic compulsion to check my ass in the mirror each and every time, after I get dressed. (And, yes, after changing pants at least twice.) As of yet, I have not seen either of my daughter’s model this bizarre behavior, imagine if their daddy did it too, but I am sure the day will come. And I will be ashamed.

  23. Momnivore says:

    I just have to ditto what everyone else has written. I have two boys and while I really would love a third I think I’d only be comfortable with another boy and a large part of that (aside from teh fact that we already have all the stuff in blue and I don’t feel like starting over!) is that I would hate to have a daughter go through what I went through in my adolescence. My mother had an eating disorder, I had an eating disorder, and while boys do get them sometimes, girls are overwhelmingly more likely to develop one. I still strive to be a positive role model for my sons and I too make sure that we all eat healthy (but because its good for us, not because it will make mommy skinnier), but I am deeply relieved not to have to worry as much as I would if I had a daughter. Good luck to you and your family and thanks again for the post.

  24. Nutrition and Evolution scientis says:

    Just so you know, many body issues and concerns about food completely disappear when one is no longer addicted to carbohydrates. There is a lot of good evidence for this, both in the form of peer reviewed scientific work (that the grain industry hates to see) and in the personal experiences of so many people I have encountered (both personally and on the internet).

    There is an excellent reason why you can’t get over food and your body. It is because you are addicted to carbohydrates. This is a common condition in the developed world.

    Once your body/mind is free from the glucose withdrawl, you will be free from food and body obsessions. This is the case for 4 reasons: 1) when you consume lots of fats and protein, your body is actually satiated (the gut receptors in the stomach respond specifically to these molecules. Carbs just make your stomach feel like it is stretched, but not actually *satiated*).

    2) Again, the grain industry hates to hear this, but if you eat, say 500 calorties worth of fat, compared to same same amount in carbs, your body can turn the CARBS you ate into far MUCH more easily than the fat you ate. This is the major misconception about carbohydrates and fat. Carbs are NOT a diet food—they are the perfect thing to eat if you want to be obese. So if you keep carb intake very low (that includes bread sugar, any starch, and alcohol) and have the majority of your food be animal protein, then it is not PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE to gain fat unless you actually stuff yourself to the point of pain.

    3) In women, what you eat determine where your fat will be. Healthy fat (animal fat, saturated fat) is deposited on the thighs (aka the fertility-determination zone), while body fat that is made of sugar or other carbohydrates is deposited on the stomach (lowers attractiveness of waist to hip ratio and increases risk of disease)

    4)Since we have only been eating grains and high carbohydrate diets for a relatively short evolutionary time, it is possible that you are experiencing the brain fog that most people do as a result of eating grains. If you stop eating grains, rice, potatoes, it is possible that your brain fog will clear and you will have better control over your mind, and thus, be able to control your feelings about your body.

  25. Vivian Pei says:

    I can so relate to this, Stacie, so thanks for sharing. I am an “abnormally” large Chinese woman (almost 5’7″ and about 145lbs on a good day) so grew up with a lot of comments from family members. It has taken me a LOOOONG time to come to grips with my body and I still struggle. But my children have helped me loads. My daughter, who thankfully takes after her father’s more slender genes, should still have a positive female role model whilst growing up and I intend to do my best. And I want my son to appreciate a woman’s beauty, whatever shape she may be. So there you have my life’s goals. It’s not about trying to get filthy rich or becoming CEO of some big company, but to try and have children with a balanced view of the world and their bodies. Wish me luck!

  26. Lainy Depont says:

    RIGHT ON! to the Nutrition and Evolution post one below. ! There is so much more to life when sugar is out of my universe!!! Check out http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-blueprint-101/ and other primal sites…because so many people are waking up!

  27. L Brown says:

    I appreciated your story of how you evaded your own body issues through what has been socially accepted with your sons. As you mentioned, initially wanting a daughter to project a “better, cooler” version of you, I thought you would probably like to learn about our award winning film, MY NOSE about Emmy award-winning filmmaker, Gayle Kirschenbaums mothers quest to get her to have a nose job. It has played worldwide to rave reviews and now the DVD is available at http://www.mynosethebiggerversion.com/dvd.html.

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