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My Extreme Detox Is About More Than Looks — and My Daughter Needs to Know That

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I didn’t plan to tell my kids, especially my daughter, about the 21-day detox I’m currently following, but kids are always more alert and attentive than we give them credit for. By the end of the first day, my 9-year-old girl was already well aware that something was up. She noted that I turned down the Parmesan cheese at dinner, and knowing how much I loved my Parmesan cheese, she naturally inquired. Instead of lying, I took the opportunity to tell her that I wouldn’t be eating a few things over the next three weeks, and a conversation about food, our bodies, and our health naturally ensued. After I explained why I wouldn’t be eating any cheese, one of the first conclusions she jumped to was assuming cheese was “bad” and worriedly asking if eating cheese was going to make her sick.

Elimination diets, as cleanses and detoxes are usually refereed to, are usually pretty extreme and involve saying no to entire food groups like dairy and sugar, as well as eliminating wheat, gluten, soy, eggs, red meat, alcohol, caffeine, and in my case, nightshades, a species of vegetables and plants that can cause inflammation in some people. While some people may use detoxes to get “bikini ready,” many more people use them to cure ailments and restore health, and I fell into the latter category. Still, from the outside, elimination diets can lead to conversations involving negative food-talk, labeling foods as bad and good, and could possibly pave the way for an unhealthy relationship with food. And when a person has an unhealthy relationship with food, body image can be skewed, and in extreme cases, an eating disorder may develop. Watching their own mothers continuously “diet” can also spark unhealthy eating habits for girls.

But I realized I was jumping the gun a little and decided to use this experience as a teaching moment for both my son and daughter, explaining how we can use these eating plans to show a “healthy” relationship with food.

Since I was following the food plan to hopefully feel better, I explained a little bit about the science of food and how it can affect our bodies. I discussed how certain foods, while completely healthy like wheat bread and the yummy grass-fed meat we buy, can still be hard on our digestive system, and when a person has been sick a lot (like mommy has), it can be a good idea to let our stomachs rest and let our bodies work hard to heal us instead of break down food.

I reassured them that everything we eat in our house is healthy and nothing should be off-limits, even sugar here and there, and that once I felt better, I would go back to eating like I normally do.

I also made sure to explain how hard this was for me, since I love cheese and morning coffee and bagels so very much, but that feeling better was most important to me, so I was willing to say “no” to things for a little bit so I could hopefully be healthier and happier.

And the conversation ended there. My 7-year-old son could care less, but my daughter likes to make the occasional taunting comment. From telling me how good her corn dog and popcorn tasted when we spent the day at Disneyland, to passing my husband’s coffee underneath my nose, it’s almost become a game to her now. “How much can I rile mommy up with the food talk?!” But I’m happy it’s turned out this way, instead of leading to more questions about food and our bodies.

Almost half the nation’s girls are unhappy with their bodies, and some start expressing concerns about their own bodies by the age of 6. While I may at times be overly concerned about my own daughter developing a negative body image, these statistics are a reminder that as a mother, I play a large role in how she sees herself. Even though we still don’t know exactly what causes an eating disorder, contributing factors have long been identified. Most experts agree on several consistent ways to help raise a girl with a positive body image, making her less likely to suffer from an eating disorder. These include putting a greater emphasis on who she is rather than what she looks like, dressing her in age-appropriate clothing, being open to discussing women of all shapes and sizes in the media, and limiting exposure to media which may glorify images of thinness or objectify women.

Talking to my daughter (and son) about the dreaded “D” word was scary since I was so paranoid of starting a conversation that could lead to an eating disorder. But as registered dietician Lauren Slayton confirms, having these conversations is important, especially if there’s a good learning lesson involved about food and its relation to our bodies. After all, she writes, “We can dumb it down all we want but kids are smart. They live in the same world we do. As parents or teachers or mentors, let’s guide them with honesty and information rather than glossing it all over.” And that’s what I intend to do.

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