Watching my daughter mimic my exact stance, tone of voice, and words I jokingly said “yes, she’s a bit of a parrot at the moment”. Sound familiar?
My daughter spends most of her waking hours pretending. One moment she’ll be a cat looking for a pat and the next she is a bus driver letting people on and off her imaginary bus. She is two, an age where she is absorbing every single thing in her world and processing it in the form of pretend play.
It’s funny, I knew this stage was coming. Everyone says children are like sponges, they will absorb everything you say and do. But seeing your reflection in the form of your own offspring is confronting and mind-blowing.
Diet Culture and Self-Criticism
One day I was staring at my naked body in the mirror, silently criticizing things I had no control over, knowing I still had a way to go accepting and embracing all the things about my body I should be grateful for. Caught in the moment I began thinking about what led me to that point.
I had been dieting to compensate for a poor body image since I was 13 years old.
Looking back I could see that I was surrounded by messages wrapping my worthiness up in the way I looked.
At the time my mother was drowning in her own body image issues. I absorbed her self-criticism, the restrictive recipe books, the diet pills she would sneak from the cupboard, and the rigid diet rules she had hanging from the fridge. It’s definitely not her fault though. We both absorbed information from women’s magazines on body “ideals”, morning show segments, body types used in advertising, and information taught in schools about “healthy body weight”. How could we not be critical of bodies?
As I stood in front of the mirror reflecting on myself, I watched my daughter walk up beside me. She couldn’t hear my thoughts, but she could see my actions. She could see the way I was holding myself and the expression on my face. My thoughts propelled to her future. She was me, standing in front of the mirror, critical of what she saw. Something clicked. I have to be the one to break this cycle. It has to start with me.
Unlearning diet culture
Whilst this realisation appeared to be a breakthrough in my role as a mum, it created so many questions for my role as a Dietitian.
I started to dig into the resources on diet culture alternatives and what I found was overwhelming. I learned about Health at Every Size® and the Non-Diet Approach and was remorseful I hadn’t discovered it sooner.
I felt guilty that as a health professional I had contributed to fatphobia, diet culture, and weight bias. Instead of dwelling on it, I decided to use it to help fuel a change.
I completed a course for Dietitians on The Non-Diet Approach and used myself as a guinea pig for the application of the knowledge I had gained. I was able to stop dieting and you can too. I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been an easy journey.
There has been A LOT of unlearning amongst the learning and I’ve had to rewire so many thought processes, but I now live with confidence that I have a pretty solid tool belt of ways to help my daughter navigate this diet culture entrenched world.
I want her to grow up not only accepting and respecting herself but everyone else as well.
I want her to grow up understanding that diversity is normal, that health is multifactorial, and that nutrition and physical activity are as much about enjoyment as they are beneficial for our bodies.
Now, instead of seeing someone at war with their body and food choices, she sees someone learning. Learning to love their body and what it can do. Learning to trust that their body will choose nourishment. Learning to accept that there are no good or bad foods. Learning that life is far too short to be spent stressing about things that shouldn’t matter and learning to spend more time enjoying the things that do!
This is just my story. I’m not here to shame or try and trigger anyone, but I’m sure there would be at least one other mum (or dad, grandparent, carer, or guardian) out there that can relate.
If that’s you, I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at email@example.com or jump over to my social media pages and tell me your story.
You can learn more about Health at Every Size® over at HAES Australia. If you are looking for more individualised help breaking away from dieting, I am a Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. I can offer online individual consultations to anyone living in Australia. Book here.