I've struggled with weight since I was 12 years old. I remember sitting in the school cafeteria, staring at my hot lunch, not wanting to eat it because I thought, "I needed to lose 10 pounds." I was 110.
I was never the skinny one in my group of friends, and this weighed on me tremendously. Dieting and exercising became my life in college, and even though I lost weight for my wedding, I still felt like I hadn't reached my goals. I was a little anxious when I found out I was pregnant, not only for the fear of getting fat, but what if I had a daughter? How would I raise her to love herself, to feel confident in her body? I didn't want her to suffer the way I did and not fully enjoy life because she was so worried about what her body looked like.
It was tough on me after Sadie was born. After working hard to lose the baby weight, I became pregnant when Sadie was just 18 months old. My body went through a lot of changes, but my mentality had stayed the same. I was still unhappy with how I looked, until I finally made a huge change and joined CrossFit. After just one month, getting stronger and accomplishing some pretty amazing goals (like doing my first pull-up!), it was the first time in my life that I felt proud of my body, focusing on what it could do, not what it looked like.
I was finally doing what I thought would be the best way to encourage my daughter to grow up feeling confident in her skin — to lead by example and show her how I loved my body. I talked a lot about eating healthy, exercising to get stronger, being proud of the amazing things our bodies can do, and the importance of taking care of our bodies.
So I was shocked when, at just 6-years-old, Sadie pointed to her glass of orange juice at breakfast one day, and asked, "How many calories are in that?" I was sick to my stomach. Six years old and she already knows about calories?! There was no way I was going to let an obsession with diet or weight start at half the age I had been when I first had the notion to shrink my size. I knew this was probably one of the most important conversations I was going to have with her, and I chose my words very carefully.
I asked, "Where did you hear about calories? Did you hear me say something?" Sadie said "No, Julia's mom said she couldn't have another piece of cake because it was too many calories."
I explained to her that just like a car needs gas, people need calories for energy, and we get them from the food we eat. I explained to her that all foods have calories, but healthier foods also have vitamins and other nutrients that give us energy, keep us from getting sick, and make us stronger. Treats like cake taste yummy, but don't offer too many vitamins and explained that's probably what Julia's mom meant when she said that.
I went on to tell Sadie that this is the same reason I exercise. I want to stay healthy so I can have the energy to play with her and "because feeling strong makes me happy." Sadie said, "I want to be strong, too." I said, "You are strong! I can tell when I see you at swim lessons and gymnastics." I explained that as long as she keeps eating healthy foods and exercises, she'll get even stronger. She said, "And I'll be able to climb a rope like you?" Smiling, I said, "Pretty soon you'll be able to beat me to the top!"
We had a good hug and I felt like we were on the right track to starting this ongoing conversation about body image and body positivity. I should add that I'm very careful never to pinch my fat in front of her, frown at myself in the mirror, make comments like "I hate my tummy," say something is "too fattening," or make any negative comments about other people's bodies. I feel like it's never too early to talk openly about this kind of stuff, and I hope this inspires you to start the dialogue between you and your daughter (and your son, too!)