Living to Eat, Not Eating to Live—by Jamie Levine
I had my first parent-teacher conference at Jayda’s nursery school last week, and the teachers gave my daughter resounding praise. They recounted several cute things Jayda had done and said over the past few months, told me how well she was doing socially and academically, assured me of how much they adored her, and even urged me to get head shots taken of her because they believed she could be a model. However, what stuck in my head the most from our meeting was one teacher’s comment that, “Boy does Jayda love to eat!” She then laughingly told me that my daughter was the first person to run to the table for snacks—and to ask for seconds—and that Jayda was incredibly passionate about food. Both teachers found this amusing, but I found it disconcerting. So did my mother who sarcastically commented, “Great!” when I told her.
Though most people view me as a rather fit woman with a pretty healthy attitude about food, I was, in fact, an overweight child, and have struggled with eating disorders and body image problems throughout my life. My biggest concern about giving birth to a daughter has always been the potential for dealing with food issues; while I never want my daughter to experience the horrors of being overweight, I also don’t want to make her neurotic about what she’s eating, or ever put her on a diet. So I simply do my best to encourage her to get plenty of exercise (and model my love of going to the gym to her as much as possible), and teach her about healthy eating and what she needs to eat to grow. I do give her cookies and ice cream, and other unhealthy snacks, but I try to limit them. But unfortunately, Jayda has a passion for junk food, and it’s been the cause of many arguments in my house. Ninety percent of the tantrums my daughter throws are over food: wanting a “treat” that I won’t allow her to have.
Deep-down, I know the less fuss I make over what Jayda eats, the better. But I can’t help worrying about Jayda’s eating habits and her potential to become overweight; afterall, it’s in her genes. Being a chubby kid isn’t just unhealthy…it’s downright awful. I was teased, picked last for sports teams (and ultimately hated doing anything athletic until I was an adult), and went through most of my childhood feeling very insecure; no mother wants that for her daughter. So, sometimes, I overreact and get angry at my kid for wanting to eat so much junk food—or at my overindulgent parents for plying Jayda with treats. And clearly, I got upset when Jayda’s teachers laughed about her voracious appetite. Ultimately, they insisted that most of the snacks they serve are “healthy”—but even too many pretzels, goldfish, and crackers can make a kid gain weight, so I wasn’t exactly reassured. And when I later asked Jayda what her favorite part of school was, and she cheerfully answered, “the cafeteria!” it made me worry even more. I do that a lot. As well as wonder what I can do better—as both a mother and a role model. People tell me Jayda is a “mini-me”—we look exactly alike. As her only parent, it’s kind of nice to hear…but only if it means she’s going to inherit my good traits—and not my bad ones. I do hope she’s going to develop my love of vegetables soon. Well, a mother can dream…