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Let me ask you a question?

When did you go on your first diet and why? Can you even remember?

For me, it is all a bit blurry.

I can remember when I was still going to dance school at the age or 10 or 11 hearing the mums of other children discussing our changing shapes and talking about “Watching what we were eating” and “being careful that we didn’t get fat” and it’s not like any of us were destined to be ballerinas…we did dancing school in a church hall for goodness sake, most of the time so our mums could have a couple of hours to themselves on a Saturday morning.

I was never a petite child, looking back at old photos it is clear to see though that I wasn’t overweight…but I was tall, and because of this I never really felt comfortable in my body, and would often compare myself to the more slender smaller girls.

I have a really clear memory of having a strop in C&As aged 10 in a bikini feeling completely naked (bikinis will do that to you) and mum refusing to buy it for me because it “Didn’t suit me” which of course I read as “Oh, I’m too fat”

I can remember doing slim shakes with my mum and going to my first weight watchers meetings at some point in my early teens, and can remember feeling like a grown-up all of a sudden, like I was one of the gang. I remember seeing my mum doing exercise for the first time too, following fitness videos at home, and going to a weekly aerobics class in an attempt to lose weight.

I thought this was normal. I thought all teenagers dieted with their Mums because this was my normal.

Do you remember when at some time during the 80s there was a spell of “your mum is so fat…” jokes, and boys would take any chance they got to call you fat in front of everyone, whether you were or were not wasn’t really the point…they just knew it was an insult and would make them look big in front of their friends.

If only I knew then what I know now

That my body was fine, it was more than fine.
I didn’t need to go on a diet
The food I ate was perfectly healthy
My attitudes towards food were too
And I needed to know that my body would go on to do brilliant things without it ever being skinny

Yesterday my 5-year-old daughter came back from Gymnastics at school desperate to show me her progress. She told me they had done step-ups onto a bench for 15 minutes to build strength in their legs, and I commented that her legs were looking really strong to which she replied,

Do I look skinny???

She is 5!!!

She recently got weighed as part of the governments initiative to measure all reception age children and now she is super aware of body size. She came home telling me the nurse told her she was healthy (not sure if this did or did not happen)

I mean she is healthy…although just like her Mum she is tall

She regularly tells me that fried food is not healthy, but fruit is…oh and recently she doesn’t want to eat fish…which kind of coincided with us buying pet fish (go figure right?)

She tells me that being fat isn’t healthy, but being skinny is in one breathe and in the next that it doesn’t matter what size you are as long as you are healthy….talk about mixed messages??

And every day I have to check my language and check my behavior around food and exercise to make sure I am not passing on any of my bad habits.

Yeeeeeesssshhhh where does it end?

On Sunday night I held a webinar in my online running club with Kate Tonkin the Australian food consultant behind the company Real Food Real You. It was a really interesting 45-minute discussion with Q&As from my ladies…but one of the things which came out of the webinar was how many of us had actually been out on a diet by our mothers.

Now I am not bashing mothers, including my own because in most cases, they were doing what they thought best at the time, and they had their own body confidence issues going on, probably learned by their post-war time mothers experience of food and the changing landscape of the food and diet industries.

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head though.

Are we conditioned to put our own kids through hell, under the premise of we don’t want them to have the struggles that we did, when there may not even be any evidence of any real problem in the first place. At what point do we intervene? How much do we listen to the doctors? Or how much do we use our own sense of common sense and judgement around what is best for our kids?

I started asking the women in my groups yesterday what they thought? I also started a poll to find out how widespread early dieting practices were…the results were shocking

In The Clubhouse 67% of women had been put on a diet by their mother before the age of 16, and on the Fat Girls Guide to Running Facebook Page 69% had.

Now that is shocking enough, but the stories that came with it have literally had me in tears

Sent to school with salad in stork margarine pot at 10 years old.. looking back I wasn’t even chubby… but I didn’t size up to my mums friend’s daughter

About 11 for me and bullied by my own brother and sister for being fat !!!!!! Have been on a diet ever since

Being ‘on a diet’ has been in my vocabulary since I can remember and I was put on my first ‘diet’ when I was 10 just before I went to high school . I wasnt overweight, my parents monitored what I ate for health reasons. I wasn’t allowed crisps, chocolate or anything with lots of fat or sugar.

Saturday at our house was weigh day and our weights were marked on a graph stuck to the fridge.

My mum put me on a diet aged 10 coz I was getting ‘chubby’. I started my periods around the same time and I remember being so hungry I started hiding food and binging. I’ve yo yo dieted ever since

My mum used to call me fat related names because the doctor told her to shock me into losing weight. I’m sure that’s not what he meant but it’s what my mum thought him to mean

My mum was always talking about me being overweight even though I wasn’t looking back. I just got boobs and hips early!!!

I don’t really know how to make sense of all of this, because I know for many of us dieting has been such a part of our lives for such a long time that it is ingrained in the way we think, and really hard to shake off.

All I do know is what an important role we play as mothers to remind our children (especially our girls) how wonderful they are and that their bodies or how they look does not define this.

It makes me feel so angry, so sad, so helpless that so many millions of women all over the world spend so much of their lives focussing on food and getting to their ideal weight, most may I add never achieving this. So much time, energy and money wasted, believing life will start when they have an acceptable body, only feeling worthy when they are no longer fat.

It is NEVER acceptable to put your daughter on a diet…or to comment on their body in a way that is likely to make them feel bad about themselves. All you do in this is tell them that they are no good as they are, and encourage them to have secretive behaviors around food….shaming never works it just encourages women to be more secretive.

Tweak the whole families eating for sure, introduce more exercise for everyone…but focussing on a child’s body size and explicitly trying to make them conform is just not on.

I am not a dietician nor an expert on childhood obesity but what I do know is that if you feed your kids proper foods in sensible portions most of the time, and get them involved in activities that they enjoy, then their body (you know that thing which is super clever?) will somehow manage to regulate hunger and the likes by itself.

Obviously, when they are adults they can make their own choices about lifestyle, but most of this will be informed by their experiences growing up anyway, so focus on your own behaviors rather than fixating on their thinness.

The most important thing to feed your kids though is buckets and buckets full of love, self-acceptance and confidence in their bodies…because boy oh boy are they going to need it as they journey into adulthood.

Join the debate over on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram…I’d love to know about your stories and experiences on this subject.

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