I’ve been on a diet for about 25 years. It started around 1983…hang on, that’s 30 years, wow! I think it sort of coincided with puberty when I blossomed almost overnight into the voluptuous wench I am today. I’ve been watching my weight ever since. Come to think of it, I don’t think I was watching it at all, but other people certainly were.
“Oh Sarah, you’re such a beautiful girl, if you would only lose a bit of weight”
“You’ll be so beautiful when you grow up a bit and lose all your puppy fat”
“Your husband is so fit, don’t you ever worry about loosing him to a slimmer girl?”
Here’s one of my favourites;
“I don’t understand how you can be overweight when you are always struggling financially, how can you afford to eat?”
These are all real quotes, repeated to me often throughout my life; by my grandmother who I love and adore, but who undeniably affected my body image to the point that when I travel home for a visit I don’t take my daughter with me. I always have an excuse, and they are always mostly true, such as “I can’t afford the airfare” or “our study breaks are out of sync” but the absolute truth is that I do not want the same comments directed at her. My own daughter transformed into a voluptuous curvy girl at puberty too, but the truth is, she is also a child of the computerised generation. Her passion is animation, she sits in front of a computer almost all day. She has no interest in sport, she is surgically attached to her sketch pad, and when not drawing, she is writing stories for future animation projects…and her favourite foods? Well, she’s 17. Carbs of course.
Her Dad would like her to be a gym junkie, one of those teens who is obsessed with her appearance, who always looks fabulous, and who is inspired to do so in order to stay up to date with current fashions…but she would much prefer that no-one look at her, especially boys, they make her nervous.
But going back to me…
I have been on a diet since 1983. I am lucky in that I have always really enjoyed healthy food. Fresh vegetables, fruits, brown bread, brown rice, fish, all the good stuff. But, problem is that I am also very adventurous, and so I love all foods, except Black Pudding, seriously, who likes that stuff? As a result I have felt like I have spent my entire post pubescent life being denied things. “Oh I shouldn’t eat that” “oh I better not, I’m trying to lose weight” but of course every time I had some sort of emotional crisis in my life (about every 6 weeks consistently for the last 30 years) my love of healthy stuff went out the window, replaced by huge portions of pasta with creamy sauces, doughnuts and of course chocolate…..this, for those of you who are not familiar with this destructive pattern is called “Yo-Yo Dieting.”
Thing is, despite the odd health issues, like PCOS and chronic depression, I have always considered myself pretty healthy. I could walk up a hill at twice the pace of my skinny friends. I’ve always had good skin. My immune system must be pretty good as I rarely catch colds…but I have always been “the fat one.”
So my question is, health and beauty? Are they mutually exclusive? As in can you have one without the other?
Here’s a picture of beauty…
Is it also a picture of health?
Now I know that excess weight is synonymous with poor health at some stage, but where is the line? How slim does one have to be to also be healthy? Or, conversely, how healthy does one have to be to be slim?
I have friends whose weight would indicate that they are far healthier than I, who are at a much lower, if in fact no risk at all, of developing diabetes. And while cuddly me – who right now has perfect blood sugars, perfect cholesterol and almost perfect blood pressure – consumes a farmers market worth of plants each week, they go around eating potato salad, drinking loads of wine, and perhaps the most adventurous vegetable they have ever consumed is a carrot!
The motivation behind this post is of course my daughter. I know my daughter is heading towards some serious health problems, so I am not brushing it under the carpet by saying “Oh darling, it’s okay, you are so beautiful no matter what your size”, I’m just trying to find that balance. To focus on feeling rather than weighing. And more importantly to lead by example.
As a juicer, which is what I call myself – a juicer and nutritarian who is still cuddly – I no longer worry about my weight. I no longer diet. I don’t care about calories, or what the scales say. I know that I am healthy. Sure, I still have PCOS, I still have that pesky little growth hanging around on my cervix, I still struggle with depression, and I will probably always be cuddly. But being healthy today does not feel like the deprivation and punishment it used to feel like when I was ‘dieting’. I have finally found a sustainable eating lifestyle, and I feel great, seriously, I do. I FEEL well. I FEEL alive. I FEEL my body functioning right. I don’t feel like I need to be slim to prove it any more.
And, my daughter is benefiting from this change in me. She hasn’t really embraced juicing yet, but she is working on it. I notice her choosing not to eat as much meat as she used to. I see her mind turning now when she talks about food to her friends…..okay, maybe I’ve scared the crap out of her by talking about castoreum (red food colouring obtained from beaver anal glands), pink slime (left over animal bits snuck into meat products) and aspartame (fake sweetener that can trigger brain tumours among a zillion other chronic diseases). Sometimes I am freaking her out for fun…come on, admit it, you like freaking your kids out too…but most times we’re just talking about new things I have learned. And she is listening. She isn’t listening to me compare her to other girls, she doesn’t hear me tell her she would be beautiful only if she was slim, but she hears me when I say beauty does indeed come from the inside…or as Kris Carr would say, “What you eat, drink and THINK”….in other words, it is something reflected by our state of mind and how we show our body we love it.
Conclusion…I think as parents, particularly mothers of daughters, we need to really think about what we are teaching our daughters about diet. It has become really important to me as a mum to make sure I do not teach my daughter to juice fast for weight loss. Juicing is not a weight loss diet, it is a lifestyle, a clean living lifestyle. So I teach her about juicing for health, about using it as a way to prepare her body for weight loss.
As mums I think we also need to toss out those scales, and learn to rely on our own bodies to tell us that we need to treat ourselves with more love. Does that sound preachy? I hope not. My ex husband often implies I have failed in some way by not making our baby girl more self image conscious but me, I’m thankful for it. Our baby girl has the most amazing sense of social justice, is a deep thinker, a lover of all underdogs, and an absolutely amazing creative artist. Yes, she needs to lose weight. She needs to love herself as much as she loves others, but I know she will get there, because I am finally leading by example.
But what about my initial question, is health and beauty mutually exclusive? Can you be overweight and still healthy? Can you be overweight and beautiful? Can you be overweight and beautiful if you’re NOT healthy…I guess it depends on your idea of beauty. What do you think?