Have you ever monitored a toddler’s diet?
If you have kids, you probably remember the many, many questions you had about the proper feeding of a two-year-old:
How long can a sippy cup stay out of the fridge before we risk botulism?
Are six bites of turkey really enough to sustain this kid until dinnertime?
That’s a remarkable diaper load for six bites of turkey. Oh, look….he apparently ate a blue crayon, too.
Please don’t tell me he’s chewing on the French fry we gave the cat to play with.
<at a ballpark, or church> Oh look, he’s eating…um…a saltine? WHERE DID HE FIND A SALTINE CRACKER?!?
(Side note: Rest assured, I totally did not poison my kids. Well, not on purpose, anyway. You do the best you can, but those suckers are quick when they wanna be. Toddlers totally fool you with their propensity for copious amounts of drool and general lack of motor control. You let your guard down and risk a quick blink, and when you open your eyes you find them covered with a massive wad of ick. This is why my daughter’s first solid food was actually a ladybug. But we were just notified yesterday that she received a full scholarship to the university of her choice, so either bugs are good for you, or they clearly didn’t slow her down much. #mombrag)
Anyway. The point here is that toddlers’ lives aren’t focused on food. To them, food is fuel.
Kids have a normal, healthy relationship with food. When they’re hungry, their little bodies TELL them to eat – so they reluctantly stop trying to draw on the cat with a Sharpie, and find Mom or Dad to demand a snack. And when they’ve had enough, and are no longer hungry, they throw the rest of their food on the floor so they can be released from the restraints of the high chair and go do something
devious fun or educational.
Toddlers don’t eat when they’re bored or when they’re sad. They have lessons to learn, things to
break explore….They’d MUCH rather be playing, or throwing a tantrum, or plotting to smear something red and sticky on something CLEARLY not meant to be sullied, like the wall, the couch, or the carpet, than sit down and refuel.
Simply put, toddlers have better things to do than center their lives around food.
That must be so very…freeing.
I mean, these kids – babies, really – have a completely unadulterated approach to food. Get some when you need it, forget about it when you don’t. It’s that simple.
<insert philosophical quote about the innocence of youth>
I cannot be the only person to whom this seems to be a completely foreign concept. Can I?
Dr. P (the therapist) and I talked about this a bit. Eating “normally” is a long-range goal for me. (Or so SHE says. I’m not quite ready to accept “normal” if it makes the scale go up. Sigh. She’s got her work cut out for her, that’s for sure.)
But what does “normal” even LOOK like?
Maybe I can learn something from my toddler days?
<looks under hotel bed for abandoned potato chip>
OK, maybe notsomuch. I mean…yuck. <shudder>
But defining “normal” eating isn’t all that easy. We can define an eating disorder pretty quickly – here’s an example found on ANAD.org*:
An eating disorder is an unhealthy relationship with food and weight that interferes with many areas of a person’s life. One’s thoughts become preoccupied with food, weight or exercise. A person who struggles with an eating disorder can have unrealistic self-critical thoughts about body image, and his or her eating habits may begin to disrupt normal body functions and affect daily activities.
*National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. You’re welcome.
So whatever we consider “normal” eating isn’t…that. Okay.
Perhaps it means tossing the food scales, deleting the food tracking apps on my phone, and just eating when I’m hungry, stopping when I’m full, and letting my body weigh what it wants to.
Sounds simple. But then, the most complicated things often do.
Sadly, one of the consequences of a life filled with the all-or-nothing yin-yang of food extremes is that you completely lose the ability to discern when you’re actually hungry. It makes sense, really – if you’ve spent years spinning yourself around in a constant complete 180 between splurging and starving, dieting and binge-eating, deprivation and indulgence – is it any wonder that I have no natural ability to know when and what I need to eat?
After 30+ (!!!) years of gaining and losing weight – of alternating between Dieting: Extreme Edition and gorging on the all-you-can-eat platter at the Screwitall Grand Buffet – I have no idea – zero – on how to listen to my body.
I’ve spent most of my life basically flinging my appetite back and forth violently between the ceiling and the floor trying to break it. It should be no surprise that I’ve been successful.
Left to my own devices, I truly think I could go for days without feeling hunger. And then, once I realized that yeah, I probably need to eat something, the dam would break wide open, and it’s all HIDE YOUR KIDS, HIDE YOUR WIFE in my kitchen.
My fridge be all like:
(Retro meme from back in the day for y’all)
In all seriousness – very occasionally I feel hunger – but not often. But when I “allow” myself free reign – eating what I “want” – I can eat WELL past the “full” point, until my stomach is sporting a food baby that would fool the eye of the most experienced midwife, and I seriously do NOT have room even for the legendary wafer-thin mint. (Bonus points if you know the reference. My apologies if you didn’t, and clicked on the link, and now cannot unsee it. I truly am sorry. Here’s a bucket.)
When I’m in “food mode,” I can easily keep up, volume-wise, with my 6’4″ hubs and I blow right past my 15-year-old. Yes, I can eat more than a growing teenage boy. Why is there no trophy for that?! (Probably the same reason that there is no award for stopping up a commode that you bought SPECIFICALLY because it can flush an ENTIRE BUCKET OF GOLF BALLS. Not that this has EVER happened. If it did, I’m not sure whether the perpetrator (poopetrator?) should be mortified or impressed. Probably both. But that’s beside the point because THIS IS ENTIRELY FICTIONAL AND TOTALLY DID NOT HAPPEN. GOT IT?)
Maybe I’m actually part camel. Perhaps eating nothing for weeks and then EVERYTHING in a day is normal…for me.
This is FINE, as long as my body does what my mind wants it to and drops ten pounds. But that clearly isn’t how it works for the camel.
I very much do NOT wish to resemble a camel, in any way, shape or form. But I suppose being cool with my body, regardless of its size, is PROBABLY part of this whole “normal” dealio.
Except….what woman in the US is OK with her body as-is?
We know that nearly 35% of the US population is obese. And despite the fact that only (only!) 1 in 5 American women are on a diet – and that this number’s lower than it was a few years earlier, when it was closer to 1 in 3 – we’re not happy about how we look. It turns out that two-thirds of women are trying to lose weight, and 39% of us let it impede our happiness.
I guess we’re just not using the d-word to describe all the meal-skipping, raw vegan, high-protein gluten avoidance we’re trying. Diets are so 1990s, anyway. It’s all lifestyle choice, right? Or was that what we were calling it in 2005? <head scratch>
Regardless of whatever label we’re slapping ourselves with this week, a lot of us are still desperately trying to be thinner.
So…given all that….what, then, is normal?
And if I’m not clear on the what, how on earth do I find the how?
I don’t wanna be a camel. I want to be a car. Cars have it pretty easy – they have a gauge right on the dashboard that tells you how full or empty they are. (They even have a little arrow to tell you WHERE TO PUT THE FUEL. Well, unless you’re Nissan, then SCREW YOU, I guess.)
And once you get the pump set up? It automatically SHUTS OFF when the tank is full. It’s nearly* idiot-proof, stopping when the car’s had “enough.”
*Yes, I still occasionally get gas on my shoes. Because I even overfeed my car. I HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM.
It’d be hella easier if we had dashboard gas gauges. Maybe I can get one installed with the next upgrade.
Until then, we’re stuck trying to tame the food monster. Which makes a harmless, innocent cookie…
…look a bit menacing.
I’m not sure I can wrestle the monster back into its cage. I think after 30 years of having unrestricted freedom, it’s gonna put up a fight. And frankly, I’m not sure I’m ready to invest the effort and energy to work on containing the beast.
But I do know that food isn’t a monster. Food isn’t the enemy.
The enemy is the one staring back at me in the mirror. And she’s gonna be pretty tough to tame.