Don’t Tell the Kids

I have two sons.  Fabulous sons.  Skinny sons.  Who, from what I can tell, seem unaffected, unfazed and maybe even mostly oblivious to their mom’s eating issues.

It is probably safe to say that as a yo-yo dieter, I have struggled with my weight off and on for much of my sons’ lives.  More so in recent years than when they were little.  And there were several years in there when I was just eating “normally” and easily maintaining a “normal” weight.  But I have been on and off a diet for a long time now.  And I do mean “diet” because it is only in the last year or so that I have become enlightened and shifted to the paradigm of a healthy lifestyle instead.

Honestly, I have no idea what my kids think about me as regards to weight and eating. I have never been obese and they are, after all, boys, so I am not sure they pay very much attention to my physical self.  I try to keep pretty low key about my eating, whatever that might be at any point in time.  Try to keep it off the boys’ radar.  It is my own baggage and I am very conscious of not wanting to make it theirs; not wanting to negatively impact them.

So, what do my boys know?  And do they care?  I have no idea.  I never say anything even remotely like “I’m on a diet” or “I’m trying to lose some weight.”  I have said things like “I am not eating pasta right now” when my older son requested it on a visit home from college.  And things like “I’m trying to eat healthier.”  But we all know that kids can pick up way more than we realize.  And I suspect that with my on-again-off-again dieting mentality I have sent a lot of mixed signals for anyone paying attention.

Three incidents stand out in my mind to help illustrate how this plays out in our family.

The first was last winter, when I was eating very healthily and really making progress.  We were going to take our oldest out for an early birthday dinner before he headed back to college.  As always, the birthday boy got to pick the place.  I would have gone anywhere and quietly found something on plan to eat.  Dieting on the down-low. But hubby thwarted my plans by saying something to our son about me maybe not wanting to eat at certain restaurants because… well, not sure exactly how he put it but the implication was that I was watching what I was eating in a dieting sort of way.  I know this because my son asked me to choose the restaurant because of what his dad had told him.  Sweet kid:)  I assured him that I was happy to go wherever he wanted.  And we did.

Then there were all the times my son came home from college and I baked him his favorite cookies.  I had second thoughts about the whole idea of showing love with food and I struggled over not eating any of the cookies (here and here).  When I blogged about that, I got some great comments that maybe I should explain to my son about my struggles, that he would understand and not care about not having the cookies.  But I did not want my own issues to impact him, either from the emotional aspect or from the “not getting cookie love” aspect.  My response to those well intended comments is when this post was born.

Then, not too long ago, my teen and husband were getting ready to pick up some Chipotle for dinner.  And I knew it was not the best choice for me so decided to eat leftover soup instead.  I had no problem simply telling my teen “no thanks,” that I didn’t want any.  He’d think nothing of it, I would guess.  But my husband told him “Mom is being good.”  Which was not the message I was trying to send.  I have enough problems of my own with the whole “good” versus “bad” as it relates to food.  I have never gotten into that with my kids and don’t want to start now. Yes, there could be a lot of great discussion going on about eating healthy, but I think that ship sailed years ago when I did so many things wrong to turn my boys into the picky eaters they are today.  But amazingly they never overeat.  Just eat when they are hungry.  Don’t obsess over food.  Don’t have issues with food.  Or weight.  Phew – what a relief.

And I want to qualify here that my husband is very well intentioned in what he has said to the boys about me and eating.  I would prefer he had not said those things, but I understand why he did.  And I hope he does not mind that I mention that he has also struggled with his weight over the years, although his journey and mine are different in many ways.  I share that so you can understand that I am not the only potential influence on my sons with regard to eating or dieting or all that jazz.  Ironically, hubby and I have been great role models for exercise but the boys never seem to pick up on that either!

So that’s the scoop.  More than you every wanted to know about this yo-yo dieting mom and her boys, who have managed to stay off her crazy roller-coaster ride.  Now if I could just get them to eat vegetables!

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37 Comments

Filed under dieting, family, history (my past), restaurant/social eating, weight issues

37 responses to “Don’t Tell the Kids

  1. You certainly take a different track than I do with kids. My kids always knew when I was on a diet. Everyone knew. I never hid it. I confess to not being on a diet much. Trying to eat healthy was always a better way to keep my weight down. But my kids are different. Or at least my daughter. Her issue is she needs to eat more. She has a tendency to forget food. I was like that when I was young. Other things were more important and eating not so much. Oh how things have changed.

    • Karen

      The huge difference is that you have spent most of your life eating normally so a diet is the exception… where as it seems I am the opposite. Sigh. My kids forget to eat sometimes too.

  2. Wow – fantastic post as always, Karen. I have the 2 skinny boys, like you. As an added bonus (truly and in every sense of the word) I also have a daughter. (As I start thinking about this, I realize I could write about 40 paragraphs about all this, esp. with the intro of daughter!) Anyway – all three kids know all about my alcohol recovery, though they have no recollection of the time before because they were so little when I got sober (thank you, God). They are all happy for me and over the years really “get it” about recovery from using a substance to fill up a hole in the soul.

    Ah…but the day to day stuff. Like you – never obese (other than BMI charts, but never visually) though chunky and dieting over the years. My daughter gets that I’m obsessed with body image, eating etc. The boys are relatively clueless. They obviously know I’m always intending to be “good”, but also notice when an amount of ice cream is gone when they go for a bowl. Anyway – all 3 kids love vegetables! You bring up good thought provoking stuff for me.

    • Karen

      Oh yes, between my husband and me, countless times my kids have gone for some treat only to find it gone already! I forgot about that.

  3. Great post Karen. I think your intentions for your children are spot on & really, kids pick up on way more than we give them credit for from a very young age. If we obsess & talk about food and/or our body, they hear it & especially for girls, it can be tough. Maybe boys have less trouble with tis since the media & advertising focus so much on girls & women & I think that just emphasizes it all even more.

    As parents, we can all do our thing & try not to bring our own issues on the kids.. do the best to make it all normal while internally we do our own craziness! 😉

    I know I was way to “talkative” about my own issues when my stepdaughters were younger but I was also doing my workouts by then so.. but I was also crazy about getting them done.. maybe too so in front of them. I can’t take it back. I can learn though & try better with the grandkids.

  4. I hope your kids continue to do well as they venture further out into the big chill of life.

    Karen, perhaps I am wrong about this, but it seems to me that you are looking at external reasons for your dieting issues rather than internal. This occurred to me when you gave the example of avoiding certain restaurants. I can eat in any restaurant or in any situation because I can make the healthy choices. I wasn’t always this way but I made it important to me and learned to form the habits that sustain it.

  5. Your post made me remember a discussion with my father, in which he expressed regret about insisting we eat the all foods on our plates when we were kids. I agreed that it’s not a great thing to insist on, but I also assured him that I’ve been holding my own fork and making my own choices for the past (insert large number) years.

    And so it is with your sons. They’re responsible for their choices (or lack of them, when it comes to vegetables.) Let yourself off the hook for it. 🙂

    • Karen

      It is interesting that my parents insistence we clean our plates did not lead to my eating issues. It DID lead to my parenting issues of letting my kids eat only what they wanted when they were young. I’m just crossing my fingers that my boys don’t follow me in that their metabolisms suddenly change. Sigh.

  6. You and I have taken different approaches in regards this.

    I have been very open with my kids about eating healthy and losing weight. When we go out to eat they always want to make sure that we go somewhere that offers healthy options. I leave the Dr Oz, Dr Phil and other books about health and diet out where everyone in the family has access to them. My son (who is 21) shares with me the new information he is reading in the Dr Oz book and has been applying some of it to his own life. Like why he craves sweets when he doesn’t get enough sleep!

    My kids don’t have eating issues or weight issues. We do talk about eating healthy and how our choices affect our health even as young as they are and how what they eat now will affect their health later in life.

    When my focus was all about my weight I carried a lot of shame with that. Shame that I over ate, shame that I was over weight, shame that I didn’t seem to have control over my eating.

    I think when I took the focus off my weight and made it about my over all health it helped me to be more open and public with extended family and friends.

    I think it is a good idea to talk to our kids about proper nutrition and eating for our health. It is a gift to teach them how to eat in a healthy way.

    • Karen

      Before I got to your third paragraph, as I was reading, I kept hearing myself say the word “shame” in my mind! And how my shame is, yes, that I don’t have control over my eating, but also that I have done this yo-yo thing over and over again. I think not talking about my eating also stems from that.

  7. Hard to remember that long ago … when my kids were all at home and might have been influenced by me. 🙂 They all seem to have survived whatever I did or didn’t do and nobody is overweight and/or obsessed with their weight. They all are very active physically and I’ll take full credit for that.

  8. When I was a kid… “Happy plate” was a term most used to describe making sure all of the food on our plate was eaten. What did we get for a “happy plate”? More food (dessert).

    I try not to do that to my kids. When they are full… they are full.

    ~Kellie

    • Karen

      You raise a great issue, Kellie. Dessert! I wonder how many families have it every night and make it such a part of living that it is ingrained in the kids. I might have to write a post about this someday.

  9. You sound like you have a good balance on this. My opinion is I think you’re smart not to burden your boys with your issues. I’m like you, I have issues with food, but my kids have never been ones to overeat.

    One of my concerns about my weight loss journey is that I don’t create body-conscious teen girls. So, we had a discussion once that mommy is losing weight to get healthier, not because she was worried solely about how she looked. I didn’t go into too much detail of my struggles with food, because they don’t have those issues. We just clarified that we can all eat better to feel better and that regular exercise is healthy.

    Don’t beat yourself up though if they don’t follow the good changes you are making. I was a chubby girl growing up, but did not become obese until I was a grown woman on my own. It was my fault – not any one else’s.

    • Karen

      I always wanted a daughter but this is one time I guess I am glad I did not have one! Not only with my own baggage and wondering what kind of role model I would be, but with the whole societal pressure for thinness and focus on appearance.

  10. I have chosen to not have children — but I have always wondered what kind of influence, role model, non-role model I would be in terms of food and fitness. I remember my mom drinking Tab from breakfast.

  11. I’m in a weird situation with my son, LOL! He’s 7-years-old, and has severe ADHD. He was already underweight for his age BEFORE the medicine, and we’ve finally gotten the majority of what he lost back on him. Under his pediatrician’s instructions, we’re supposed to be focusing on calories and not necessarily nutrition, along with weighing him weekly. I avoid the word “diet” like a plague around him, but we do talk about “healthy weight” because we both have weight issues- just on opposite ends of the spectrum.

  12. Lisa T

    What a great post. It really made me think about how I’m handling these issues in my home. Like you I also have two sons and a husband who, like me, struggles with his weight. Our kids are very young (ages 1 and 4), but my 4-year-old has clearly inherited my sweet tooth. He wants treats and desserts every day. He his weight is on the low side of normal. But like you I don’t want him to create a negative relationship with food, and I do want him to eat the healthy food before choosing a sugary dessert! So, I guess what I’m saying is that a) parenting is hard and b) with respect to food, eating, dieting, etc. I’m trying to make it about eating healthy, whole food for meals and keeping the sweets as an occasional treat.

  13. I appreciate this post. I can so relate to being a parent of skinny kids. Three out of my five are thin adults. Two are not.

    My favorite text above was this one: “And I do mean “diet” because it is only in the last year or so that I have become enlightened and shifted to the paradigm of a healthy lifestyle instead.” I am with you totally here; it is about a healthy lifestyle.

    I will offer a somewhat different perspective simply because my children are adults: I think conversation with our children about our own struggles can be healthy, supportive and also educational. It is about sharing some of our personal traits with them and yes may open us up to a different level of scrutiny, but knowing what I know about your sons (which is nothing) but how you describe them as compassionate humans, I would guess that they would not be evaluative, but understand more about who you are also as a human being. Sharing with them (eventually) may actually serve to pull you closer together.

    I say all that above, because I have now (finally) talked with my adult children about my journey. They have been incredibly supportive. It is not something we talk about much, but it was amazingly freeing to bring it out in the open.

    • Karen

      Can I just tell you how scary that sounds to me, talking to my boys like that!? I don’t even talk to my mom about this stuff and I am sure she sees the ups and downs and can identify much more than my boys ever could. Something to think about – not just your idea but my reaction.

  14. Coco

    Great post. I am equally conflicted about what I say/do and how that impacts my kids. My son (16) thinks I’m crazy for liking vegetables (at least he loves sall fruit) and I think he just thinks I am wierd about food. I focus on eating healthy but will share a dessert with him if he insists. 😉

    My daughter (20) seems to have survived my dieting too. She has poor eating habits-skips breakfast, eats fast food-but I think that’s normal for a college student. She tries to cook at home more and does fix the occaisional vegetable!

  15. I worked pretty hard to make sure my food issues did not become issues for my kids and I think I suceeded. It is hard not to speak in therms of good and bad choices with kids because they don’t always get the nuances of better choices or balancing or moderatation.

    I have also found that as my kids have matured they have (girls and boys) found more interest in nutrition and having an understanding and improving their diets – thank goodness!! Because what they tend to eat those first years of college is upsetting to any health minded mom!

  16. The Fat Mom

    What an awesome post! My kiddos are young and already know the struggles I have with weight. They also know that I binge and cry afterwards. Soooo, not the message I want to send them. I hope they have a better relationship with food.

  17. i think it’s important to promote trying to get healthy with your kids to make them think about their food choices too. Not so they diet or binge but just to raise awareness.

    also it means that when you make different choices for food it opens a dialogue about what is healthy between the whole family

  18. I struggle right now still, and I worry about when I have kids if they will struggle. I want to show them that having a healthy relationship with food is important without making them afraid to eat a cookie now and then! It’s hard but it sounds like you did a great job overall. Maybe just tell hubby don’t tell the kids you are being “good” but that you are just cutting back a bit. That way it’s only on you and it’s not implicating the food but that you don’t want to eat too much? Just a suggestion. I think since most of us have hubby’s who aren’t overweight it’s harder for them to understand what we are trying to accomplish! We can still be “good” and enjoy an indulgence now and then- it’s the now and then part that’s the problem.

  19. I admire the effort and thought you are putting into what messages you are sending your kids. We’d all do well to take that to heart in all aspects of our lives – not just eating.

  20. Karen, sounds like you and your husband are great role models for your sons. I suspect that they may know more than you think, but have also decided to be accepting and not make a big deal out of it. And I love that your husband is looking out for you, even if it wasn’t in the manner that you exactly wanted. 🙂

  21. You make a really good point about not being “good” or “bad” with food. So often we giggle at the thought of being “bad” with our eating, or suffer through being “angelic” with our diets. Why can’t it be neither? Why can’t it just be…eating?

  22. Hi Karen, this is a great post!

    My kids definitely know that I don’t eat certain things that they might be eating. For example, if I make them pasta with homemade sauce and homemade meatballs, sometimes I just eat the meatballs and sauce and no pasta! So of course they ask me why I’m not having pasta. So I tell them that when you get to your 40’s like me you have to be more careful about your eating. They noticed that I lost weight last spring too. They seem to notice everything!!!! They are like my husband like that. He notices every pound that I gain or lose!!!

    • Karen

      I used to hope my husband didn’t notice the ups and downs but now that he is charting our weights he knows exactly what I am every single day. I forgot about the pasta thing – when my teen needed to carb-load before running I had spaghetti squash instead. Can’t remember if we talked about it or not.

  23. My mom and I went on a pill diet a scrillion years ago and both lost quite a lot of weight. I always thought she did it for me, to keep me company, to inspire me. But now I wonder… as close as I was to Mom and as much as I love her, I don’t really know much about her issues with food. We always had healthy, balanced meals at home. When did she eat? How did she get to be overweight, which she was between the ages of 30 and 65? I have no idea how she gained the weight, how she felt about it or what she tried to do about it. She was just mom, just the way she was, and I totally loved her the way she was, so it didn’t matter if she was “thin” or “fat.” (Those would have been my words for it in my youth… not now.) What’s my point? Two, I guess… 1. Now I wish I did know about it. 2. Kids don’t seem to notice much!

    • Karen

      That makes me think back to my own childhood and mom. I know that now and then she had some “diet” things she ate because I still remember them. Like pizza made with english muffins and fresh tomatoes. And some low-cal muffins. But I don’t remember it being a big deal and I do not ever remember thinking about her size back then. I wonder if she was even overweight.

  24. Amy

    As the child of a yo-yo dieting mother, and now as a mother myself, so much of my dieting anxiety is about how my kids see my relationship with food. I saw my mother struggle on a weekly basis, with comments, with actions, with put-downs about herself and those actions. I really struggle to not be like that. I am very conscious about not saying things out loud (and heck, for that matter I need to not say those negative things in my head too!). I worry not so much about what my son sees, but my daughter. God willing she has the metabolism of my husband and not mine…but even so, I am trying to be a good example of being healthy overall. In this age of busy busy busy, drive-thru’s, and overly processed foods, I think we face more challenges than our mother’s generation did.

    • Karen

      I am sure I would worry more if I had a daughter. And I agree that things have changed over time. Some for the worst – like the ease now of frozen chicken nuggets. But, fortunately, some for the better – like the abundance of nutritional info if we choose to use it. There is always some challenge as parents… if not this, then something else. Sigh.

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