I recently had the privilege of sitting on a doctoral candidate’s dissertation committee.• She was researching maternal intuitive eating and how this can prevent children from developing obesity. One title she considered was “You are what your mother eats,” which, though catchy, we decided was just too reinforcing of the already all-too-prevelant “mother guilt.” If you are a mother, you know what I am talking about: you worry about what your child eats, doesn’t eat, how much, in what way, whether it is packaged in BPA free packaging, whether their daily sugar intake is setting them up for future alcoholism…(OK, I may be getting a bit too far into neurosis here, but the point is that moms worry about their kids, and specifically, what their kids eat). So we decided to change the title.
You are (and are not) what your mother eats.
OK, so now that we have put the guilt aside, her research was fascinating! In many ways, it confirmed much of what has already been discovered about intuitive eating. Intuitive eating (1) can be summarized by the following factors:
- relying on internal cues for hunger and satiety
- eating for physiological rather than emotional reasons
- no dietary restrictions/unconditional permission to eat
- body size acceptance
It has been discovered and empirically validated that infants and toddlers have the capacity to self regulate their eating (2), given the right conditions. The right conditions being: provide a wide variety of nutrient dense food, while allowing the child autonomy to choose which of these foods to eat and when they are hungry.
Ellyn Satter’s work summarizes how parents can think about and put into practice modeling/trusting intuitive eating with children, while surrendering battles for control over two-year-olds refusing to eat broccoli in the following way:
The Division of Responsibility for infants:
- The parent is responsible for what.
- The child is responsible for how much (and everything else).
The Division of Responsibility for toddlers through adolescents
- The parent is responsible for what, when, where.
- The child is responsible for how much and whether.
More on Ellyn Satter (and down loadable handouts) here: http://ellynsatterinstitute.org
Two of the most fascinating clinical implications of this candidate’s research were:
- Mothers can learn about how they can indirectly influence their child’s self-regulation via body acceptance messages.
- Body appreciation is a predictor of intuitive eating and Body acceptance messages from mothers predict awareness of the internal feelings and function of the body.
In other words, the more YOU as a mother listen to YOUR OWN body, hunger cues, appreciate and do not criticize your own body, the more this translates to your child(ren).
She found that “controlling feeding practices” such as:
- Pressuring your child to eat,
- Restricting access to certain foods, as a means to decrease the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes, and
- Monitoring food intake, as a means to track the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes. (4)
all have a negative correlation with developing intuitive eating and do not support body appreciation.
Yep, that means NOT saying “you can have dessert if you eat your vegetables,” not pressuring your child to finish what’s on their plate, and stop micromanaging how much sugar your child eats at various birthday parties. I know, it’s hard! I’m on the journey with you, Mama, trusting that at SOME point in his lifetime my child will eat broccoli…or not! And I can model that it is ok either way.
*Congratulations Dr. Rosanna Franklin, PsyD, California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University, 2014.
1. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyses Resch, 1995
2. Birch and Deysher 1985; Matheny, Birch, and Picciano, 1990.
3. Augustus-Horvath & Tylka, 2011; Avalos & Tylka, 2006.
4. Birch et al., 2001.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Did you know it takes babies at least a year to take their first step? And this is a first attempt, not fully practiced walking. Most babies begin to stand briefly and take small steps while holding onto support prior to walking by themselves. This is often called “cruising.” Not all babies walk at one year though- some do at 9 months, some at 17 months. It is an individual process. Once started, the journey of learning how to walk independently continues through many, many months trial and error: two steps forward, one fall down; two steps forward, one fall down.
– resource: Baby’s Milestones: Your child’s first year of development WebMD.com
We could interpret this “first step” in all kinds of ways metaphorically. In the 12 steps, the first step is about admitting powerlessness and unmanageability- not in a disempowered way, but in admitting your current (and past) way of walking in the world is no longer working. It is about taking an honest look about where you have fallen down, “hit bottom.” It is about reflecting, as you get up, on how you can learn to walk differently. How can you walk down the sidewalk in a different way or walk a different sidewalk? There is a well-quoted poem about the recovery process that goes like this:
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
I I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I fall in. I am lost … I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.
II I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place but, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
III I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. my eyes are open I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
IV I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
V I walk down another street.
resource: Portia Nelson, There’s A Hole in My Sidewalk, 1993. As you are learning to walk down the sidewalk in your recovery, in motherhood, in life:
- How can you allow for holes in the sidewalk?
- How can you practice taking steps down another sidewalk?
- How can you love and accept your legs and feet while you are taking each step?
Give yourself time to learn how to walk differently in the world in your recovery process, whether it be from an eating disorder, alcoholism/addiction, codependency, depression, or postpartum. Try to accept and appreciate your legs and feet as they are and not need to change them. Babies learning to walk do not judge themselves when they fall and they certainly do not worry about the size of their thighs. They get back up, again and again, and again, focusing on the task of learning their new skill. In recovery, this skill is to notice the judgments, not believe them, and keep walking. Here are two suggestions for how to practice walking steps in the road to recovery:
- Lean on Support
Ask yourself: How can I allow others to support me? How can I allow them to walk with me? Recovery is a time to let support in, not push it away. However, many people find it difficult to reach out and accept support from others. The truth is it’s much easier to walk the road of recovery with someone walking alongside you than making the trip on your own. If you are having difficulty accepting support, think about how you feel when you are given the opportunity to provide support to others. Remember, it is a gift. Resource: Life During Recovery: Questions to Ask Yourself from National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website, By Maggie Baumann, BA, Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today, Spring 2007 Volume 5, Number 2, (c) 2007 Gürze Books.
- Practice Mindful Walking:
Walk slowly and carefully walk feeling your feet connect at each point on the floor. Without controlling the breath too much, you can try pairing walking and breathing so that 1 foot touches the ground at each in and out breath. See how many steps seem natural to take during each inhalation and exhalation. Direct all attention towards the sensations of walking: you feet and lower legs. Which part touches the ground first? Pay attention to how your weight shifts from one foot to the other. What are the feelings in your knees as they bend? What is the texture of the ground (hard, soft, cracks, stones)? Differences in walking on different surfaces? From Coping Skills handout Compiled by Shannon Dorsey, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Licensed Psychologist, University of Washington, Evidence Based Treatments
Remember the one-year-old practicing her first steps for a whole year. As a Japanese proverb states, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Also, it is not only ok but encouraged to make time for pedicures and (non exercise-bulimic oriented) dancing. Your legs and feet deserve it. How are you going to take your first step today? What are you going to do to take care of your legs and feet?
Many years ago, when I was in the early phase of recovery from an eating disorder, I challenged myself to buy a pair of pants embracing my butt. They were not my usual baggy style, were well-fitted, and had glitter on the butt! It was an “opposite action” to wear clothing that my internal body image critic would have never allowed. And, as all opposite action creates, it helped me develop a sense of esteem in myself by practicing an “esteem -able act.”
Many women do not like their butts, literally. Occasionally I find a woman who loves and/or accepts her butt. Jennifer Lopez is the poster child for embracing her butt as an asset.
According to Harvard medical School research, the fat found in large buttocks and hips may even protect against type 2 diabetes.
Fat found commonly around the lower areas, known as subcutaneous fat, or fat that collects under the skin, helps to improve the sensitivity of the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for regulating blood sugar and therefore a big bottom might offer some protection against diabetes. The research shows that…people with pear-shaped bodies, with fat deposits in the buttocks and hips, are less prone to these disorders.
Cell Metabolism, Dec. 2008, Diabetes in Control: news and Information for medical professionals, January 20, 2009, Diabetesincontrol.com
Wearing different kinds of pants (glitter or not) no longer challenges me and esteem able acts have become different in my work as a Mom and Psychologist. Now getting my “butt” out of the way has become “But I don’t have TIME to work on my book!” or “But my child won’t eat vegetables, no matter HOW I prepare them!”
Whatever your butt or but issues, see if there is a way to find an opposite action, even if it is a baby opposite action step to get your but out of the way, remembering that often what’s in the way IS the way .
PS Babies love their butts. Try to remember a (or create for the very first) time when you could love yours.
Just over one year ago, I threw my back out. Trying to be Supermom: wearing heels and carrying a 30 lb child, working inside and outside the home, preparing to present at an international eating disorders conference.
A Jungian colleague of mine asked what might be in my shadow that might “have my back,” or be “breaking my back.” In Jungian psychology, the shadow is aspects of the self that are unwanted, unknown, or “dystonic” (not familiar or owned by the conscious self). It often shows up through projecting one’s “shadow” parts onto others. Ex: “She’s so angry.” “He’s so greedy.” “Who does she think she IS being so full of herself?”
What had my back? Well, it turns out that the often quoted Marianne Williamson quote was true:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you…
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
—Marianne Williamson, Return to Love Harper Collins, 1992.
It was fear of my own growing power. So I rested my back (as well as did all sorts of other healing modalities) and healed my back. Friends will often say “I got your back!” as a way to encourage you to move into and through something scary. What has your back? How can you support your back? What parts of yourself are you afraid to own?