September 2008

Desperate Housewives, Desperate Measurements

Anyone out there catch the latest installment of this show?

Okay, I confess, my Sunday night t.v. watching is all comfort food. Yummy, cozy, silly, stuff that you can curl up with and forget all about foreclosures, bailouts, presidents, campaigns and the calamities out there.

I had to laugh at the latest story line; Gabby with her 4 year old overweight daughter. Making her run to catch up with the car, trying to disguise her exercise.

Now admittedly, they exaggerated some of it, but sadly, not that much. I don’t think this is an unusual issue out there; one of a mom who is acutely weight conscious, perhaps naturally thin, with a daughter whose body tends toward that of her husband’s. Or vice versa. Key here, is that the child is beginning to gain weight, get teased by kids perhaps, and Mom (or Dad), is worried that this is the beginning of a big problem

I have had many parents consult with me on this issue. The variations are: Mom is worried and trying to restrict the child, Dad is thinking that Mom is going to create an eating disorder and problem with self esteem, or vice versa, or substitute single sex couples.

No diff. The issues are the same. When it comes to our kids’ weight gain, many parents are paralyzed to know how to intervene in a way that is not going to make their kid feel bad.

I have found that a simple, matter of fact attitude towards eating behavior and exercise seems to help relieve kids and presents them with options so that they end up taking better care of their bodies. In this blog I am taking up the issue of exercise though. Eating I have talked about and will next. But the couch potato thing is truly, the bane of many parents’ existence!

Basically, it goes like this:

My attitude regarding exercise is this: “If you were just a head, no problem, but you are not just a head walking around.” You have to exercise. Not an option. You have to find a way to take care of your body. It needs to move!

Kids do spend alot more time on the couch, surfing surfing, (virtually of course). Our jobs as parents is to find ways they can exercise that are doable, not fancy, and to get it to happen.

I don’t think we need to deceive them. My attitude again, is that it is their jobs to take good care of their bodies, and their primary responsibilities come first. Homework, (that is their job if they are in school,) eating well for their body and exercising their body moderately.

Like any safety issue, it is non-negotiable and other privileges go if their primary safety needs are not being attended to.

The hows and how oftens are up to you. Less can be more. Walking to and from school counts some. Don’t go crazy with this, no need.

Don’t worry about fancy and expensive classes either. Walking, pushups (yes, for girls and boys to build muscle strength and metabolism), are great. Skipping rope, hula hoop for the 4 – 8 year old girls.

Key aspect is that it needs to happen several times a week, and be sustainable.

Again, non-negotiable. Pull out your parenting skills and authoritative clarity. You do know better. And remind them: “You are not just a head walking around”

Our Diet Demons and Their Effects on Our Children

I’ve decided to post this article written by Heather Cabot who has a beautiful wellness ‘ezine for Moms, www. thewellmom.com,  after she interviewed me on one of the issues I have to found to be central to helping our kids develop healthy eating habits: figuring out our own food issues and how that could be affecting our kids.  I thought it would be nice to share her article and interview here and help you connect to the wellmom newsletter which offers lots of stuff on how to stay sane while tackling ‘all things Mom!”  Here it is:

“I will never forget the time I overheard a mom mournfully comment to a friend that her toddler “carries all of her weight in her rear like Mommy.” I was horrified. The cute little daughter couldn’t have been more than 3 years old and to me, she looked like a typical preschooler. Sadly, this was just one of the many times I’ve experienced people projecting their own diet demons onto their kids.

Get a room full of moms together and you can bet that the conversation will often turn to weight. We vent about our mid-sections not being as taut or toned as they used to be…We trade tips on new work-outs or diets…And of course, we compare notes on how our children are faring in the battle against obesity. I don’t know a mom out there who doesn’t worry about the possibility that her daughter or son will end up fat…or struggle with an eating disorder. While I think it is responsible to be concerned about the health risks and the warning signs, many of the moms I know agree that on some level, the angst stems from our own personal struggles with the scale.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve started to interact with more parents of preschoolers and watching the eating habits of my own son and daughter take shape. My weekly ezine, The Well Mom (www.thewellmom.com) turned to Donna Fish, L.C.S.W. author of Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems and fellow HuffPo blogger, for some practical advice on how to keep our own food issues in check while we guide our kids to be healthy eaters.

TWM: How do parents inadvertently put their own food and body image issues onto their children?

DF: When you are whining: “I feel fat” or ‘I shouldn’t eat that,” it is a communication about your own body image issue and tells kids that they should feel badly about eating one thing or another. Not what they need. Being conscious of what comes out of your mouth, (not just what goes in!) is important for kids’ developing relationship with food.

A lot of parents have anxieties about their kids’ food that have more to do with how they were raised and also how they think they should behave in terms of limit setting, parenting stuff. For example, some parents feel strongly about setting rules about sugar, because they feel that if they don’t, they are being a ‘wimp ‘ parent. At times, this conflicts with how their spouse, partner feels about the issue and how to handle it with their child.

 

Remember that you as a parent have the right to set the family tone the way you are comfortable. It might differ from how you were raised, or it might be the same. Know what the reasons are for how you are behaving and if it is for your child, or yourself.

TWM: Are there do’s and don’ts to follow when you (the parent) are weight conscious?

DF: Show your kid (and yourself) that you are not depriving yourself too much. It just backfires and doesn’t last. Demonstrate some flexibility and remember that you have a right to eat how you want or need, but you need to separate that out from how your kid might need to eat.

It’s okay to have less than perfect eating habits and still give your child a healthy relationship with food. Eating is not just about the food. It is not only about nutrition.

If you are dieting, or weight conscious, you can demonstrate your ‘reasonable’ way of eating that is helping you to stay fit/thin or to lose weight – especially, eating when you are hungry, stopping when done/full.

Educate your kids about emotional eating. You can laugh about it, especially as they ask for food just because they are bored, and you can laugh how you like to eat when you are bored, but it is healthy eating to eat when your body needs it, not just your head!

 

Of course also, like anything, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Teach them flexibility. No big deal if you eat a lot even as you are dieting. Just go back to your conscious eating after that. Teach your kids to enjoy food and to feel comfortable and freed up to enjoy it. No guilt allowed.

 

Yeah! We’re Allowed to Enjoy Our Food Again! How This Gives Our Children Healthier Eating Habits

Today’s article in The New York Times entitled: “Instead of Eating to Diet, They’re Eating to Enjoy” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/17/dining/17diet.html?ei=5070&emc=eta1),

reinforces what I have been preaching about in my practice for years and what I teach parents to do so that kids have good eating habits: “Enjoy eating!  No guilt allowed.” 

See, the problem with guilt, is that when you eat and feel guilty, it doesn’t taste as good.  When it doesn’t taste as good, and your guilt doesn’t allow you to really savor the taste, feel it in your belly, you don’t click into the sense of satiety, that signal that tells your brain that you can stop eating. 

Yeah, yeah, I know it is a complicated thing, our relationship with food.  Eating with enjoyment is something we can communicate to our children and helps them develop healthy eating habits. 

Today’s article quoted a study that basically gave evidence to my “A chocolate bar a day, (or whatever your favorite thing is), keeps the fat away” theory.  Basically in a nutshell, it showed that when women focused on enjoying food and adding in more healthy food as oppose to decreasing their fat consumption and being too depriving, that they invariably took in fewer calories and lost 20% more weight than the women focused on what not to eat. 

The way it works, is that when you don’t focus on deprivation, you have room to feel that you are done.  When you don’t think that whatever the food is that you love or crave is disappearing, then you don’t have to eat everything else in sight to satisfy that craving.  I call that the old ‘Eating Around the Bush’ thing.  You know, when you crave a Snickers’ Bar but you don’t think you should eat it, so you eat the apple, carrots, yogurt, and ultimately, about 2,000 calories later, usually eating the Snickers Bar.  (Or 5 or 6!)  This is a lot more calories than if you had had the roughly 250 calories of Snickers Bar.  Or that if you ‘add in’ healthier foods it will become easier in a less ‘frought’ way, ultimately resulting in fewer calories being eaten. 

Now none of this is new.  There have been a lot of books written on the subject, but this is the first wave of healthier attitudes nationwide that I have been seeing. 

I am relieved to see that we are less focused on anti-carbs, or anti-fat only foods.  

Perhaps this wave will give us an appreciation for the needs children have to eat all things as well, including sugar and help those parents navigate the terrain of:  “One more cookie!  One more cookie!”

 

Let’s keep doing this for our kids.  Teach them well.  Teach them to enjoy eating.  I promise it will keep them full.

 

 

 

 

MySpace, YourSpace, Give Me Space: When Too Much Connecting Turns from Soother to Spiral

Recently The New York Times ran an article entitled: “Girl Talk Has Its Limits.”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/fashion/11talk.html?em

 

Ironic that a shrink whose living is obtained through others ‘talking’, ponders this issue as well.

 

But this article speaks to something I think about as I try to help my patients, as well as myself, know the difference when talking turns the corner from a seeking of comfort, soothing, and becomes an obsessional spiral.

 

We have all had those moments when it clicks:  “I am spinning, this thought process is not helping me feel better, it is making me feel worse.”

 

So when does connection for comfort and talking, turn into that double edged sword?

 

There are researchers looking at teens and positing that too much ‘connecting’ and talking, is leading to increased anxiety and depression.  This does not surprise me.

 

The current world and our kids’ world certainly, is chock full.   Facebook, MySpace, Texting; the list goes on and on.  Do our girls who are raised in this world of instant connect, have any mechanisms to figure out how to take their own space?  To figure out how to sit alone, in the face of all this connection, and figure out what they feel separate from anyone else, and how to develop their judgement and problem solving skills, while incorporating the input from all of their friends, and whomever they choose to ‘connect’ with?

 

I don’t think I had really stopped long enough to realize how differently my teenage girls’ social worlds are from mine, which was devoid of  cell phones and computers.  (Okay, now I know I am dating myself!)  Now we always had the telephone, but certainly couldn’t connect, text, and messenger, all day long, incessantly.  We had some breaks.  That gave you ‘space’ whether you wanted it or not!

 

I know from studying development and human psychology, particularly female psychology, that we have competing instincts.  The instinct to connect, which is hardwired into our brains biologically, and the instinct toward competition.

A great book by Louann Brizendine, M.D., called ‘The Female Brain’, (Broadway Books), sums it  up beautifully.

 

So in the face of all of this input and bombardment of the connect, along with the surge and need to connect that not only teenage girls feel to allay anxiety, but the very basic need most women have for their close female friends, how do we make sure that our daughters have or take enough space, so that they know how to tell when the comfort and reassurance turns into an obsessive spiral?

 

For me, it all comes down to a job that starts early on.  When our kids whine:  “I’m bored”, and instead of letting them ‘sit’ with it, we jump to fill the gap.  I think as parents we often get overly involved and think we need to solve our kids’ problems.  That this is our responsibility.

 

I remember one day when my oldest daughter was in the third grade, and she refused to go to a birthday party.  I didn’t know if I should push her to go, (not that I could push this very strong willed kid to do much,) but I really questioned what my job as a parent was.

 

I asked my mother and I will never forget what she said:  “Think of what you want for your kids, “ she said,  “You want them to be able to make decisions for themselves.  She knows she doesn’t want to go and you need to leave her alone.”

 

Now some might argue that point, but it resonated for me, along with letting me off the hook.  I realized that the space I left my daughter was necessary for her to ‘feel through’ the consequence of her decision.  It was her social life, after all.

 

Obviously as parents, we don’t leave room for our kids to make all of their decisions, or the space to ‘feel through’ certain things.  But it is an interesting idea, this one of space.

 

Maybe part of our job is to help our daughters particularly, know how to take space.  Not just from us, but from their friends.  So that they can know for themselves, the red flags of ‘spin’ I call it.  Or the simple fact of chemistry:  That talking with one friend can soothe, while with another, agitates you further.

 

So like everything, there is no ‘one’ or ‘perfect’ answer.  Texting and FaceBook are here to stay, and the female need to connect, is not changing in the near future.

 

But maybe we can teach our daughters how to remove themselves.  To take time out and breathe.  Sleep, and eat.  How to be alone.  While you are trying that, you might want to rub their back.  Brush their hair, if they let you.  Just that simple physical act, is soothing and calming.  (Decreases the firing of the neurons in the brain that signal the fight or flight response.  Something I learned while having to pick lice out of three girsl’ heads of hair for three weeks one nightmarish school seasons!)

 

Then they can get back online.

 

Visit me at:  www.donnafish.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, To Be Rich and Fat in Swaziland

Or is it, Rich and Thin in Swaziland? If you are one of the 13 Queens to the King, what size dress do you aspire to wear for his birthday party?

As you approach the haute couture shops in Dubai if you are one of the lucky 8 wives who gets to go by private jet on the shopping spree that starts off in Dubai and lands up in Thailand, what size Chanel do you aspire to fit into?

If you are lucky enough to be one of the 8 wives, along with your assistants, maids, bodyguards and the other princes and princesses, (altogether about 100 people), are you dieting to fit into your outfit for the 40/40 celebration, or is it a sign of beauty, to be a size 16?

Tough question to ponder. For as we know, if you are living in a country where two thirds of the population is starving, perhaps it is not so beautiful to be thin. Perhaps in fact, the wives were trying to gain weight for the party.

Perhaps they were all trying to gain 20 pounds to fit into their Balenciaga or Versace dresses. After all, if two thirds of the country is reliant on Food Aid from World Vision, and 70% of the population earns less than $1 a day, perhaps Thin is not so Beautiful here in Swaziland.

My baby brother just got back from spending three months as an intern for the State Department in Swaziland, and I had heard before reading today’s article in the New York Times, about the upcoming festivities for the King.

I had heard of the shopping spree that took 9 days and cost 4 million US dollars. No one really knows who paid: the Royal Family, or the government.

A little hard to separate the monarchy and parliament here in Swaziland. Democracy is a funny word here, where the attorney general Dalmini is part of the Royal Family and the traditional prime minister, Jim Gana, states that “Swazi women shouldn’t march” in reaction to the protests that had started when people heard of the shopping spree.

So, can you be too thin or too rich in Swaziland? I guess you can certainly be too thin, particularly if you are dying of AIDS since the government claims they can’t afford the medicines. Despite the fact that easily half the population has the virus.

But I bet they have size 16 in the Chanel shop in Dubai.

As Erica Jong once said: “You’re not fat, you’re just living in the wrong country.”