by Kathryn Sansone
It's the bane of many a mother's existence: We eat our children's leftovers, snack when bored or unhappy, or simply never lose the extra pounds we put on with pregnancy. And though there are many strategies and diets that can help women lose unwanted weight, what is more complicated is how our thoughts and feelings about ourselves are directly reflected by our behavior toward food and eating. Simply put, a negative attitude toward food (such as feeling that it controls us, not the other way around) takes away our confidence and belittles our self-esteem. And it's this shaky belief in oneself that is at the root of many a real weight problem.
Unfortunately I have seen how perilous a negative attitude toward food can be. As a teenager, one of my best friends became anorexic. She became so obsessed about how she looked, what foods she ate, and what she weighed, she could no longer eat. At one time my beautiful 5'4" friend weighed only 77 pounds. She was so thin she had to be hospitalized, put on intravenous nourishment, and monitored for more than a month. Then followed years of therapy and counseling.
While eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia never have just one cause, any kind of disordered eating -- eating too little or too much -- is exacerbated by our society's obsession with looking thin and beautiful. We are assaulted each day by the media with images of women in thin, ageless, perfect bodies that are always airbrushed! We internalize these images and hold them up as unnerving comparisons that we cannot possibly emulate. The result? Again, our self-confidence diminishes.
Thankfully, my dear friend fully recovered from her eating disorder. She worked long and hard, examining the underlying causes of what was driving her to limit her food intake to such a dramatic degree. Regardless of whether we have an eating problem, it's healthy for all of us to look at our relationships with food for hidden clues to our selves. For instance, I had to stop seeing food as a reward or a comfort and take it for what it is: necessary sustenance for survival. If we think of food not as our enemy but as that which nourishes us, food will begin to lose its power.
But for some people, shifting their attitude toward food from negative to positive requires deep emotional examination. My dear friend taught me this lesson: You don't get anorexia or bulimia because you want to be thin like a model. Rather controlling food intake in drastic measures is a way to control an emotional problem you have not resolved.
I believe it's a worthy goal to be fit and look good in your body, but I think it's equally important -- if not more important -- to keep in mind that weight is not the real issue: A positive self-image along with high self-esteem is what is most important. No one needs to be as skinny as the runway models, and most of the men in our lives wouldn't want us to look like that anyway! Why drive ourselves crazy with impossible goals? We need to respect how our bodies are shaped. Some of us are naturally tall and thin. Others are more round -- round hips, round legs, round tummies. Others are more square. Your ideal weight depends on your genetically determined bone structure, height, and body size. Once you are happy with yourself, you will accept your body type. Then you can focus on whether you want to lose weight, maintain your weight, or even gain weight.
Kathryn Sansone, author of Woman First, Family Always: Real-life Wisdom from a Mother of Ten, has been widely featured in the media, including network television shows and national magazines. She has worked as a classroom teacher and was recently recruited by America Online to serve as a real-life Chief of Everything Officer (CEO) for the company's Life Management program. Sansone, her husband, Jim, and their ten children (ranging in age from eight months to eighteen years) live in St. Louis, Missouri.
Copyright © Kathryn Sansone. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.