One of the things I miss about pre-children life was being able to throw myself into a book for a few days, staying up late or spending all night devouring the pages. I recently discovered audio books at my library and found a great way to catch up on my reading. I noticed The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss in the library and was enticed when I saw the title letters were composed of M&M’s.
I checked it out and began listening to a mother share a story about her daughter. I related to the mother’s concerns about her own issues with body image and how to promote a healthier image for her daughter than she had for herself. Her confessions of yo-yo dieting and wearing only clothes that flattered her body type hit home. She related getting the confirmation from the pediatrician that her 7 year-old daughter was obese. I don’t want to give away too many details, but she didn’t buy into the idea that her daughter would just “grow out of it.” She saw this diagnosis as a call to action, a medical condition to be monitored and treated. And I felt for her. She was responsible for every item of food that her daughter consumed. She was ridiculed by strangers, friends, and family for her staunch adherence to a “diet” for her child. But she did it because she knew that helping her daughter learn healthier habits as a child would provide a better opportunity for her to lead a healthy life as an adult.
I learned more than I anticipated from a memoir. For instance, while it is crucial that children receive nutritious food, losing weight requires that you consume less calories than you burn. Period. Often the mother would provide her daughter with 100 calorie snacks of processed foods (along with fruit) and was chastised by other parents. To her defense, a healthier whole grain snack would have doubled the calories. Even though the snack was “healthier,” it was going to keep her daughter obese, which is not healthy in the big picture. As I read this section of the book, it reminded me of a lesson I learned at a child nutrition class. Some asked a question about butter to the effect of “Isn’t it better to eat natural butter than that artificial spray stuff?” The nutritionist’s response surprised me, but makes more sense after reading this book. She said, “If you are using a small pat of butter occasionally, then it’s better to use real butter. If you are putting it on your toast everyday, it’s better to use the artificial spray.” I don’t think there is one right answer to surprisingly tough questions like these.
I was inspired to transfer this idea of portion control into my meal planning. For example, instead of making one huge serving of Best Baked Spaghetti or Chicken Poppy Seed Casserole I make two smaller servings and freeze one. Not giving my family the opportunity to go back for seconds and instead supplying a vegetable side dish helps us keep our portions in check. I’ve also started using smaller bowls for snacks.
As I finished the book, I thought of the vigilance and dedication I see in Lauren and other mothers who have children with special dietary needs. When my son was born, I became obsessed with nutrition. I cringed at the friend who gave my 6 month-old a marshmallow when I turned my back. I scorned the bacon given to my 9 month-old. I can still spend 20 minutes at the grocery store trying to pick out which loaf of bread is the healthiest: most whole grains or lowest sodium or least calories. But as he grew older, I perceived I had been blessed with the option to “lighten up.” After reading The Heavy I have realized that I may not be out of the woods yet and I do need to remain committed to the integrity of what my family eats. I salute mothers like Dara-Lynn Weiss. While they may never have the option to “lighten up,” their diligence and commitment shine a bright light on their children’s future health.