18. February 2011 · Comments Off on Weighing In On Spring · Categories: Health And Fitness · Tags: , ,

As I sit down at my laptop with thoughts of responding to Sunday’s Headliner, “Before Spring Break, The Anorexic Challenge” in the Style section of The New York Times (April 2, 2006), a banner flashes across my home page with news of the hunger challenge facing millions of women in Africa.

The juxtaposition frightens me.

Apparently, anorexia and bulimia, advocated by teen girls throughout the northern western hemisphere and affectionately referred to as “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” respectively, have taken our daughters by storm. Thousands of teens are forcing themselves to 300-calories-a-day diets in order to fit into string bikinis for spring breaks in resorts all over the Caribbean…while millions of young girls on the other side of the world are sent to school in order to get just one half-way decent meal within any 24-hour period.

As my own daughter and I were lunching with the family on Sunday, she asked me how many pounds I thought she could reasonably lose before she went to Florida to celebrate spring break with a girlfriend and her family. We chatted about the need for daily exercise (and she spelled out their plan for daily visits to the gym as well as for long beach jogs) and the forsaking of sugary snacks (my husband at this point adding his own two-cents worth of the need to stop eating ice cream and cookies as well as to check fiber content in white vs. whole wheat bread and his estimate that she could, indeed, expect to lose seven-and-a-half-pounds in the next two weeks pre-bikini season.) With his tongue clearly in cheek, my daughter, frustrated and a little angry at his underestimation screamed: “But Mooommmm! You said I could lose ten?!?”

So what’s a mom to do when her teen daughter gets regularly bamboozled by peers who post photos of super-skinny models on their home page of Facebook.com (called “thinspiration” or “thinspo” according to the Times article) and by hosting dieting marathons of their own; by celebrity advertising using the skinniest and prettiest of human creation; and by her own mom who is desiring to get back into bathing suit season with stringent expectations of her own? (I confess to verbally, i.e. in front of my own teen daughter, dreading my need to shed the unwanted seven L.B.’s picked up post-Christmas and hidden underneath layers of New England polar fleece; my own visit to Florida in two weeks to visit my “adopted” mom brings internal freaking out about not fitting into my cutest Lilly Pulitzer skirt unless I move and re-sew the waist button.) This sounds so bizarre, even as I write it, and yet I know I am striking a nerve (or cellulite dimple) as many moms have confessed to me (and to friends whose friends have confessed to them) that we could all stand to lose at least ten ugly pounds apiece.

The New York Times article goes along to quote Dr. Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders: “Every year spring break seems to get bigger and bigger,” adding that “body-image pressure also rises…(sic) with expectation that you have to ‘party like a rock star and be over the top” including ‘looking like a rock star, that is, fashionably, even dangerously skinny.’” (*)

Let’s face it: cultural expectations demand leanness. I read a quote two decades ago in a magazine article apparently earth-shattering as it has stayed in my long-term memory all this time, that “the ultimate status symbol is a fit and thin body.” So times haven’t changed all that much, except in the intensity and extremes with which we move toward that end.

That said, and given the enormity of the problem (which might be better understood by reading the fascinating yet deeply troubling article in its entirety…see NOTE at end of this article) here are 7 Ways in which we are weighing in on spring in our own household:

1) Continue to stress radiant health rather than compulsive weight-checking and clothing size comparisons. Granted, this is easier said than done on some days, like on Friday when I had my annual OBGYN check-up. I half-jokingly asked the doc what the deal was with the stuff around my middle, grabbing a couple inches of ugliness and looking up quizzically at my doctor’s face. He picked up my chart and reviewed my own weight trend during the past three years. “Let’s see,” he dead-panned. “The first year you saw me you refused to get on the scale, and last year you were ten pounds lighter.” While I explained to him that this was not exactly one of my lighter weeks—if you get what I mean—and that these heavier weeks consistently carry with them an extra five pounds of pure water weight, and that I just ate breakfast and was fully clothed so that the delta was more like two to three pounds, he did affirm that I looked “great.” While that was clearly code for “don’t feel like you need to lose weight but if you’re asking me about your middle, it’s called ‘fat,’ he did place a premium on being fit and strong over being super-skinny. The fact that I had my tennis skirt and shoes on along with a scheduled game immediately following my check-up was good enough for him. And it’s what I stress over and over with my daughter: just keep exercising and eating in a healthy manner and the rest will take care of itself…even if some weeks are “fat weeks” and some weeks are “thin weeks.” (I realize this is a foreign concept to rocket dads, but trust me on this one.)

2) Strive for a diet that is as natural as possible. Avoid processed foods, refined sugars, refined flours, excessive sodium, and chemical additives. While this might make packing the kids’ lunchboxes more challenging (those cereal bars, juice boxes and mini-bags of chips are awfully convenient) it’s far healthier to pack a piece of whole fruit, some raw nuts and a water bottle. Try to cook as many meals from scratch as is humanly possible, avoiding packaged and prepared entrees that are loaded with preservatives and artificial flavorings and coloring.

3) Drink lots of water. Forget sodas and fruit juices loaded with unnecessary refined sugars. Train your kids to drink that proverbial eight to ten glasses a day. And add a squeeze of lemon or lime whenever possible as the health benefits of doing so are tremendous.

4) Eat several small meals a day or three solid ones, never skipping breakfast or eating on the run. If it means getting up in the morning a half-hour earlier in order to get some healthy food on the table, it’s important that you put this practice into play with consistency and longevity. Just because your kids are old enough to make meals on their own does not mean that you should give up on the practice of seeing them out the door in the morning without this wonderful foundation. Sliced fresh fruit or a protein fruit smoothie is far better than a sugary doughnut or processed fruit roll-up. Make sure that when you pack snacks into lunchboxes, too, that they’re as healthy as manageable. I tend towards organic nuts, yogurt and fruit, or dark chocolate chips or whole-grain, organic cookies. (My husband is still trying to decipher the “organic” in Paul Newman’s wonderful—and my personal favorite—organic chocolate or ginger cookies, each crème-filled and especially delicious. “Does he use organic cream to make the icing or is it the flour that’s organic?” he wonders out-loud every time I open a bag. Who cares? They’re a great alternative to the junk that’s out there being peddled as food.)

5) Recognize clear genetic differences in body style. While I subscribe to the fruit theory of women’s body shapes (you really are an apple or a pear), your DNA plays a huge role in body shape, weight, clothing size and in what you will eventually look like. Stop obsessing—and teach your daughter to do the same—about the body-type that you or she will never have. My daughter is built almost exactly like me; I can teach her about my trouble spots, as I know they will be hers, too. But I also need to teach her to treat her body respectfully, which means that she needs to give it the right fuel as well as daily aerobic workouts and regular strength training. And, given that you know your areas of weakness, try not to dissect your body. Try not to say: “I love my waist but I hate my thighs” or “I’d like my body so much better if my hips weren’t so wide.” You can’t change your basic bone structure so learn to live with the genetic hand you’ve been dealt.

6) Practice proper skin care. Teach your daughter how to take care of her skin, especially her face, so that when she’s older, the habits are well-formed and firmly in place. (And she needn’t resort to botox or chemical peels while young.) Using a high-quality olive oil soap with warm water is still the best cleaning technique possible; don’t succumb to all of the expensive glamour-puss products on the market. I confess to perking up my ears when I over-heard a friend talk about a foundation make-up she uses that she jokingly refers to as face spackle, as it apparently covers up all of one’s skin imperfections. I’ve yet to really check it out, but the word picture of spackling my face—sunspots and all—was tempting. Imagine how much more tempted your teen daughter is with the plethora of celebrity and rock star advertising for beauty products in magazines, MTV, movies and billboards everywhere.

7) Focus on shining eyes, hair, teeth and nails. You can’t hide good health. If you’ve got it, your body will show it. Your eyes will sparkle and your hair will shine in the sunlight. Your nails will be strong and your teeth will be white. These have always been hallmarks of radiant health…and they should be your family’s goals. Compliment your daughter when she exhibits these signs of glowing good health. Give these things your attention. Praise her for bouncing through the day with rosy cheeks and laughing eyes and always give priority to health and well-being rather than to weight or dieting or clothing size analysis.

Bathing suit season is upon us, whether we like it—or care—or not. Perhaps as we struggle through “the anorexic challenge” before our nation’s young girls—as well as our collective desires to be tan and thin and able to fit into a bikini (or one-piece or heck, even a pair of shorts), we can get a grip by getting our arms around the situation…and around our own daughter’s shoulders.

* NOTES: All references to the article “Before Spring Break, The Anorexic Challenge” by Alex Williams are found in The New York Times, April 2, 2006. The online edition can be found for a limited time at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/fashion/sundaystyles/02BREAK.html?_r=1&8hpib&oref=slogin