Or, How My Toddler Taught Me To Trust My Tummy
By Jane Dwinell
Winter 1992 issue
Ive worked on my body image and food issues for at least thirty of
my past thirty-seven years. Like everyone else, Ive done the diets: fad diets in the
1960s, college-student poverty "diets" in the 1970s, Weight Watchers in the
1980s, with even an short stint as a lecturer. Three years ago I discovered Breaking
Free from Compulsive Eating (Geneen Roth) and Overcoming Overeating (Jane
Hirschmann and Carol Munter). It was because of these books that I stopped dieting and
began trying to eat when I was hungry and accept my body at the size it was. Its
been a struggle, although a pleasant one, because I know that what Im doing is
right. My intuition has always told me that I am not meant to be a size 10 and that food
should be a pleasure, not a punishment. My work in the field of holistic health has helped
me realize that our bodies know how to take care of themselves; we just need to stop and
listen to them. But nothing and no one has taught me more about food, self-love, and body
love than my four-year-old daughter, Dana.
I knew when I became a parent that I wanted to avoid food struggles. I
had watched too many friends force vegetables on their children and not allow them any
number of things, from chocolate milk to cookies. I had watched the fights and I had
watched the kids when I had them over for dinner: They ate whatever they wanted and they
seemed to make reasonable choices. Were they just rebelling against their parents or was
something else going on?
I had worked for years as nurse in a birthing center and helped
thousands of babies adjust to life "on the outside." I had seen that they all
fed differently: Some nursed voraciously and lengthily; others snacked, nibbled, or had to
be helped to learn how to suck on a flat nipple. But they all wanted to eat and they all
got hungry and they all stopped when they were full. I had vowed to let my child make her
own decisions about food, whatever they might be.
By the time I began to learn how to feed myself, Dana was into solid
food. She had always nursed on demand and now was fascinated with the world of spiral
noodles, tofu, and fresh tomatoes. She was allowed to eat what she wanted when she wanted
it. The house was filled with a wide variety of foods as I worked on my formerly
"forbidden" foods: ice cream, potato chips, and chocolate. She often would join
me for a bowl of chocolate chips, and although part of me cringed inside, I made no
comment. (I mean, just how healthy could all that sugar and chocolate be for a
She would prance around naked, holding a bowl of her latest food
delight: fresh peas, warm bread and butter, hamburger, Cheerios and raisins, or pickles.
She refused to wear clothes; a side effect of this habit was that she toilet trained
herself. She lounged with her food, played with it, dripped it on her tummy, and always
stopped eating it when she was full. More than once I saw her remove a piece of food from
her mouth, say "All done," and prance away from the food to her next project.
How many of us listen to our bodies that precisely? How many of us would actually
remove food from our mouths?
Then the Oreos came. Cookies were not foreign to her, nor chocolate, but
I had always done all of our baking, so she had never seen any that were store-bought. My
parents gave us a bag of food after a visit, and the Oreos were inside. Dana took the bag
and carried it off. I held my breath and did not say a word. The next time I saw her she
had figured out how to take the cookies apart. She was lining them up carefully, building
roadways. She had eaten a few. Later she built towers, and then she made sandwiches out of
just the chocolate parts, and then she made sandwiches out of the chocolate and filling
parts. She spent the day with that bag of Oreos, never letting it out of her sight. By
nightfall she had eaten about half the cookies and had played with the rest. She had eaten
nothing else all day.
The next day she woke up, bright and cheery as usual, and asked me to
make her a salad. It was summer and the height of the growing season. She took me out to
the garden and pointed out the ingredients she wanted: lettuce, kale, radishes, carrots,
broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We picked everything and went back to the
house, where I assembled the salad and she poured on her favorite dressing: homemade
poppyseed. She lovingly ate each vegetable with her fingers and then asked for more. That
entire day she ate nothing but salad after salad after salad.
She had listened to her bodyand had listened to it magnificently.
I knew that I could trust her, she knew that she could make her own food choices. She
hadnt become a whining, oversugared child the day she ate the Oreos. And the next
day she ate salad to compensate for the lack of nutrition the preceding day. If only I
could so easily do the same for myself! Here I was, a highly educated adult, and she a
young child. Yet she knew more about what her body needed: She respected her body, used it
in her play, cherished it. In contrast, I still often yelled at myself, chastised myself
for eating non-nutritious food, felt my fat was my enemy and would never leave me alone.
It was a turning point for me. I became a little child again, the little
child I had never been allowed to be. I lined up potato chips, dripped ice cream down my
front, spent some time naked in the garden with my daughter, both of us reveling in warm,
fresh cherry tomatoes. I watched my daughter and learned from her.
Today I am wiser and at peace with my body and with food. It is high
summer again, and todays food of choice is cucumbers. She comes to me every half
hour or so, requesting "six slices of cucumber." She lines them up in a perfect
circle on her plate and then goes back outside to play. I can see her eating them slowly
and carefully in the sunshine. Soon I will join her with my food of choice. Well sit
on the swings, both of us wearing just overalls and eating our personal delights, proud of
our strong, soft bodies, enjoying the warm day and each others company.
My dream has come true: There are no food struggles, no food issues, in
this home. My partner, Sky, and our nine-month-old son, Sayer, share in this bounty. Four
people, four different bodies, four different food preferences, all okay, all accepted,
all loved. Dana has taught us and we have learned well. ©
JANE DWINELL is a freelance writer who, along with her partner and
two children, is a homesteader in northern Vermont.
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