Monday, October 19, 2009

Fat Karma: It Starts Young

It's pretty clear we humans are meant to come in different shapes, colors, and sizes, as we are different sizes even before we enter school. I was a chunky little girl. I was told I was barrel-chested. I could see I was bigger than the other elfin-sized kids. Sadly, it's nothing new that this is treated with alarm by many adults. Even if it isn't, children pick up pretty quickly that they are not good enough when it comes to weight. It happened to me in the 70s, it happened to girls in the 80s, and it is happening even now. Girls at the age of 11 are dieting, and this can only fuck them up for the rest of their lives when it comes to food.

Sometimes it can't be avoided. I know a girl who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I've seen her growing up, and I've seen her develop a very needy personality surrounding food. In her case food must be measured precisely, regulated, and negotiated with insulin shots. I feel so sad for her, as this will be a life-long push and pull. But if a girl is simply a little larger than her average peer, without such illnesses, such restrictions should not occur.

I've been in the hospital one time in my life. I was sick with the flu, and got so dehydrated they put me there to get re-hydrated. They wouldn't let me eat because they were giving me all the nutrients I needed in the drip. That's what they told me anyway. They couldn't find my blood vessels in my arms, so they put them in my legs. My mom fainted. When they removed the drip they finally said I could eat, but what they brought me was broth. I wanted real food. The nurse told me the doctor put me on a diet. I cried and cried at that, thinking even the doctor was saying I weighed too much. I was 6 years old. I said I didn't like it. They brought me something else just as thin. I didn't like that. Finally they brought an orange jello that tasted like cardboard. They said they didn't have anything else in the kitchen. I think at some point someone told me the diet wasn't meant for me to lose weight, but just because I'd been sick. Already at this age 'diet' to me meant the need to lose weight.

I have heard that the best way to give little ones a good diet and a good start to eating right is to allow them to graze, and to make healthy food easily available for them to graze on. Making a small child limit what she eats, restricting access, and making her think she's too fat at the age of 6 has to be just the opposite. I don't blame anybody for this, as this is and has been the accepted fear in our society. Little kids can't be allowed to weigh too much. Geez, could it get any worse than an insurance company refusing to insure a breast-fed baby?

The other very young memory I have is from around the age of 5, going to the annual family reunion, and being told I could only choose a diet soda. This was just the way things were. This is just the way things are now...I can't stand the taste of regular soda...I only drink diet.

I'm sure I knew the calories of various regularly eaten foods by the age of 16. I still have a ballpark idea, though I have refrained from counting calories for almost 20 years. Of course I knew the best things for me are broccoli, celery, and green beans...they have the least calories! Oh, and iceberg practically has negative calories. I'm pretty sure I was dieting by the age of 12. It was a continual thing, this restriction of food, this neediness brought about through the restriction of food. I never did have a healthy grasp on satiety because of dieting, so it understandably took me many years of finding that balance when I began listening to my body's true needs when I was in my 20s.

It turns out I am not alone. Chances are if you diet before 14, you will grow up to be obese. I'm sure I would be much worse off if I had continued to try to ignore my body's natural needs.

Besides corrupting my ability to know when sated or not, I think the larger damage from learning I was not the right size at such a young age was the beginnings of the notion that because I was fat, I could not be fit. In just a few short years I would be the last one picked for t-ball or kickball on the playground. I believed, all the children believed, that the thinner we were, the better we could be at sports. It was a cultural-fulfilling prophecy from 1st grade on up.

They say our personality is fully developed by age 5. What that says to me is that the conditions that go into making the personality of the self seem to be so immutable not only because of genetics, but because of the circumstances that arise before memories stick. How much of our view of our capabilities come from the views of others from before we can even remember? A child might not remember adults clucking over her chunkiness at the age of 2, but it still has an effect on her in later years. If food was withheld at age 2 except at certain times and in certain amounts, would that not have an effect on her hunger at age 7? When adults in a society that obsesses over weight carry that karma over to their children, there's little to no chance the children can escape that karma.

Earlier posts in this series:

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