Becky and me at my wedding, March 2013
And finally – the fourth generation of women: my daughter, Becky. The generation that breaks free.
Becky is now 38, but she was only three when I began to study and train with Susie Orbach and the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute.
As I took classes at the Institute, I started using the approach developed by Jane R. Hirshmann and Lela Zaphiropoulos in their wonderful book, “Kids, Carrots and Candy: A Practical Positive Approach To Raising Children Free of Food and Weight Problems” (it was originally published as “Are You Hungry?”) We believe that if you help children to recognize both body hunger and when they’re satiated, they will not have a compulsive eating problem. Furthermore, if you ask them “are you hungry” when they want to eat and ask what do they want to eat for the hunger, they will tell you. It’s back to self-demand feeding. When a child is nursing, she will stop when she’s had enough. We don’t know how many ounces it is – she’s satiated. We are teaching our children how to listen to and have control over their own bodies. Once you make certain foods special, they have a magical charm of their own. But if you treat all foods as equal, there’s no differentiation between chicken, chocolate or chickpeas. We don’t tell our children “If you finish your ice cream, you can have broccoli”. Children will self-regulate over time and will make choices made on bodily and nutritional needs themselves. This approach was difficult for others to understand and they couldn’t imagine letting a child decide what she wanted to eat. I got a lot of push back from in-laws and even from her progressive school (“did she really have Oreos as her breakfast?!” Yup!)
Once when she was five, she had a friend who was a difficult eater and whose mother fed her (literally). “Lisa” came over for dinner when her mother had an appointment and we were talking about what to eat since they were hungry. “Lisa” started to get nervous that I was going to make her eat something and my daughter said, ”don’t worry – my mom won’t make you eat anything if you don’t want to.” We had a discussion about what the girls felt like eating since they were hungry and I ordered those foods in. There was no problem in “Lisa’s” eating and enjoying the food.
I knew that this approach worked when we went to a diner one day when my daughter was 18. Her friend came along, too. As my daughter perused the vast menu, we heard her say “do I feel like something smooth or crunchy – hot or cold.” I went “WHOOPIE!! It worked!!” She looked at me as though I were crazy and I explained what this meant. She initially got angry “was I an experiment? Was this like a ‘Skinner Box’?” But she eventually understood that this is one of the reasons why she doesn’t obsess about food. She eats when she’s hungry and makes choices based on what her body wants. She loves dancing and feels good in her body. She’s told me that she doesn’t have a problem with eating something she “shouldn’t” and then beating herself up for it. But she’s still a product of our society and, as most of us do, feels that she doesn’t measure up to her ideal body sometimes. But she does not become obsessed by it. She loves being physically active. She is an independent, fierce, self-loving woman. Her body image is positive and I can’t imagine that as she ages she will struggle as her ancestors have.
If you missed the previous three blogs about the women in my family, please go to www.LeslieMFaerstein.com.