Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I Will Never Use the D Word

‘Mummy,’ my middle daughter said to me a few weeks ago in utter horror. ‘You’re wearing… pants!’ 

She practically spat the last word and it probably matches my own perception of this particular item of clothing.

I have a few body hang ups and I dress in a particular way. I never wear pants, shorts or jeans. I only wear long skirts, preferably to my ankles, sometimes longer, never shorter than calf length. I often wear rather low cut tops, rationalising that if the eyes are drawn upwards, they won’t be looking at my overly ample bottom and legs.

It’s dumb, I know. No one actually gives a crap what I wear or what my body looks like under it. But I had body issues as a teenager and they don’t just disappear because you ‘grow up’, just because you get married, or just because you ‘know better’. Body issues get right to the core of who you are, whether you want to be bigger or smaller or more curvier or curvier in different places. Whether it’s something you obsess over, or something you put in the ‘too hard’ basket and decide to think about it later.

So apparently, it would appear my four year old had never seen me in a pair of pants before when she caught me one morning in a pair of tracksuit bottoms. She studied my legs as though she hadn’t realised I had any.

‘WHY are you wearing pants?’ she wanted to know.

‘I’ve been doing some exercise,’ I told her.

She gave me a good all over glance. ‘Why?’ she asked again.

To her four year old eyes, I look exactly the way I am supposed to look. Mum shaped. Specifically her-mum shaped. She doesn’t yet understand concepts like fat or thin or sexy or unfit or athletic or what is desirable or not. As far as she is concerned, the way I am now, is just the way I am meant to be.

As far as I am concerned, I am in the worst physical shape of my life. I currently weigh the same as I did when I was 9 months pregnant with the Bombshell. Over the past seven years I have put on about 25 kilograms (55 pounds). I can’t run a few metres without getting puffed. My knees protest about everything I do. I eat what I want, when I want. I drink too much alcohol. I can’t sit cross legged on the floor. I have a BMI in the obese range. I don’t feel obese, but I don’t feel good.

It aint pretty.

So, after years of watching my weight balloon, and solving the problem by just buying bigger clothes, I have finally decided to do something about it. I have been wanting to do something for years but there was always a reason, an excuse not to. I am pretty good at making excuses. I was either pregnant or breastfeeding, or wanting to get pregnant, or I had a bad-sleeping baby, or I didn’t want to sacrifice my writing time. Or any time, for that matter.

But six weeks ago I signed up for an online ‘body transformation’ program that I haven’t followed in the slightest, but it didn’t matter. My head was finally in the right space and I have been cutting down on booze, cutting down on snacks, reducing portion size and looking the other way when cakes, chocolate or other temptations are placed in front of me. Mostly anyway. Oh, and the exercise that is beginning to transform me.

I sneak downstairs before 5am every day, and do a different exercise video in the family room. In Perth at the moment, it stays dark until after 7am, so at 5am it’s pretty dark and quiet and lonely. Just the right place I need to get my wobbles out. And there is a lot of wobbling.

When the girls ask me why I am exercising, I say it is to make my body strong.

When they ask why I am eating so many vegetables, I say it is because they are full of goodness.

When they ask me why I’m not eating dessert, I say it is because I am listening to my tummy and it says it is full.

I will never tell them I am on a diet or that I am trying to lose weight.

There are two reasons why I will never use the ‘D’ word in front of my daughters. One, is because I am acutely aware that they will inevitably form their own body issues over time, and be damned if I am going to raise them in a household where mum is constantly dieting and denying herself in the name of numbers of a scale.

Secondly, is because I don’t want to be on a diet for the rest of my life. Nothing could depress me more than the thought of dieting and all the negative connotations that come with that loaded word dictating the way I eat for the rest of my life. However, I can realistically see myself ‘eating healthily’ for the rest of my days, with occasional treats and being able to still enjoy food, but just less of it, and perhaps avoiding certain foods 95% of the time.

I can live with teaching my daughters to ‘eat healthy’. I don’t think I can live with teaching them about the concept of dieting.

Sure, it may seem like semantics to some people, that I am simply choosing a different word to describe the same situation. But I have not discussed this with my kids. I haven’t told them I am changing the way I eat or the fact I now exercise. I haven’t made a song and dance in front of them.

I just do it. Like the advert says.

And it’s working. I can see it and I can feel it. Yes, the numbers are changing but I am trying not to focus on that (but on the flipside I feel proud of those numbers and I can totally understand why people obsess over them).

And even though I don’t think the 5am starts are sustainable in the long term, what I am noticing is that six weeks on I can do so more. I can run up the stairs (well, jog). I don’t need as much food to feel full. I don’t feel the need to eat dessert just because my mouth wants it. I am feeling happier with myself. I am not needing two or three glasses of wine at the end of the day.

I just want my kids to look at me and see a happy mum, to see that she is eating well and is happy with herself. Notice I didn’t say ‘happy with her body’. Happy with the way I am living.

Maybe one day I will even buy a pair of jeans.


  1. Good on you! That first step is always the hardest.

  2. Fantastic post! Related to it all. And good on you for not using the 'diet' word with your children, so wise, I wish more mothers realised how much damage it can do to their children. They just don't need it! Now, you have inspired me to get off this computer, go make the kids school lunches and jump into bed so I can get up early and exercise before I fill my day with excuses as to why I haven't exercised.

  3. Awesome post. I too did the "body transformation" and whilst I only did the exercise portion, I certainly saw a change in my body and lost 8kgs. I haven't done it for a few months now, you've inspired me to start again. Keep at it!

  4. Good on you! I think there comes a time when everyone is jolted into doing something about their health. For me, it was when my son started school and I could no longer use the excuse that I'd just had a baby. And I agree: the 'D' Word should be removed from everyone's vocabulary—it causes too much physical and psychological pain.

  5. Brilliant post Shannon!

    I lived in a household focused on body image and issues pertaining to siblings of mine. I refuse to comment on my body and its appearance in front of my children. I am too aware of the damage that can be caused in these early years (to both genders) and want to avoid that for my own children.
    Too much time spent obsessing in the mirror and constant negative comments fed back from external thanks, not for my children's future!

    Well done on taking this logical and emotional stand for the future of your three girls!

  6. Great approach. I have a friend who is obsessed with diet, exercise and weight, and she's already passing it onto her 5 year old. I think you're going about things the right way.

  7. This is a brilliant post and I couldn't agree with you more. Your daughters are so lucky to have such an intelligent Mum :)
    Not sure if you have read much of Martin Seligman's work but I found the Optimistic Child was personally transforming - thinking about how my perceptions of self transferred to the kids completely changed the way I talk about myself, view myself, and the language I use...such as "I can't go on that because I am an adult" not because I am big/fat etc...
    Keep up the great work Shannon - on all fronts :)
    Liz x


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