Lately Ava, who is 5, has been very interested in working out as a family. We have started to practice some yoga, she has a tiny 2 pound weight, has really started to love running, and I love it. I’m so proud of her and happy to see that through both mine and Jeff’s example she is beginning to understand the importance of being healthy and making good choices for her well-being.
What I am even more happy about is that she has an understanding that working out is to help make us strong and not skinny. That eating balanced meals and having diets full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein is to fuel our bodies, not lose weight. And as proud of her as I am, I have to say that I am very proud of myself for this as well, because for a long time this was not the case for me.
For as long as I can remember, I was always worried about being fat. I had body-image issues that caused me to have low self confidence and there was not a day that went by that I wasn’t worried about gaining weight or was beating myself up over it. I grew up in a time where this was pretty common, and having a mother with an eating disorder, it was very close to home. As a swimmer and runner I saw many teammates struggle as well. Weight was a huge issue all around me and it was way more important than it should have been. For lack of a better word, it was normal for girls who were thin to complain about being fat. My mom, family and friends told me I was beautiful all the time. But this came from me; I was always so hard on myself and when you are constantly putting yourself down, you start to believe it.
A horrible cycle of binge eating and excessive exercise was something I dealt with for a long time, all the way up to college. I was consumed by it and although I looked like I was in fantastic shape, it was probably the most unhealthy I had ever been. I was eating and exercising to be thin, not strong and was obsessive about it.
Even into my mid to late twenties I struggled. I went to the gym for hours, secretly keeping journals of my workouts, food, everything. I would even take days off from work if I knew it was the only way I could work out that day. Through it all, however, I really had no idea this was a problem.
Fast forward to the year I turned 30. Jeff and I were married, and I was ready to be a mom. When Ava was born, it was like she saved me. None of that mattered as much anymore. I still worked out, usually by running with her in the stroller, but my reasons changed. I wanted her to see her mom making good choices. I wanted to make sure that she would never struggle with any of the things that I had. I never wanted her to see me stay home because all of my clothes made me look fat, which happened many times in my life. I had to consciously step back and understand that she would learn from my actions. It wouldn’t matter how many times I told her she was beautiful, if she saw her mother putting herself down that’s what she would do too.
So we never talk about working out to lose weight or even maintain weight. Even after my son was born, I never alluded to the baby weight or put myself down in front of her, no matter how badly I wanted to get back in shape. Yes, I felt that way, it’s completely natural after a woman has a baby. But she didn’t need to hear that. In her eyes my body was amazing for bringing her baby brother into this world. And you know what? She is right.
We as moms don’t give ourselves enough credit for that. Our bodies can do incredible things and we put them through so much. We need to be proud of what they are capable of and respect them for that. As a teacher and coach to middle and high school girls it breaks my heart to hear their comments and know some will struggle with these issues. We need to break this cycle and keep striving to teach our girls (and boys) that being strong is far more important than skinny. That being comfortable in your own skin and believing in yourself are the keys to being successful.
I allow Ava to call the shots when it comes to our workouts. I’m lucky she is still cool with the stroller for runs, so when she wants to head out I bring it along so she can hop in and out when she wants. I never force her to workout, I let her know what I am going to do and if she wants to join, great. If not, great. We live a mostly healthy, and organic lifestyle when it comes to food, but are always up for the occasional treat. We might explain that something isn’t the most healthy or suggest a healthier alternative, but I make sure I never tell her something she eats will make her fat. Or call something fattening. It’s always “unhealthy”. Fat just doesn’t exist in our vocabulary.
I won’t say that I don’t still struggle with some of the issues I’ve had. And maybe I always will. It may not make sense to anyone else, but I can honestly say that she has taught me so much about being self confident and self accepting. I learn how to just go about my life without concern of judgement or worry about what someone thinks of me or my weight. Funny how much we learn from our children. She doesn’t know that she could worry about these things. I hope to keep it that way.
I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures of Ava and I running and practicing yoga together. These moments are so incredible to me, and I’d like to think to her too.