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On Why We Don’t Use the F Word – And Other Family Rules

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No, I’m not talking about THAT F-word.

In our home, we do not say the word fat. Ever. Sound extreme to you? Maybe. But if you’ve ever spent time in that dark place of self-loathing because you can’t seem to starve away every single tiny piece of fat from your body, then you will understand my intense feelings surrounding that word. (Someday I will write in more detail about that dark place, but not yet.)

That’s my sweet daughter Charley in that photo on her first day of preschool. She’s three and a half and as happy as can be. It kills me to know that because I have suffered from an eating disorder, and even though I consider myself healed, she is at a higher risk of developing one in her lifetime. I’ve read the research, and it’s enough to make some very firm rules for our household, to protect her from becoming another statistic. (Even still, if I had never had an eating disorder, the statistics of women developing eating disorders these days are still frightening.)

You may see it as helicopter parenting or keeping my child in a bubble. But have you experienced the hell of an eating disorder? Or the hell of an addiction? The hell of mental illness? If you have, you will understand my desire to build that bubble around her as long as possible. Yes, she will encounter the outside world eventually, but not until our family beliefs and words are imprinted so deeply in her mind and heart that when she comes across the confusing ideas of fat that our society presents, she will be so strong in her beliefs that they will not be shattered by Victoria’s Secret commercials, false advertising, rude comments from men, outrageous diet claims in magazines, etc.

In our home:

We do not use the word fat as an adjective (or at all). Our society focuses on size so much. Why do we always comment on the shape of a person first? Instead of describing someone as fat, large, skinny, chubby, thin or huge, we use other characteristics. “Your Auntie Julia has curly hair, blue eyes, and wears glasses sometimes.” This is a tip that I learned a few years ago in therapy and have made a rule in my life since then, even when I’m not around my kids. The obsession with size in our society needs to end, and this is one tiny place to start.

There are no good foods or bad foods. Food is food. In our home I do my best to not label foods as bad or good, positive or negative, junk or treats. This is especially difficult for me as a Health Coach because I find the nutritional value and science behind food so fascinating. We do discuss that some foods can make us feel sick, slow, or tired and that other foods can give us energy and make us feel good.

Food does not make you bigger or smaller, fatter or skinnier. Yes, if you eat pizza all day, every day, you will get fat. And if all you eat is lettuce all day, every day, you will wither away into nothing. But neither of those are options in Charley’s life right now so she doesn’t need to know that. I never want her to look at ice cream and think it will make her fat.

That scene in Little Miss Sunshine makes me so angry. I want to punch my screen. I remember watching that before I had my own kids and vowing to never let that happen in my family.

We walk everywhere, as often as possible. The walking thing started out not by my choice. Charley was an extremely spirited toddler and absolutely refused to ever sit in the stroller. She was walking confidently soon after her first birthday and at that point we just packed the stroller away into storage and she walked every where from then on. It was annoying at first, but now at age 3.5, she can walk for hours without whining. She loves hiking and running and knows no difference. I absolutely love it. We go for long walks almost every day. We make it a priority so that it is part of her lifestyle now, and not something we have to worry about incorporating later on.

She sees my love for exercise. This one can be tricky and leads right into the next one.

I do not exercise to get smaller or skinnier. My kids see me exercise. I take them for runs, I lift weights while Xavier naps, and they watch myself and other moms workout at our Mommy Workout Group that my friend leads in a park. They know that once a week I wake up early to meet a good friend for a morning workout, and they know that once a week Daddy puts them to bed because I’m at a running clinic. The thing is, my exercise has nothing to do with shrinking. I’m not “working off that ice cream”, “shrinking my love handles”, or trying to achieve the impossible “thigh gap”. My children will NEVER hear those words from me. Instead, I tell them that I’m building muscles so that I can be strong to pick them up, that I’m getting fast so I can run with them and play with them, and so my body has more energy. And those things are true. I’m not exercising to get smaller or reach some goal. I’m exercising so I can keep up with my kids, lift heavy things when I need to, and open my own darn pickle jar.

I do not stare at myself in the mirror. It’s amazing how much little children observe and absorb. I don’t do it anyway (anymore), but I especially do not stand in front of a mirror and critique myself in front of my children. I need a mirror to do my hair and makeup, but I am careful with my facial expressions. No deep sighs of dissatisfaction, no grimaces or squeezing and pinching any extra skin. I don’t have a scale, but if I did, I would not weigh myself in front of my children. So many women I know weigh themselves every single morning. What kind of habit is that to instil in our children?

I am IN our photos. I am in those photos with my kids.  I will not stay out of a photo because I don’t think I look my best or because my outfit isn’t especially flattering that day. And I will NEVER say out loud that I don’t like the way I look in a photo. I avoid negative self talk internally and externally as much as humanly possible. With this same mindset, when we are at the beach or at the pool, I will be there in my swimsuit as confidently as possibly. (It has taken me a long time to get there, but my children are a great motivator.) I will be in the water, swimming and playing with my kids, and not caring if my make up runs or my hair gets drenched and stringy. I still don’t love being in a bathing suit in public, but I’m going to fake it until I make it and make sure my children don’t pick up on that.

I compliment Charley on more than just her beauty. Charley is beautiful, and she hears it all the time from family, friends and strangers. And I’m totally okay with that. I tell her she’s beautiful all the time. It won’t take long before our society tries to make her feel ugly, so I’ll tell her as many times as I can until then that she was created perfectly. I don’t think you can tell your children they are beautiful too often, as long as your compliments of their other strengths outweigh the compliments of their appearance. For every time I tell her she’s beautiful, I make sure to magnify two or three other strengths of hers. For example, things like “I love that you are so kind to your brother”, “You are so good at sharing”, “You are so helpful”. I learned this from a very wise friend of mine who is parenting a few years ahead of me and aim to use this tool with all people I come in contact with, not just my own children.

Food is GOOD. So many people have negative issues surrounding any and all food. In my darkest times, I would be kept awake all night from the shame of eating a plain chicken breast. I would imagine all the fat accumulating on my body as I lied in bed and how much bigger I would be in the morning. I know better now. Now I know that food equals life. Food is fuel for my body. Food is energy and strength, and strength is beautiful.

This all my sound crazy to you. I might sound paranoid and maybe I am a little. These rules may evolve as my children mature and can understand nutrition and science more.

But for now, instilling these values in Charley’s mind and heart is one of my biggest passions.


To read a bit about my story and why I’m so passionate about this, click here.

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12 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Well written, Joanna. I would add that they are also listening to the ways we talk to our friends about all of the above topics. I’m blessed to have many friends who are beauties in every aspect…but I’ve noticed that we/I tend to go a little overboard in our compliments with regards to appearance. Not only am I working on balancing out the way I compliment my own children, but others as well. If I always zero in on another’s appearance first, that’s also a pattern that gets learned. In the process of changing what we say, we also learn to notice and affirm the many other excellent qualities about a person that makes us want to be his or her friend. 🙂

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  2. thanks for this, joanna. this resonated on SO many levels with me, and i appreciate your honesty and just the heart behind this post. such good practical tips too, your kids are lucky to have you as their mumma!

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  3. As soon as we get the perception that our worth is somehow dependent on our physical bodies – it is at that point that something has gone wrong.

    The f-word (fat) as she puts it is a word that we should never take out of our vocabulary. Fat and its functions for life are crucial – without it we die and likewise having too much of it can definitely kill us also. Not using a word or banning a word – does nothing to change the perspective

    That is the same as turning your back on what is really driving all of this.

    When it comes time to teach my daughter about food / eating habits – the focus of that teaching needs to be on the fact that a calorie is not a calorie

    If we could get everyone to watch the Movie Fed Up – eyes will then be squarely focused on the locomotive headed directly for us.

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    • Thank you for your comment and respectful feedback. I do agree with a lot of what you said. As a nutrition counselor I will definitely be teaching my children about the different kinds of fat and how it works in our body eventually, as their maturity allows. At age 3.5 and 1.5 I do not believe they can understand it enough as at that age they mostly see things as black or white, good or bad. The word will not be banned forever as I believe it is a healthy part of our lives, but I will choose the proper time and place to introduce the concepts in an intelligent and proper way. I am also a huge fan of Fed Up so we have that in common!

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  4. Thank you for the kind reply Joanna – you are definitely on the right track. My daughter is 16 months old today – she is the apple of my eye. My wife and I have two older boys also (12 & 16), eating right is a challenge for us all. I believe all conscientious parents want to empower their children to make good choices and have happy & healthy lives.

    Best Regards,
    Bryan

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  5. I understand the pain of an eating disorder as well. I watched my mom go on and off for Weight Watchers for years until I discovered that if I wasn’t a certain size, I shouldn’t be happy. When my daughter was 18 months, I decided that I would get healthy for her so that she would never know a mom who was unhappy with her body. I made that change through exercise and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. She has never seen me comment about my weight or want to lost weight because I am now happy and secure in my body. Setting an example is so important. I can see how well you are doing that for your daughter 🙂

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