Cacomorphobia in Children

EO1

” Have some more but don’t eat too much. You don’t want to be fat”

What? Did you just say that to my 5 year old munchkin?

All I wanted to say was, “I will love you equally even if you are fat. EAT EAT EAT!!” but I refrained and said, “Oh don’t worry Irene, eat as much as you want.”

So a couple of weeks ago we went down to the beautiful town of Sudbury, where Ed’s beloved 84 year old Godmother, Etain Todds resides. She is all in all a great person, (past her strong judgement about people’s intellect). She studied at the Cambridge University and went on to become a teacher. She has lived quite a life!

Half Zorastrian and half English, Etain grew up in a very affluent family. And as most of them do, she developed an immense knowledge and interest in arts, culture and literature. She is alien to the concept of technology. Yet she is on top of world affairs, books, musicals, theatre etc. She is socially active but lives on her own. Hence, we visit her from time to time. She owns a beautiful thatched house, with a huge backyard which is a dog heaven for Rustle and kids love lighting fire almost every time we visit. She isn’t big on cooking, but she puts a smorgasbord of finger food for us like sausages, eggs, GREENS (your children don’t eat enough greens – not true), bread, cheese, crackers, ice-creams, wine, martini etc. Enough to fill us up and felt looked after. (She also hides a cheque for us every now and then in an old – fashioned way inside a book she gifts us to read).

Before I met her, Ed had told me about her and almost warned me to be calm and not take her too seriously if she says something. He warned me that she could be judgmental and abrupt. So we decided to meet up at the Royal Academy in London. It couldn’t get more posh than that now. There was a glass of wine, food and Ed’s shy yet warm arms around me. It was all okay until she asked me the question I was dreading yet somehow not expecting, “So why are you with Ed?”.

Naughty as my thoughts could run, I had a so many inappropriate things to say to her only to annoy her but I refrained. And to fill the awkward silence, she threw some more words at me, “Do you know that he is married (and separated) and has two children? He is bringing his children over to England, would you be okay with that?” Honestly, hardly 3 months into a relationship, I am being told that I might have to become a step-mother to this man’s children. Anyhow, I don’t want to talk about that evening too much. This post is not about Etain or about our family to be true. But, the background will help understand that education and exposure although important, intuitions play a very important role in being a good – parent.

So almost 3 years later, we are all a happy family. I have two step-children and a doting fiancé in Ed. I suppose that answers Etain’s questions. Etain has come to appreciate my role in her great godson’s life and vice-versa. We visit her maybe every 3 months or so.

This particular time at Etain’s,  we were all eating and our little girl wanted  cheese and ice-cream. So she kept eating and asking for more politely as she does (she is very good with please and thank you). That is when Etain said those what seemed to me as horrible words to my child,

” Have some more but don’t eat too much. You don’t want to be FAT

And in the flow of conversation Ed responded, “Aaah it doesn’t matter. There is no fear of them becoming fat because…” (I knew he’d finish by saying nobody in their mum’s or dad’s family is fat) and I interrupted, shocked at the fact that is it just me who is seeing something wrong in this conversation,

“I don’t think it is appropriate to suggest anything related to becoming fat to a child of such tender age. Irene you may eat as much as you like and can we end this conversation right here.” Everyone politely agreed and my dear dear man changed the topic in a nano second.

EO2

It is easy to say things in the passing without realising the effect it can have on children. Two things

a. You are suggesting eating a lot can make you fat and FAT is not acceptable.

b. Are you also suggesting if you become fat, you won’t be liked as much?

I don’t want my children to dislike overweight people, neither develop eating disorder because someone suggested it will make you fat and fat isn’t good.

On the way back home, I thought about it deeply. I come from a culture where chubby cheeks are loved by all and is almost seen as a symbol of a happy child with a healthy appetite. It has its pro and cons of course. I blamed my family for over-feeding me for my chubby cheeks that turned me into a fat ball as a teenager and pretty much all my life until my 20’s when I drastically lost all excess weight for some reason. Perhaps because I left my home and was living on my own. My mother wasn’t feeding me amazingly delicious home cooked food.

And as a mother I wanted to write this blog post, pointing out that we live in a country where bulimia and anorexia is so common. One must not take it lightly. And as a parent realise that every word we say, children may not understand or be able to rationalise it but it gets absorbed in their subconscious and who knows what may happen as they grow older.

The number of young adults with eating disorder is soringly high and some researchers have claimed that they have seen children as young as age of six suffering from eating disorder. There is already so much hype around weight issues, thanks to the super-models and westernised projection of size zero women on television and magazines! We don’t need peers and family to unknowingly encourage our children towards mental health problems of eating disorder or suffer from cacomorphobia – fear or disgust for fat people.

Ofcourse, keep an eye on what you feed them. Lay the law for eating habits and rituals. I believe in old school parenting and have never given my children any choice in picking food. If you don’t like your dinner, you may go straight to bed. My children have learnt the hard hardway. Also, when they do eat everything on their plate (or a good uncompromised amount), they get a treat of cheese, chocolate or anything that they may call ‘favourite’. My kids have learnt to respect authority (they won’t listen to you if you seem gullible of course) and honestly, come across as such blissfully well-behaved children, so I say myself. Our older boy is almost seven and now that he is a bit bigger, we give him a choice of ‘how much’ he may or may not eat unless we know he is totally taking the piss.

And if they do indulge one day, make sure you involve them in a lot of activity. The problem isn’t in eating, but most of the time it is the lack of physical activity and exercise. Put those video games and televisions away. Fatty food and television don’t go hand in hand!

Ofcourse this isn’t a post about good parenting. To each its own and I respect that. But as a new and young mum, I realise everyday and learn about innocent mistakes we as parents can make that may sometimes lead to nothing but sometimes lead to fundamental problems. Just be careful!!

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