Sunday, June 8, 2008

There's a Dirty Cop in My Family!

(Note to any members of my family who may read this: I truly adore you all, and am blessed to have you. Sometimes, though, an ugly lie needs to have the light of truth directed at its face. I think this is one of those times. Also, this is part of what shaped me into the person that I am today, and it is important to my recovery to be able to talk about it.)

More than almost anything, I hate dirty cops. I was raised on law and order and I am a black-and-white thinker, but even more than that, a dirty cop takes the authority he is supposed to use to protect, and uses it to hurt instead.

And yet, a dirty cop has been harbored in my family for generations. He shows up smiling at every gathering and spreads his twisted lies among us. For nearly two years now, I have been working to extricate him from my own home and protect my own children, but when he helps raise you, un-doing 30 years of brainwashing is difficult, to say the least, and I make two or more steps backward for every step forward that I manage to eke out, it seems!

Last night I heard this evil voice coming out of my baby sister's mouth and I was appalled. For many months now I have seen her as a victim (and she is!) but last night she became the perpetrator, and it hurt to see it.

This dirty cop that hides out in our clan is The Food Police.

The Food Police is the cacophany of voices that stands between our brains and our mouths. It starts when we are infants. Our parents take a perfectly-functioning biological process and feel they must interfere (after all, they have the voices, as well). Baby must finish his food so he can grown big and strong...and besides, we hate to throw food away, that's a waste! By the time we are 2 or 3 we have been labeled 'picky eaters' because we take our time and choose only the best bits to put in our bellies. We aren't hungry for all that food--we have tiny tummies, only the size of our fists, after all--so we figure we may as well only eat that which tastes good to us. And rightly so! But no, that Dirty Cop of nutrition looks at our plates and says, 'Not ROUND enough or not SQUARE enough-make them eat more!' But when our tiny tummies are emptied by our endless running around, he also says, 'You can't POSSIBLY be hungry this soon-you just ate!' And through this constant contradiction, we learn to distrust our own physical feelings.

It doesn't matter that study after study show that small children will, over a day's or week's time, naturally round out their diet and include all necessary food groups. Our parents are slaves to the Food Police.

Eventually our stubborness in eating only until our bellies are satisfied drives our parents to use one of the Food Police's twisted laws: You must clean your plate in order to have dessert! That's right--not only do we need to overeat, we will be rewarded for overeating by being called 'good' and given more food (that is called 'bad') to stuff into our overstuffed bellies. But we don't realize our bellies are overstuffed, because we have been taught that our bellies lie. And besides, we had better take it when we can get it, because They won't let us have it in two hours when our bellies rumble (you JUST ATE!).

It doesn't take long to come to this way of thinking. Last night our 4 year old cousin was eating a piece of chicken that my 12 yo sister had served her. Three times my sister said, "Hurry up and eat! Quit playing and eat that chicken! If you don't finish that chicken, you can't have any dessert!" I told her to mind her own business but she kept after the poor little girl who was only eating slowly because chicken is hard to chew for tiny teeth and besides, if you eat slowly, then you can hear your tummy's satisfied bell. (Btw, she ate TWO pieces of chicken, of her own volition, once left alone)

Actually, a piece of chicken will be made a more 'square' meal by the addition of a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie--after all, grilled chicken is straight protein and the pie would have the carbohydrates and fat needed for the girl to properly use the protein in the chicken. Plus it held both a fruit and a veggie! But no, pie is 'bad' and has to be atoned for by scarfing more 'good' food than is actually good for you.

And whatever you do, don't WASTE any by throwing it away. Pardon me, but if you eat it when your body is telling you that it doesn't need it, isn't that a waste, as well? And could it possibly be why every person in this family is overweight, including the 12 year old who attempted to force-feed the 4 year old?

I have seen my sister toil over a giant serving of food to the point that she was gagging because of that Food Police edict: You must finish what you take! What is that, an attempt to punish a child for having eyes bigger than her stomach? That child now cannot tell if she is hungry or full, cannot tell what a reasonable portion size is, and worse, is badgered constantly about eating when she IS hungry because she is now overweight, which has caused her to hog all available food. Ask my kids--she is first in the food line and takes all the best stuff because she is afraid someone is going to tell her she doesn't deserve to eat it because she eats too much, even though these same people taught her to eat too much! I will never forget the 'sundae bar' where all the kids but her were left with plain ice cream. It's very sad, because she doesn't enjoy her food--who can when they eat super-fast, hunched over their plate as if someone is about to swipe it, while riddled with distrustful, humliated and rebellious thoughts?

I said everyone in my family was fat, but that is not quite true. My brothers and my own sons aren't. Boys don't have the pressure that girls have about weight and eating, generally, but more than that, in our home, we only have one food rule: If you don't complain about mushrooms, you don't have to eat any.

My kids won't eat unless they are hungry. They stop when they are satisfied. Both are quite thin, which is nice, but most importantly, food isn't emotional to them. It's just food. They can take it, leave it, forget about it, etc. because they know they can eat pretty much whenever they are hungry. They don't have to eat out of rebellion, and they know what their bodies need and don't need. Don't get me wrong, they get bugged at family gatherings, as well, because no one understands why they eat the way they do, but because they have been taught here at home to listen to their bodies instead of the other voices, they are strong and able to resist.

Please let your children, and yourself, be guided by your bodies, which were "fearfully and wonderfully made" indeed! If you need help with that, two really great books are Like Mother, Like Daughter and Intuitive Eating. The first concentrates on why (assuming you are female) you may have this disordered way of eating. The second is a method of recovery for people of either gender. I know they have helped me make great strides in recovery, although I still have a long way to go.

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