Today’s post is from Brianna Utz, our Southern Minnesota chapter founder. She is currently finishing her bachelors degree after a four year break due to her illness. (she has about a year left !) Her major is Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Counseling, Human Development, and Sociology. She also works as a special education paraprofessional at an elementary school. Her hobbies include spending time with family and friends, listening to music, writing, going to coffee shops- to drink tea, traveling, laughing, watching movies, yoga and most of all, choosing recovery.
Though I may not be a mother, I am a caregiver. I have cared for children for much of my life. I found it ironic…or maybe not, that I came across this article today.
At my job I have the pleasure of supervising students during their lunch.First things first.If you haven’t had a meal in an elementary cafeteria – I dare you to try it – without having to raise your voice.It is pure chaos most days – the more classes that filter on through the lunch line, the louder it gets. The yelling across the table. The “he hit me”, “she looked at me” tattle tails start to occur every other second, instead of minute.What some of the kids forget at lunch time, amidst all of this chaos, is the very reason of why they are even there in the first place.To have lunch. To fuel their bodies.
The first few days, I had a hard time with this. I had a hard time allowing students to chat and play and mess around instead of focusing on the task at hand- eating what is on their tray.I just wanted them all to eat and be like normal people – eating.
I thought about it for a long time and realized…
They are being normal. It is me that was thinking the ‘abnormal’ thoughts.These kids haven’t yet ‘experienced’ it. They haven’t been exposed and trained to be afraid of food and what it supposedly does to their bodies. They are free. They are normal. They are not tainted by society.Most of them. At least I hope and pray.
Instead of being so worried about whether or not they finish their tray (eat too much, too little, too fast, too slow), I now am consoled and confident in their actions.I know that they will eat what their bodies need because I am not someone who says you can’t eat this or you should eat that. I don’t tell them what they need to do.
Because that is not my job. My job is to be there to encourage, support, and interact in a positive manner. My job is to be a role model.I am not the food police – and neither should you be.Tonight, I am pondering something…what our relationship with food, weight, and shape would be like if we never had anyone tell us that this food is good or bad…that something was going to make us fat…that we need to look a certain way or fit into a certain size…or that brownies are for cheat days and lettuce and protein need to be the staple of our diets.
What if we weren’t aware of body shaming, criticizing, comparing body size or shape, or that what we put into our mouths has a value attached to it?
I am weird like that…I often find myself thinking about the very first human beings and how our ancestors lived their lives – WITHOUT media, calories, all the stuff that surrounds us now.Yes, life expectancy wasn’t as great, but at least they knew how to live a bit more simply.I have tried remembering when the first time was that someone told me I shouldn’t be eating this or that, or that I needed to clean my plate even if I didn’t like it, and boy, that didn’t take me long to do.Having had an Eating Disorder, that moment sticks out like a sore thumb in small memory box.
It started there, and from then on I wasn’t in control anymore. The food was. The people who had formed their thoughts and opinions about what food was and what it would do to my body were. The food was going to hurt me. If I did or did not eat something, I would be punished or turn out ‘fat.’And who wants to be around a kid who eats uncontrollably and is ‘chunky’ or a kid who refuses to eat because they dislike something and are outside crying.We think that we are just trying to help, but in reality, we are doing quite the opposite.We are taught from such a young age that the food is something we should or should not eat. That our physical appearance defines our worth and beauty.
I am not the food police to these children, or any child. It is not my job. I can guide and suggest, but I should not, and do not make comments because I am not their parent…because maybe, just maybe, that child is vulnerable and susceptible to an eating disorder…or because maybe that child has a chance to go through more of their life with a healthy relationship with their body and food than I had. Maybe I can make a difference in their life and be an example. A different example than what our society is portraying.Young children and school-age kids are vulnerable. They are sponges, learning from every interaction, conversation, and observation.Every comment. Innocent or not.
What if we were able to look at things in a more positive light? What if instead of commenting on what that food will do to their body (ie- make you fat, has to much calories, etc..) we appreciate it. We allow children to eat nutritious food at their own will – maybe their bodies won’t forget its hunger and fullness cues so easily and early on in life. Maybe we won’t have so much shame around body size and teasing amongst students.
I understand that obesity is a huge epidemic in America. It is a serious issue that requires attention and proper protocol.But for each obese child/individual, there is a child/individual on the other end of the spectrum for the same exact reason: A horrible relationship with food and the body – because of shame, guilt, distress, lack of self-esteem and confidence, and overall self-distrust and disgust.Both ends need to be addressed and tackled. Not just one. Because when we leave behind one issue, there will be no progress.
I think that ultimately, we need to look at life a little bit differently. What are our values and what is our purpose here on this world? And..do we live to lift others up and love them unconditionally?One of the most interesting points I found was that adults, especially women, use food, diet, appearance, and exercise as conversation starters and as a way to bond/form relationships.That makes me so sad. There are so many other things for us to talk about and be focused on.This article…really is making me think. I understand that there is/will be much opposition to my personal views on this subject – and that is okay. What do you think?As always, prayers and thanks to all of my friends and family. I am full of gratitude. <3