The number of theories put forward in an attempt to explain why some people seem more prone to weight gain than others is dizzying. Some, it seems, can tread carefully pretty much every day of their lives and despair that one or two slip-ups go ‘straight to their hips’, whereas others (like – erm – me) can guzzle whatever they want and remain slim. (Before you hate me, remember that I have NO boobs. None. Whatsoever.)
My brother is also slim (OK, he’s absurdly fit and athletic for someone pushing 40 but I’m willing to bet he’d still be slim if he was a couch potato), and my own theory is that we have both grown up and remained this way largely because of the way our mum parented us when it came to mealtimes. In my opinion she got it absolutely, 100 per cent right, and I’m very grateful to her for the health benefits that have come with this. Of course, I’d’ve been still more grateful if she’d been considerate enough to pass on her big boobs gene, but you can’t expect everything.
I don’t remember much about our family mealtimes, because a) the food, although perfectly palatable, was rarely so mouthwateringly delicious that I fantasised impatiently about eating it minutes or hours in advance; and b) there were simply no ‘issues’ (to use the vernacular – I mean problems really) surrounding food and eating in our house. We sat down at the dining table, presumably hungry most of the time, ate as much or as little as we wanted, probably chatted about our day, and that was that. On to the next activity, which usually involved charging around outdoors.
30 years on, no difficulties have grown up out of a sense of deprivation, because my brother and I were always allowed more if we wanted it, and as no seed of guilt was planted in our little bellies if we left food on our plates we are still happy to leave food on our plates. (Actually, I won’t speak for my brother here. Having married a fantastic chef he may well be in the habit of stuffing his face morning, noon and night and just running it off with a quick 10k …) The other good thing Mum did was to offer crap puddings. She was a busy, working woman trying to be all things to all people (she still is), didn’t particularly like cooking and didn’t have the time or inclination to bake something fat and tempting, so it was usually a choice of fruit or yoghurt. This was an unintentional stroke of genius, because it took those odious pudding threats or enticements completely out of the equation.
I’m sure there was the odd occasion when Mum or Dad would have said to one of us, “Come on; can you manage a few more mouthfuls?” if we’d eaten particularly little, but we were never, EVER coerced into eating anything. I remember leaving quite a bit of dinner once at my nan’s house, and my great nan in the background wagging her finger and exclaiming: “The poor little girl down the road would be glad of that!” “She can have it”, I said earnestly. “Shall we take it to her?” I honestly had no idea that my great nan (God rest her – I’m not portraying her in the best light here, but she was an amazing character who’d had the hardest of lives) was employing a guilt tactic in order to try to make me eat more than my body was telling me it needed.
I had a straightforward relationship with food (by which I mean a completely unremarkable one), because I was allowed to listen to my body telling me when it had had enough. I’m the same today, even if this means leaving three chips on my plate (it drives Alex mad!) I know quite a few people from the ‘clear your plate’ school of parenting who have managed to stay slim, but I know more who have found it an increasing struggle since that delicate appetite calibration mechanism was perpetually and permanently overridden. This is the reason I can eat what I want: because that mechanism from childhood is still intact, I never want to eat beyond the amount my body needs. If I do so, I feel really ill. This is my theory, anyway.
I wish to make it clear at this point that I’m not attempting to level criticism at any parents who raised, or raise, their children this way (who the arse am I to criticise anyone’s parenting: I’m all over the place!) When I was young clearing one’s plate was the norm, and my mum was the exception. And it is just my theory … it’s quite possible, of course, that I’d’ve remained slim (scrawny) if I’d been made to finish my meals. As I said, I know many people who have.
Some time ago I attempted to gain a few pounds in the vain hope they might go to my hips and boobs and hence make my clothes fit better, but to no avail. I did gain a few pounds, but felt bloated and ill every miserable day, and just ended up with a slightly distended stomach. As soon as I started eating ‘normally’ again, my weight and shape quickly reverted to their former states.
So, as a parent myself, have I continued in Mum’s excellent footsteps? Are my two older children ‘well-calibrated’ and keen to race around outdoors at every opportunity? Erm, maybe not. The bigger question is, does this really matter? I don’t know. They are fit, healthy and beautiful (in my unashamedly biased opinion), they have a decent diet with home cooked meals, they do kick boxing and karate and Big Daughter is freakishly strong (I mean, insanely strong). All three of my kids seem to have the constitution of an ox. But the older two also consume too much sugar and I’m not entirely convinced they know when they’ve had enough to eat. My son, who has just turned 11, tells me he wants to lose weight, which is fairly heartbreaking. The easiest thing to do, of course, is to blame the dad.
On Wednesday we returned from a short break at Disneyland Paris (if you’re interested, my review is here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g2079053-d189258-r296527505-Disneyland_Park-Disneyland_Paris_Seine_et_Marne_Ile_de_France.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT but I warn you it’s a bit negative, so if DP is dear to your heart it may make your defensive hackles rise. Remember it’s just my perspective 🙂 Also there’s a typo in there that I can’t correct. Grr.) We got a really good deal which included a buffet meal each evening. I like a good buffet because of the informality and being able to select as much or as little as I like from an exciting variety of dishes. My husband likes buffets because of being able to fill his face with as much food as he can possibly cram in (from an exciting variety of dishes).
The first and second evenings passed slowly, but not as slowly as the third and final. How can it possibly take two hours to eat a buffet meal? Alex made no fewer than five trips to the groaning tables, each time returning with a fresh, fully laden plate. And oh yes, the older children followed his example. As I spent most of my time docked at our table, I was the one receiving disapproving looks from servers who repeatedly came to clear the detritus. Phrases such as “our last night so make the most of it” (as if we were prisoners on death row), “wait a bit to make more room” (why not just do the Roman thing and jump around till you vomit?) and “getting our money’s worth” punctuated the dreary swathe of time as the minutes snailed by and other families came and went. Eventually my son threw in the towel and went off for half an hour for a poo while the other two continued. Alex’s final onslaught was five – five – puddings crammed on to a plate together (so it only counts as one pudding, right?), which he set down in front of him with a look of absolute glee. It’s worth mentioning that the watermelon I had selected for my pudding some hour and a half earlier had been met with a complicit scowl of derision from Alex and Big Daughter.
What to do …? Oh, I gave Alex a hard time alright, but the children? To criticise might have risked sowing the seeds of deprivation issues or making them feel ‘greedy’ (which could cause potentially devastating problems later on). As a parent you have to be so, so careful where food is concerned. Maybe they’re just going to be more like their dad than me. Actually, I hope so: as well as being pretty much the best bloke on the planet, he’s a far more contented individual.