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The day after the Super Bowl, I was in a class at the gym, surrounded by fit, healthy women of all shapes and ages. This class kicks our butts every week. It challenges us, makes us feel strong. It’s exhilarating.

Except, that day, this happened: As we were gathering equipment and then warming up, the instructor told us what she’d eaten at her Super Bowl party, how bad and calorie-laden it was, and how she was going to work us extra hard so we all could exercise away the sins of the day before. As a few others laughed and nodded in solidarity, I mentally checked out. This is not what I come here for, I thought. This is not why I exercise. And then I wondered: Would you say that in front of your kid? Have you said that in front of your kid?

It happened again after St. Patrick’s Day. And it’s happened plenty before, not just at the gym but everywhere. Usually after some indulgent holiday, but also just as a matter of course. It’s The American Way to eat crappy food and then vow penance. Even people who should know better do it. If I never see another “food blogger confession” posted on Facebook, it’ll be too soon.

running girl

Just do it (for the right reasons)

Think about the message this sends to our kids. It tells kids — and let’s face it, especially girls — that food is something to feel guilty about, not something to enjoy. It tells kids that we exercise not because it keeps us healthy and strong, but because we ate too much and now we must pay.

It also tells kids that it doesn’t matter what kinds of ingredients we put in our bodies — because they’re all just calories that can be exercised away. (Not.)

Lately Tess has been in a very literal phase. (Anyone else have a 10-year-old?!) So she’s been challenging me on the food mantras I tend to repeat.

“Eat only if you’re hungry,” I say. Which she parses into a sanction to snack 24/7: “You said to eat if I’m hungry. I’m hungry all the time!”

“The only reason to eat something with bad ingredients is if it tastes really, really good.” Which Tess applies to even wholesome foods on her dinner plate: “You said I should only eat things that taste really, really good. This doesn’t taste really, really good. Or even really good.”

If I ever doubted that children listen to and absorb everything we say, I now know better. But I’m grateful that my daughter’s only mixed message about food is that mom’s mantras, apparently, have multiple interpretations. We don’t talk about calories, or exercising to wipe away food sins. When we indulge, we enjoy it, own it and move on.

I will never forget a little girl at the YMCA, years ago, who told my daughter she was “fat.” Tess is thin, always has been, but that doesn’t matter. The girls were maybe 4 or 5 at the time, and Tess didn’t even know what “fat” meant. I can’t forget, though, because the little girl’s mortified dad quickly apologized and then, looking at the ground, said, quietly, “She learned that from her mother.”

This Wellfesto piece really resonated with me when I read it last fall: “10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out.”


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