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How to Diet Without Screwing up Your Daughter

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In the battle of the bulge, my biggest roadblock isn’t carbs, booze or sugar—it’s my 3-year-old daughter. I’m desperately afraid of dieting in front of her, lest I mess up her body image for life.

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According to a University of Florida study, “Daughters' perceptions of their bodies and subsequent eating and dieting behaviors have been shown to be directly related to the verbal and nonverbal messages they receive from their mothers.”

If your young daughter thinks she’s fat, you can blame Barbie or the Victoria’s Secret Angels all you want, but it’s probably your fault, since mothers are the No. 1 influence on daughters’ body image. What we do and say about our weight matter—a ton.

So how can a mama stay trim while being a positive role model? Very carefully.

In most areas of life—sex, drugs, fears, feelings—I believe in being as open and honest with my daughter as I possibly can. Dieting is the exception. I have a strict no-diet-talk policy in our household, and I’ve had to enforce it with relatives and friends. Here’s how it works:

1. Never call someone “fat” … or “thin.” Just as I wouldn’t go out of my way to identify someone by their race, I never make weight a defining characteristic unless I’m talking about a bowling ball.

I try not to weigh myself in front of my daughter

2. Size doesn’t matter. Don’t talk about losing 5 pounds or fitting into a size 6. Your growing daughter is supposed to be getting bigger as she reaches maturity, but she could start to panic as the numbers rise if she knows you’re obsessed with dropping inches and pounds.

3. Stop demonizing food. We rail about the evils of fat, calories and carbs, when in reality we require all of these things to live. Keep food talk positive, and frame it in terms of what our bodies need to feel good. For example, “Healthy foods help us grow and give us energy. Treats are fun, but eating too many can give you a tummy ache or make you feel sleepy.”

4. Use codes and euphemisms. When I’m off to my Weight Watchers meeting, it’s “The W.W.” I’ll ask for the 1 percent milk instead of saying low fat. If I’m complimenting a friend’s weight loss, I’ll tell her she looks fabulous—not skinny or tiny. An older kid might crack my code, but I’m good for awhile.

5. Never disparage your body. My daughter thinks mommy is beautiful. She also thinks I look like a mommy. Wouldn’t it be confusing to hear me ragging on parts of my body, like my muffin top? Especially since I got my muffin top from having her—so, so worth it.

6. Avoid the scale. I try not to weigh myself in front of my daughter, but as we all know, 3-year-olds can be hard to shake (she’s already seen me insert a tampon and take a home pregnancy test). If she catches me on the scale, I’m careful to stay neutral, and never appear crestfallen or discouraged. Whatever I weigh today is fine with me, or so it seems.

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7. Make fitness fun. It does your daughter no good to hear you bitching and moaning about using (or not using) the treadmill. Instead of treating exercise like a chore, try to incorporate it into family life in fun ways, from weekend nature hikes to living room dance parties.

I hope that following these rules will help safeguard my daughter against body dysmorphia and eating disorders. I also hope that I can quietly melt the muffin top (that’s my code for lose 10 pounds!) so that my daughter’s mommy has more energy for those dance parties.

Are you with me?

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