I stand in the florescent light of the Target dressing room examining my body in an ill-fitting one-piece bathing suit and try not to cry. I think, “How could I let it come to this and do I really have a back roll?” Then that all-too-familiar declaration pops into my mind, “Tomorrow I’m starting a diet.” I wriggle out of the suit, trying hard not to look in the mirror as I get dressed. Instead, I focus on the smiling face of my two-year-old, happily perched in the big red cart next to me. He's swinging his feet and softly singing “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” His little mantra of devotion snaps me out of it. I remember what’s important and it’s not looking great in a clearance swimsuit. I remember that I refuse to diet: it makes me grumpy, it doesn’t work and it’s high time I start loving my body just the way it is.
I actually didn’t gain very much weight when I was pregnant. I suffered from horrible morning sickness and lost a significant amount of weight in the first trimester. But with this second baby, I was able to breastfeed and ironically, it made me so starving that I gained more weight postpartum. I had hoped that once he weaned and I naturally started eating smaller portions, the weight would fall off.
Unfortunately, those twenty extra pounds seem to be here to stay. I’m pretty sure if it’s been over two years, it's no longer considered baby weight. And yet, that extra weight is a direct result of growing two amazing children—it's a small price to pay for my most treasured gifts.
Instead of fighting tooth and nail for some ideal body, one that I’m fairly certain wouldn’t make me any happier, I’m setting a new ideal.
My mother, like most of our mothers, was always on a diet, even when she didn’t need one. We were raised in the heart of the diet era—watching Oprah battle her weight, buying food products labeled “light,” attending weekly weigh-ins at Weight Watchers. It was what you did. As a young woman, I never had an eating disorder, but I used to diet and worry about my figure even when I was ridiculously thin. I never appreciated my body even when it was bikini-worthy and if I don’t start loving it now, I never will.
And in my experience, diets don't work. I gave up carbs for a month and lost two pounds and gained a bad attitude. As soon as I restrict myself, I start to resent something that gives me so much joy. Food is my love language. I almost always eat healthfully, but life without bread just isn’t for me. When I restrict my food intake I inevitably “fall off the wagon” and binge in a way I never would if I hadn’t been depriving myself. It's a cycle of shame and frustration that gets me nowhere. Instead of fighting tooth and nail for some ideal body, one that I’m fairly certain wouldn’t make me any happier, I’m setting a new ideal. I want an ideal life, one where I eat what I want, remain active, and let my body tell me what’s perfect.
Refusing to diet isn’t just for me, it’s for my kids as well. They deserve a mom who's happy and confident. I want them to see me enjoying food and loving my body. I want them to learn that beauty and attractiveness come in all shapes and sizes. I want them to know that, women especially, have value far beyond any number on a scale. I intend to spend most of the summer poolside, I plan to pack my bathing suit and leave the self-hate at home.
I'm going to take all the time and energy I could have spent dieting and spend it splashing around with my two boys. And when I look in the mirror and notice a soft belly or dimpled thighs, I'm going to remember those sweet smiles and I’m going to thank my body for bringing so much joy into my world.