How Covid Helped My Daughter
Updated: Mar 14, 2022
When I became a mom thirteen years ago, I made a point of arming my daughter against the influence of diet culture. I was wise to its shapeshifting nature, having revealed itself at different stages in my own life.
When the pandemic hit, my protective instincts were stirred up with a vengeance. Almost six months into the first lockdown, an annual physical at her pediatrician’s revealed a significant weight gain. The doctor gave me - a holistic health and nutrition coach – a gentle lecture on the importance of regular physical activity and of fresh fruit and vegetables in her diet.
Guilt clenched my gut as we left the clinic.
The lockdown had meant an abrupt cessation of my daughter’s weekly swims and Taekwondo lessons. There were no more daily walks to and from school. Virtual school, online tutoring and music lessons meant a lot more screen time and longer periods of sitting. And of course, there was the close proximity to the kitchen all day.
The doctor’s words chased away the hibernation fog. I began to see my daughter more clearly: the pinks in her cheeks had faded, her shoulders rolled forward. She was often tired and complained of blurry vision at the end of the day. Her characteristic vigor had dimmed a little. How had I missed all this?
Something deeper also niggled at me. Fatphobia had controlled me for many years. In raising my daughter, I had been conscientious about making her immune to worries about weight gain. Now I wondered if I’d gone too far.
I wasn’t sure how to navigate this slippery terrain of helping her shed pounds, as per the doctor’s orders, while protecting the natural confidence, a settled-ness, she had in her body. But I wasn’t the only one facing this conundrum.
Rapid weight gain is a well-known by-product of the Covid year, for all ages. Even pets have gotten pudgy. And with the impending post-Covid re-emergence, a widespread fixation with reclaiming our pre-pandemic bodies has emerged. Quarantine 15 memes and posts on shedding those pesky pounds flood our social feeds. It’s even led to a new niche in the digital fitness world: the “connected” home fitness trend, with Peloton at the helm.
Unknown to us is how triggering social media posts of someone’s running stats and sweaty selfies can be. Covid adds a fresh layer of angst for those with eating disorders or who live in bigger bodies. And it makes a lot of us just feel crappy.
Food has been one of the few comforts we’ve had available in the midst of so much loss and struggle. The preoccupation with weight gain fuels an already anxiety-ridden climate. It also says a lot about our attitudes about being fat.
I decided I didn’t want to help my daughter lose weight. Instead, I chose to help her become more attuned to her body, mindfully. And to develop effective ways to cope with overwhelming situations. I knew Covid wouldn't be her last.
So, I turned to mindfulness. As a Tibetan Buddhist, I was introduced to this life tool gradually and experientially, not through Google or a hashtag. I wanted the same for her.
With mindfulness as the foundation, we steadily incorporated viable and simple practices into our routines, involving food, exercise and skills-development. As a holistic health coach, I drew on my ability to support and inspire. As a parent, knowing the importance of teaching by example, I made a point of doing everything together.
It Takes a Village
To be mindful when you eat is about present moment awareness and engaging the senses. But it can also include being aware of the steps in the process that made the meal before you possible, specifically, all who took part in it: the farmer, the butcher, the baker, the fertilizer manufacturer, the seed seller, the cook, the delivery people, the sun, the soil, and so on.
When my daughter and I reflected on this, our conversations were playful and thoughtful, not instructional. It was a good way to add enjoyment to mealtimes and to bond.
I believe she cares and thinks about the food she puts in her mouth now. It’s more than a source of comfort and pleasure. Eating became our link to the world outside, cracking the wall of isolation that so many of us in lockdown experience.
Being mindful of everyone involved, including the natural world, made adopting a gratitude practice around meal times a natural one. Before we eat, we observe a thank you, sometimes silent and sometimes spoken. She seems to enjoy this and it gives a serene, happy start to our meals, putting our nervous system in an optimal state to eat and digest.
I like to think that this is also the start of her own spiritual practice which she will continue to build and draw on in her life.
Cash or Charge?
Grocery shopping is now a team effort. She is learning to make smart choices as a future consumer by checking the cost of the food item in relation to their weight and volume (good math practice for daughter and Mom!), taking note of expiration dates and noting the freshness and ripeness of produce (which also makes it a tactile and fun experience).
I encourage her to find recipes online. We shop for the ingredients and cook meals together. Sometimes, she’ll take over meal preparation completely. This has bolstered her confidence in the kitchen and gives me a welcome break from cooking. She can get pretty excited about mealtimes now and it has become a creative outlet for her.
I believe she is also learning the value in caring for others, and the inherent pleasures in giving.
Be Kind to Your Belly
Growing up, I was taught to finish everything on my plate. Not wanting to waste food wasn’t so much the problem as was suppressing my body’s natural satiety signals that this tendency can instill.
Today, with my daughter, I work around this by teaching her to check in with her body when she eats. “Am I hungry?” “How full am I?” These are questions she asks herself when she fills her plate and throughout her meal as she chews and drinks. She knows she can always eat more if she is still hungry.
Sometimes she goes for seconds, other times, she decides she is satisfied. We don’t fret over the occasional morsels of food remaining on the plate. They don’t stem from wasteful consumption practices which is really one of the root issues underlying food squandering.
Through this process, she is learning to become embodied. She doesn’t just perceive her body now, but connects with it more intuitively.
Take the ‘Work’ Out of ‘Workout’
Since lockdown began, the proliferation of online fitness classes gave us a multitude of choices in getting more movement into her life. We brainstormed activities that she could see herself enjoying. Fun was our main priority, not calorie- burning, distance or metrics of any sort. Some activities stuck – upbeat online HIIT’s, hiking and ice skating - while others didn’t make the cut.
These activities give her so much pleasure now, filling up the spaces in her life that Covid had created. Move over, Netflix and YouTube.
My daughter is in a much better place now since we left the doctor’s office that day. And those few months reinforced a vital truth in my own spiritual and personal development.
When actions are carried out with awareness, we’re more likely to notice and be accountable to the consequences of those actions. Mindfulness liberates us from compulsion. It gives us choices. Compared to smashing diet culture, this was a much more valuable lesson I could have taught my girl.
There are days when she doesn’t want to cook or go shopping with me, days when we overeat, or when we choose to stay in and do pretty much nothing. And we are perfectly fine with those choices too.
I sometimes catch her smiling at her reflection, her eyes shining with pleasure at her soft curves. She treats her body as a whole extension of her lovable self. How could I wish for anything more?