Tag Archives: HAES

Lunchbox politics

29 Sep

Our daughter started public school this month. A veteran of full-time daycare since she was a baby, the transition has been relatively gentle. The biggest change has been having to pack her lunch every day — a task that I soon realized is not free from political controversy and authoritative judgment.


Kiddo’s first school lunch

I remember my school lunches well — often a cheese and lettuce sandwich, a juice box, some fruit and a treat. Remember Fruit Roll-Ups? I think I “ate” one every day for at least a decade. And my brother drank so much apple juice, we were convinced it was flowing in his veins. Neither of us has any major health problems as a result.

Food shame

I grew up in a Jewish home with a father who cooked healthy and inventive from-scratch meals. I soon developed a sophisticated palette and the willingness to taste anything. But my lunches were very typical of the 1980s. And they would be the subject of shame if I packed the same items in my kid’s lunch bag.

To be fair, my kid’s school is fairly laid back when it comes to lunch rules. Nuts are banned due to allergies and juice “is discouraged.” So far, I have not been sanctioned for any of the food that I have sent for kiddo to eat. But I recently started a thread on a feminist parenting board about lunch rules and was shocked by what I heard.

Under the guise of “preventing obesity” or “promoting healthy food,” parents and kids are being surveilled and shamed for packing “unhealthy” food. And it’s unacceptable.

Here are some of the stories I have been hearing:


Food dutifully separated to meet the child’s demands

  • Children being forced to eat their lunches in a specific order.
  • Kids being seated at a separate, “special” table if the teacher deems their lunch to be “healthy.”
  • Children having their lunches confiscated from them and replaced with a school-approved bagged lunch (without the parents’ permission).
  • Long lists of “rules” that parents must obey when packing lunches, including no juice, no pudding, no chocolate (even chocolate chips in a muffin), nothing “with sugar.”
  • No gluten in one school (seriously), because some kids have intolerances (not allergies, intolerances).
  • Teachers telling kids that the food in their lunch box is “bad” or unhealthy, and those kids quickly becoming anxious about whether their lunch would pass the test at school.

Obesity panic

I have long worried that the obsession with “childhood obesity” would lead to fat-shaming of young children. Just today, an article came across my feed about feared obesity in toddlers. BABIES. And yes, even a baby was subjected to the dehumanizing “headless fatty” photo.

This shit has got to stop. If schools want to encourage healthy eating, they can start a breakfast program or offer baskets of fruit and vegetables for kids who need them (our school does this). Encouraging physical activity and teaching about nutrition can be done without shaming parents and kids. So much of this is pure classism.

And can we talk about the juice panic for a moment? I get it. Eating fruit is better than drinking juice. Water is best. But when this Toronto school banned juice boxes, it went too far.

My friend Andy Inkster is a single father and had this to say about juice hysteria:

Juice boxes are so totally completely about class. If you’re broke/poor and a pack of  10 juice boxes costs $3 on sale and will last two weeks because it’s easier to say “Hey,  these are for school” and they’re shelf stable, so you can hide them if you need to, or  freeze them, and of you buy a 2 litre of juice, it’s heavier to carry home, and besides, the kids will drink it all tonight. That reusable juice box thing with the straw costs $2 at the dollar store but you didn’t have time to go there this week, and probably not until after next week. Besides, you bought one last week but junior lost it and it was only used twice, so that didn’t save you any money, really.

If you buy two of those ten packs on sale, that’s juice for lunch for kid for a month. And juice itself is about class. Because the more privileged kids parents can  say “Hey, here’s your $15 metal water bottle, drink tap water, it’s good for you, juice will rot your teeth.

But as a poor parent, you know juice has vitamins and that’s important, right? And besides, you don’t buy apples because sometimes they go bad before anyone eats them and at least this way the kids won’t die of scurvy. And it shows you’re a good parent and care about nutrition and you’re not so poor you can’t afford to feed your kids right.

Besides, it’s faster to shove a juice box in the lunch box, and when you’re trying to get your kids out the door and off to school on your own before running back a 10 minute  walk the other way to catch the bus to work, that two minutes finding the juice bottle and refilling it is time you don’t have.

We talk with our daughter about the importance of “growing foods” and insist that she eat at least one serving of vegetables a day. But we do not assign “good” or “bad” judgment to specific food items. We do not use the words “calories” or “diets.”

When kiddo begged me to include a few heart-shaped ginger cookies in her lunch yesterday, I did. Because food is about so much more than nutrition. Learning to eat well is also about learning how to enjoy treats.

And if any teacher tries to tell me that I cannot give my kid a cookie, they can kiss my fat ass.


This is what a runner looks like

15 Jul
I used to hate my thighs. Now I love that they give me power.

I used to hate my thighs. Now I love that they give me power.

This is not a Fitspiration story. There is no before and after photo. No weigh-in or declaration of a new “lifestyle change.” It’s not about how much healthier I am or more attractive I feel. It’s about how I learned a skill and got over some baggage, plain and simple.

I grew up with intellectual parents who never played sports. Gym class was torture. And even though I know now in retrospect that I was of average size, I always felt like the fat kid. Track and field day was the absolute worst. I remember being forced to participate in sprinting races, finding myself winded and in tears within seconds.

I was similarly puzzled when gym teachers assumed that I knew how to play sports. No one ever taught me the rules or any of the skills. It made no sense to me that we were entitled to instruction in math and writing, but not in the basic skills required to master athletic pursuits. So I stumbled along and dropped gym after the mandatory ninth grade class was finally over.

Until my mid-20s, I led a typically sedentary lifestyle. I always felt like my body was useful for carrying my head around, and not much else. Until I threw out my back at the age of 25 and decided that I didn’t want to live in pain. So slowly and with trepidation, I began a gym habit. I soon discovered that exercise was actually something I enjoyed.

At the time, I did lose a considerable amount of weight. Much of this was associated with the emotional baggage of a couple of bad relationships and the side effects of anti-depressants. But when I found my comfortable, active place on the size spectrum, I was still considered fat by conventional medical standards. And I still am.

More than 10 years later and after a few bleary-eyed years of early parenthood, I decided to teach myself to run. This involved exercising outdoors, in shorts, in busy parts of the city (I live downtown). It was initially very exposing. I kept thinking, “Does that man see how slow I am going … and do my thighs look huge … and why am I out of breath?!?” But I used one of those Couch to 5k apps, took it at my own pace, and soon gave zero fucks about what anyone else thought.

For bigger people, exercising in public is a radical act. And it’s one of the major barriers to beginning any sort of fitness routine. The threat of mockery or cruelty keeps fat people off the streets and out of gyms. The idea that you need to be slender to work up a sweat is self-defeating and perpetuates body imperialism.

Decoupling exercise from any specific weight-loss goals has been revolutionary for me. The only “results” I am seeking are stronger legs and lungs and the ability to keep up with my three year old daughter. It also helps that when I exercise, I can severely cut down on the number of chiro and massage appointments I need to remain pain-free.

So for the last few months, I have been blasting punk music and congratulating myself every time my feet strike pavement. I’ve been enjoying cool summer mornings and late evening sun. I’ve been running a little further and a little longer each time. And on Sunday, I completed my first 5k race, finishing in a shockingly fast 32:29.

Amanda Bingson: Olympic hammer thrower and total bad ass.

Amanda Bingson: Olympic hammer thrower and total bad ass.

Having a sense of athletic accomplishment is an entirely new experience for me. It’s not something that was ever intuitive and it did not come easily. But I am inspired by athletes like total bad ass Amanda Bingson. She’s an Olympic hammer thrower, 5’5, and more than 200 pounds of dense muscle and power. She was kicked off her high school volley ball team because she couldn’t fit in the uniform. And now she’s an Olympic athlete who says, “I’ll be honest, I like everything about my body.”

I choose to take Bingson’s words to heart: “Whatever your body type is, just use it.” My strong thighs, formerly a source of shame, are now site of power.

But my decision to run is not a virtuous one. It’s a choice, like any other. “Health” is relative and not a moral virtue. And you really can’t judge a person’s fitness level by the size of their shorts (or volley ball uniform).

Bingson is what an Olympian looks like. And I am what a runner looks like. Though I still can’t quite believe it.

Baby weight (or banishing fat shame)

7 Jun
This is how we celebrate food and our bodies!

This is how we celebrate food and our bodies!

Yesterday, I was crouched on the floor at our neighbourhood baby drop-in. Daphne was proudly pulling herself up and babbling, as I stared at her with sleep-deprived, adoring eyes. A woman who takes care of three-year-old twins across the street looked over at her and declared: “Wow, she’s getting fat. What are you feeding her?” As I struggled to come up with a sufficiently smart-assed response, she continued:

“And you are getting so skinny. Not chubby like before. Do you remember how chubby you were? I thought you would never lose the baby weight.”

Once, again I was too shocked to respond with a sarcastic retort. Instead, I mumbled something about how it took nine months to make a baby and another nine to get back into my jeans. But I found myself stewing all day, wishing I had taken the opportunity to challenge this woman on her snap judgements about weight, attractiveness and general health.

There is so much to unpack in that brief exchange. First and foremost, the notion that an 11-month old baby is “too fat” represents the projection of our cultural obsession with thinness onto a child who hasn’t even taken her first steps. And it’s such a pernicious contradiction from the messages that mothers get in a baby’s first few weeks of life. At first, we are told that our babies’ weights need to double and triple. Breast feeding women are pushed to supplement with formula, even if their babies are perfectly healthy and getting plenty of breast milk. But after a few months, we are told to worry about whether our chubby babies will turn into obese adults. Adding to the general panic, many breast feeding advocates argue that formula will inevitably lead to childhood obesity, piling even more guilt and worry onto mothers (like me!) who choose to bottle feed their babies.

When I was growing up, the media focused a lot on the dangers associated with eating disorders and the importance of improving girls’ self-esteem. As I wrote about a few years ago, the societal obsession with the “obesity crisis” has changed the conversation completely and only increased the pressure on teens and young girls. Instead of focusing on food security, walkable neighbourhoods and physical activity, the discourse is focusing almost entirely on the number on a scale. And as Paul Campos (and many Health at Every Size advocates) argue, the “obesity crisis” is largely a manufactured one. There is so much I would love to quote from Campos in this article on the moral panic over obesity, but here are a few good tidbits:

The correlations between higher weight and greater health risk are weak except at statistical extremes. The extent to which those correlations are causal is poorly established. There is literally not a shred of evidence that turning fat people into thin people improves their health. And the reason there’s no evidence is that there’s no way to do it. 


… the increased risks associated with being heavy come from (such as they are), many of them come from weight cycling, which is clearly bad for people, and which is the outcome of 98% of diets. Others come from the stress and social discrimination generated by having what’s considered an inappropriate body in this culture. Others come from diet drugs, eating disordered behavior, poverty — all things strongly associated with higher than average weight.


…  if there’s one thing fat kids need, it’s to be made to feel bad about feeling fat. The current stigmitization of fat kids is essentially child abuse as government policy, and the people behind it are, as far as I’m concerned, either incredibly stupid or very evil or in some cases both.

The other part of yesterday’s exchange that was disturbing was the approval I was suddenly granted for being less fat. Let’s be clear — I am not a small person. Even though I have now lost all of the “baby weight,” I wear a size 14 and my weight is still considered “too high” on the (flawed) Body Mass Index. I cook and eat healthy food and get a reasonable amount of exercise. I make it to the gym or a yoga class when I can and rarely use the car. But unless I severely restrict my caloric intake (weighing and measuring every bite that goes into my mouth), my weight will continue to hover where it is now. And I am okay with that.

I wasn’t one of those women who dropped all of the pregnancy weight after a month of breastfeeding. It took almost a year to be able to wear my clothes again. And though I am loathe to admit it, I did use a commercial diet program for a few weeks, to help me get a handle on my eating habits. I felt sheepish about that decision, but I soon returned to the form of intuitive eating that works best for me. I feel comfortable in my skin, but am deeply disturbed when people give me approval for being “less fat” than I was a few months ago.

Even though my daughter is only 11 months old, I work hard to model positive attitudes about food and eating. The only message I want to impart is that food is delicious and that we are so lucky to be able to afford to fill our bellies with such healthy and appetizing choices. And I will kiss her chubby belly and squishy arms every second I can.


19 Aug

One day into my action plan and I am already feeling better. I thought that the act of writing down what I am eating would make me feel like crap. But so far, I feel great. I am already starting to see patterns in the way I eat (usually a snack every 90 minutes during the work day). I have already started tuning in more to what my body likes to eat more. Last night’s Indian food gave me indigestion so I didn’t have leftovers for lunch today. And I chose not to have any wine or beer last night, even though we had it in the house. I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want the inevitable headache and I wanted to be well rested enough this morning to go to yoga. Which I did.

This form of intuitive eating really works for me. Rather than strict portion control, I would rather tune into what makes my tummy ache and what makes me feel amazing. Keeping a food diary is reminding me that I tend to eat less vegetables later in the week when it is getting close to grocery day. I eat lots more fruit because fruit tends to be more portable and requires less prep. I rarely make salads because they often go wilty. So I am planning to get back into the habit of making heartier salads on Sunday (coleslaw, tabbouleh, quinoa salad) that will last for most of the week. I am also going to make some bran muffins and hard boil some eggs. Nutritious, portable snacks are always a great idea.

Anyway, I don’t want to become one of those bloggers who obsessively monitors writes about what they eat. Diets and workouts are very boring conversation topics. But being mindful of how food makes me feel and making sure I get the nutrition I need to be active, healthy and sleep well is a positive step that is  fueling my healing process.