"What Do You Do When Your 20-Year-Old Orders Two Milkshakes for Breakfast?"
Plus: Is it ever okay to tell your kid she's "too big," and eating for chronic Lyme.
Disclaimer: You’re reading this column because you value my input as a journalist who reports on these issues and therefore, has a lot of informed opinions. I’m not a healthcare provider and these responses are not meant to substitute for medical or therapeutic advice.
Q: How do I talk to my kid about her growing physicality (she’ll break the stroller if she climbs into it, she could really hurt someone with a shove, etc) without just saying, “you’re too big!”?
What this question brings up for me is another question: Would you be worried about this if you weren’t, on some level, equating “big” with “bad” yourself? Let’s step back: If “big” isn’t bad, then there is nothing wrong with a young child knowing that they are now too big for the crib, the highchair, the stroller, the snowsuit they wore last winter and so on. Growing and getting bigger is pretty much their whole job, after all. This kind of change is unequivocally good. But it does mean things are different than they were before. And yes, some of these milestones may feel bittersweet to them and to us—my 4-year-old likes to feel nostalgic for how she slept in a bassinet by my bed as a baby, something we did for less than three months/before she had conscious memory—but they are also joyful because getting bigger means they can do and experience so much more of the world.
So I think using “you’re too big now!” in a matter-of-fact way to explain why your child no longer rides in the stroller is a great way to start practicing a more neutral and inclusive way of talking about bodies altogether. Consider it a baby step on your way to reclaiming fat with your kids. And it’s pretty easy to pair that explanation with a reminder of what your child can do with her new size: “You can run and jump now!” “You get to sleep in a big kid bed!”
If “you’re too big for this” comes up in a way that does seem hard to reframe, you could swap in “you’re too old for that now,” since kids do pretty universally love getting older. (We’ll set aside for the moment how fast that stops being true for adults!) You can also remember that body size is relative to the world around it. It’s not our bodies’ fault that the jeans don’t fit. And it’s not her body’s fault for not fitting into the stroller, it’s that this particular stroller wasn’t made to fit her body.
But I would suggest a different approach for your example of shoving. The ability to hurt someone with a shove is not tied to body size as much as it is to strength, impulse control, and emotional regulation. If you make shoving about her body size, you are (unintentionally) reinforcing the negative stereotype that larger bodies are more dangerous and unruly. If you have to discuss her body to explain why shoving is unsafe, I’d talk about her being strong, not big. But an even better option would be to talk about why shoving isn’t okay because it means touching other people’s bodies without their consent, and in a way they probably won’t like. It might also help to get into how she can process the emotions that led to the shove, or to say something like, “you’re still learning how to be gentle with your friends.” It’s also fine to keep it simple with: “I won’t let you shove.” Because that’s a reasonable rule to have for kids at every age and every size.
Q: I was wondering if you could address some topics for those of us who came to the party late and are now engaging in intuitive eating and rejecting diet culture after we already raised our kids with a diet mentality. My children (now 20 and 21) were raised while I was studying/working as a nutritionist, deep in diet culture and dealing with my own disordered eating. I discovered intuitive eating about two years ago and told my kids about it, and that things in our house would be changing.
My older daughter (who has a history of anorexia and orthorexia) jumped right in and is now an intuitive eater and no longer engages in disordered eating. My younger daughter, however, who never had an issue with disordered eating, seems to be testing the boundaries of my commitment to let her eat whatever she wants. What do you do when your 20-year-old orders two milkshakes for breakfast or eats a full pint of ice cream every night or goes to McDonald’s for lunch and Taco Bell for dinner?