“Well, she’s a little heavier than I like to see for her length. Let’s talk about some strategies to handle this. Obesity is a serious health issue, so we want to nip it in the bud.”
I was present at this conversation, but I have no memory of it. I only know the bare details my mom told me, so this is conjecture. I was the pudgy “she” in question.
I was eight weeks old.
My mom, a first-timer at 28, took in the information Dr. Maples was giving. He had letters after his name. She had only been parenting for two months. Her gut said I was a baby and ought to be fed when I was hungry, but he had the experience to know. She did what I would have done in the same situation: she listened to the friendly, grandfatherly man in the white coat who treated hundreds of babies a year.
Looking back on this early-eighties advice, I can see where he was coming from. The “obesity epidemic” was just starting to become a thing in the collective consciousness. The majority of newborns had been fed formula for decades, and breastfed babies like me followed a little different growth curve, so I seemed chubbier than I “should be.” And if “nipping it in the bud” was an option, he was certainly doing his best. I mean, two months old. I didn’t even know where my hands were. High fives to Dr. Maples for early prevention!
But reality worked out differently. I’ve been obese my entire life now. The early diet did not, in fact, prevent anything. By my calculations, it actually caused the very thing he was trying to prevent. I can’t really fault the pediatrician or my mother for doing their best, but it set off a series of biological and neurological coping mechanisms which persist today and aren’t doing me any good. It’s obvious (now) that putting a newborn on a restricted-calorie diet because of weight is not, perhaps, medically sound.
I don’t struggle with my weight anymore. Oh, I’m still squarely in “obese” territory, where I’ve been for (apparently) my entire life. But, in addition to having a high BMI, I’m also the healthiest I’ve ever been. I’ve learned the two aren’t mutually exclusive, even from medical or scientific standpoints, whatever the multi-gazillion-dollar fitness industry wants me to believe. My weight is mostly an inconvenience now. The world is made for people smaller than I am. Chairs, bathroom stalls, zipline courses, clothes… all made for someone at least a little bit lighter or less… abundant. That’s annoying. But “annoying” is as far as it goes. Most days, my size, for a variety of reasons, no longer feels connected to my worth.
First, having daughters forced me to step back and look at the stories I was telling myself about the acceptability of my body. When Jenna, my firstborn, was small, I was struck by how adorable her chubbiness was, how perfect she would be regardless of size. I knew (but didn’t know) that my value isn’t in how I look or what I do. Holding my seconds-old, still-greyish, cone-headed, ET-looking newborn solidified it in my heart: Jenna is a miracle, by virtue of nothing besides her existence. By extension, we all are. I knew I needed to match my opinion of my body with the one I wanted her to have of hers, which was going to require some shifts in my mindset.
So I focus on gratitude for what my body does. I can heft two kids, a diaper bag, and a week’s worth of groceries up a flight and a half of steps in a single trip. (Why I’m so intent on doing it in a single trip is a question for another day.) Speaking of kids, my body grew four of them from scratch. Then it somehow transported children, whose weights I’d happily bowl with, from the inside of me to the outside of me. Then it continued to produce the sole sustenance for said babies for several months and supplemental nourishment for a year beyond that. I can be up with a barfing baby for several hours and still make it to Starbucks by 6 am to write this before my husband has to leave for work. And since I mentioned my husband, well… he’s not complaining. Not once in fifteen years, bless him. My body does plenty for me. It’s freaking amazing.
And I’ve learned to treat my body kindly. I spent three decades trying to loathe my body into acceptability. That worked… exactly zero times. I could punish myself by starving, exercising to injury, feeling the constant discomfort of too-small clothing, or all of those simultaneously, but (surprise!) none of it ever actually made me smaller. Strangely, the only thing that’s affected my weight at all has been ignoring it. When I leave the scale alone and simply eat what feels good in my body, exercise because I have more energy when I do, and dress in clothes that fit, my weight drops a little bit. Not enough to downgrade me from “obese” to “overweight,” but enough to notice.
Dr. Maples mentioned supposed infantile obesity shortly after the birth of each of my younger sisters, but my mom stopped listening. She came into her own as a mother—she let all the rest of her babies grow however they were going to grow, trusting her gut would help her do right by them. And I’ve come into my own as well. I don’t struggle with my weight anymore—I allow intuition to guide my choices, too. I’m healthy, strong, content. My abundant size no longer keeps me from an abundant life.
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Featured image by Hill Smiley Photography
Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and homeschooling mama to four babies, ages one to seven. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps holed up in her bathroom with some coffee.