There’s a line in Alanis Morissette’s song “Mary Jane” that goes: “I hear you’re losing weight again Mary Jane / Do you ever wonder who you’re losing it for?”
I’ve always been struck by this question, because it’s so important. I know for myself, when I was an adolescent, I was trying to lose weight for so many other people – my mom, my dad, my grandparents, society as a whole, guys I liked, etc. I didn’t really have my own reasons, except to make them happy. But it wasn’t until I got past all of that and started losing weight for myself that it actually worked.
I was reminded of this the other day when I was talking to a weight-loss coach. She was amazed that I had managed to lose so much weight on my own, and I credit that both to my stubbornness but also the fact that I was losing it for the right reasons – i.e., my reasons, not someone else’s. Because as both she and I know, trying to lose it for someone else usually backfires. She told me how her mother had tried to pay her to lose weight (which meant that she just binged in secret), and someone she’s working with whose parents won’t pay for college until the young woman loses weight.
But this is exactly the wrong thing to do, and it still baffles me how parents think this will work. Even though my parents didn’t do anything like that (the most Mom did was offer to buy me a paperback book for every 5 pounds I lost, but that was framed much more as a reward/incentive than a bribe), the simple fact of all the pressure and focus on it made me want to eat even more. I was an adolescent, after all – rebelliousness is part of the package. If someone, especially a parent, tries to tie all your self-worth to your weight, it will very rarely work. And even if it does while the girl or boy is at home, as soon as they get to college, all bets are off, same as with any other rigid rules and restrictions.
To me, the working with childhood obesity is not just looking at the causes, but also helping the children find their own reasons for wanting to be healthy. Telling them they’ll get sick when they get older is pointless – to kids, being an adult is ages away, and they think they’ll live forever anyway. The reason, I expect, will be different for each child, but the key is that it’s their reason, and not their parents’.