Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Father Weight Watchers: Part 2. The other side...

In my last post, I talked about my aspirations to be a useful role model to my kids in promoting a healthy and sustainable lifestyle -- all good stuff and all the right intentions.  Yet, I am also cognizant of the fact that I need to check myself in front of them.

There is no doubt that childhood obesity has become a major health issue that seems likely to get worse.  However, it is also the case that eating disorders also represent a significant and growing issue among kids.  It sometimes feels that we parents are navigating between two perilous health issues, both of which can have a debilitating effect.  My only hope and dream for my kids, and all kids for that matter, is that they can find a balance in a healthy and sustaining lifestyle.  It's a difficult balancing act for parents, and I've found it to be a difficult one for me.

Let's start with me and how I am.  Everyone who knows me well would be pretty quick to point out that I can tend to be a little over-the-top in how I approach life.  When in doubt, my inclination is to charge up the hill with both guns firing.  I am also pretty vocal and open about what's on my mind and how I'm feeling.  I am very much one who wears his cardiovascular system on his sleeve. 

This has certainly been the case when it comes to my weight.  For the most part, the behaviors I am modelling tend to be pretty good ones.  My kids see me eating healthy meals while also finishing the great majority of what is on my plate.  They see me going to the gym, going for walks, and going for bike rides.  My operating assumption is that this is a big net positive.

However, I am also aware of the fact that I can be a bit obsessive about my weight.  I am no stranger to vocal self-flagellation after a bad weigh-in.  I am also aware of the fact that I do talk about losing weight and keeping weight off.  I worry that my kids can see me becoming anxious if and when I'm falling off program.

Me in my kitchen...
I am also no stranger to the twisted world of body image.  Like a lot of people who have lost a bunch of weight, I cannot help but be somewhat enamored of looking better than I used to.  One way this manifests itself is in my preening about in tailored fashion gear.  I know that I will occasionally sneak looks at my reflection in a street-side window wondering if my pants make my derriere look fat.  For the most part, these are fleeting thoughts that come and go pretty quickly, almost always without verbal commentary.  But what if my daughters could read my mind?  They do know me awfully well.  Am I inadvertently setting a criteria for how they should look rather than how healthy they should be?

All of my concerns are amplified by knowing what kind of environment my kids live in outside of our home.  They live in a town where obesity is far from the norm.  They, in fact, live in a place sometimes referred to as Stepford, CT.  I see their schoolmates, and they are almost universally thin and fashionable.  It sometimes looks like Mean Girls, the massively extended version.  Blond and thin is very much the aspiration in my town.  I cannot help but believe that the peer pressure the girls in their schools face is to look a very particular way.  I cannot help but recognize that this peer pressure has a truly unfortunate side that manifests itself in a host of negative ways.

So there you have it.  My daughters live in a very thin town, and their dad is the CEO of Weight Watchers and who is prone to bouts of self-obsession about how he looks.  Pretty scary, and something I really need to be aware of and to take seriously.

The good news is that I am unbelievably lucky to have two daughters who are confident, independent and not afraid to laugh at themselves.  I cannot imagine having half the confidence they possess when I was their age.  I am also lucky that they routinely laugh at and deride me for all of my many peccadilloes.  They know that I am a walking midlife crisis, and they routinely mock me for it.  They can never know how grateful I am for their goodhearted scorn. 

For my part, I do my very best to keep my weird obsessive thoughts locked in my weird head, because frankly, most of them really don't need to see the light of day.  When I do talk about food, I studiously attempt to talk about it as fuel the leads to health.  I NEVER ride them about eating too much, and I try incredibly hard to be careful of the whole "eat your vegetables" routine.  Frankly, my wife is better at that this than me, so I let her take the heavy lifting on this topic (among many others).

Ultimately, as a father, it's my responsibility to be a healthy role model for my kids.  It's also my responsibility to be a father, not a peer who shares every self-doubt in front of them.  My aspiration is to demonstrate common sense and confidence.  When I'm with my kids, my job is to not be selfish and self-absorbed, but rather to be present for them.  I am a thousand miles from perfect on this front, but I know it's important and I know I need to work constantly to seek to achieve this state.  If I can, then maybe they will forgive me my fancy threads. 




  1. So true! In some ways I feel like there is a whole separate battle to be forged and won once you enter the world of "weight management." It's the battle where you combat your beliefs about your ability to be "fit" and your worth in whether or not you even deserve that designation. It's almost as if we are expecting ourselves to mess it up at any given turn. So we end up checking up on ourselves constantly. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. But ultimately we must fight to transition into the mindset where we simply are this "fit" person. Those periods of struggle, whether at the scale or with our choices, do not take that identity away. We need to believe in our abilities and stop waiting for the big mess up. Then people truly see that we have changed our lifestyle instead of the continued conflict. This is the most important battle.

    Thank you so much for sharing those words! So so true.

  2. Thank you for this post David.
    I live in New Zealand which is far removed from the US and we like to pride ourselves on our healthy lifestyle, but... my friends with kids, like yours, go to schools where the kids are healthy and there's low obesity, and many of the mums go straight to the gym after dropping the kids to school. But 20 minutes drive south, it's a different story. Convenience coupled with super market fizzy drinks and fast foods and both parents working on low incomes often means oversized meals with low nutrition value. Yet, the weekend markets they can buy a weeks worth of fresh veges and fruit for the prize of a family take away dinner. It is this transition, that is the challenge.
    And portion size is important. I was last in the US in October and I'm still amazed that a 'small' coffee in Starbucks is a large here in NZ, and the popcorn and coke deal at the cinema is a bucket!
    Today in Wellington, NZ, in a meeting with clients, after 60 minutes they pulled out a bag of mini chocolate bars, and I thought: perfect. I feel like I need a 'pick me up' and I love this particular chocolate bar, but a bite size is actually enough. But had they given me the regular version, I'd have happily eaten that too. Portion size is important!
    So.. lots of food for thought. And I'm really happy and feel confident that with people like yourself and organisations like Weight Watchers, there is a sea change coming if we can support people on low incomes whose current priority is: just. getting by.
    Thanks again for being so candid and real with your blog.
    And Meri Kirihimete (Merry Christmas in Maori) from New Zealand x

  3. David, I've loved these last 2 blogs. When will Weight Watchers put together a program for obese children and open their doors? It is so needed. I hope and pray that they will take a good hard look at this. Keep up the good work. I'd be lost without my program!

  4. David,
    Another insightful and honest commentary; this blog (like many) hit home for me.
    As a father of two teenagers, and a member of Weightwatchers ‘half-my-size’ club, I am too was (am) concerned how my weight loss and health transformation journey has affected my children. I know they roll their eyes when Dad preaches about anything, so I have consciously tried to avoid this. My daughter’s don’t want to hear about my latest fitness conquest, nor do they even want to think about what Dad look like in cycling shorts.

    I also appreciate your remarks about male body image. The “Adonis effect” and the fast growing obsession men have with their body image. If you want evidence that Corporate America knows about this too, stop and look at the body image of male TV actors, kid’s video game superheroes, or the mannequin in the local fitness store. Marketers have discovered (what most women – wives- have known forever) that men will obsess about their body image too. I can say this is true for me as well. Even after achieving my life-time member status, I am more concerned than ever about what I see in the mirror. (The plan was supposed to be to lose major weight and look like a god, it didn’t turn out that way).

    I must tell you, your blog has prompted me to return to regular WW meetings. Yes, I’m up 40 again (^$#$%^*). While my loss won’t be nearly as dramatic as last time, I know that I need help – so it’s back to what works! Please keep the frank and honest ‘every-man’ blogs coming. Thank You