“You can come out and eat, I told her.” That was my client, 22-year-old Asha, speaking about her nine-year-old cousin, who lived with her, as part of one large joint family. As Asha’s eyes welled up, I, too, found myself looking down, and trying not to get emotional about the story of this child who dared not eat freely in front of other people.
It had all started, Asha said, when the child began to develop a bit of a tummy. Seeing her changed body, her parents began to have nightmares about how excess weight would spell doom for, hold your breath, their marriage plans for her.
All this was, of course, communicated to the child, whose food intake was now restricted. So she began to hide and eat every time she wanted to have a snack or needed to eat a little more regular food than what had been apportioned. She ate in the loo, the doll’s house, under the bed, any place far away from the prying eyes of her mum and maids.
It’s shameful that we, as parents, don’t guide our kids into puberty with the information and compassion they need. Developing a rounded stomach around the time of puberty is a natural developmental change, and a desirable one. What is undesirable is imposing food bans on growing children, and not providing them with access to open spaces and sports, which would help them deal in a positive way with these changes.
Hearing such stories convinces me how important it is for parents to educate themselves about the basics of eating right, keeping fit, sleeping on time and helping their children nurture healthy relationships with their own bodies. No one should have to hide and eat, least of all our daughters. Daughters who hide and eat turn into daughters who hide and puke three or four years later, and spend a lifetime fighting with their bodies.
(A fortnightly column on nutrition and fitness by the best-selling author of Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight)