My 81 year old grandmother recently went to the doctor for a checkup. She has dementia, although she is still doing fairly well. She also has emphysema and COPD, thanks to my grandfather smoking for decades. She has been losing a lot of weight over the past few years. Due to her dementia, she sometimes forgets to eat, along with other health concerns that have caused her weight to drop. Family members have been trying to make sure she eats, putting reminders on her calendar of leftovers she has in the fridge, taking her out to eat or to their house for dinner, etc. At her recent checkup, she had gained 4 lbs. She was upset to hear this, because she spent years dieting and trying to lose weight. What kind of message does our society send that at 81, she is still concerned more about the number on the scale, than how her weight reflects her overall health?
When I was growing up, I remember family members used to have contests to see who could lose the most weight in a certain amount of time. The women in my mom’s family are mostly good cooks who enjoy food, but also spend a lot of time discussing their weight. As I got older, my exercise was mainly farm chores, and I mostly ate what I wanted. I ate a lot of vegetables and fruit, but also a lot of pizza and chips, with little concern for portion size. After I got married, I gained a lot of weight since I was still eating the same, but not working outside as much.
It wasn’t until after my first baby was born that I started exercising regularly and being more careful about how much I ate. With family histories of colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, all of which are influenced by diet, I wanted to reduce my risk of dying early and leaving my children. I also want to pass along healthy habits to them.
This has become more important since I had my daughter. Men do not generally seem to be as focused on weight as women. For many women, the number on the scale has a huge effect on their mental outlook. I would like my daughter to be able to use a scale, the fit of her clothing, her ability to do pushups, or whatever other measurements she chooses, as a tool to know if she is staying healthy and fit, not if she is “skinny”. Some people naturally have a slimmer build, but are far from healthy. I try to remember not to give my kids food every time they are upset so that they will not develop the association many people have with unhealthy foods as comfort measures. I would like my kids to be able to eat foods they enjoy, but in healthy amounts, so they don’t feel like they are on a diet, but just enjoying the many different delicious foods available.
I hope that our society can begin to focus more on people working to be healthy and doing what makes them happy and enjoy their life, not be fixated on making the scale say a certain number, so that when my daughter is 81, she can be happy about gaining 4 lbs if that means she is doing better and will be able to enjoy her grandchildren and great-grandchildren longer.
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