A few weeks ago, I was talking to my mother while cleaning up after a meal. I casually said something like, ‘Well, Snort didn’t have much of his ___________ today.’ It didn’t worry me. Some days he’ll eat 75 melons, and some days he’ll only eat 3.
My mom’s reply startled me, perhaps because it wasn’t what I expected her to say.
‘Oh, let him choose how much he wants to eat.’ Now, let’s say it loud and clear: my mother is not a fan of baby led weaning. She was loudly opposed to this style of feeding from the start, but when it became clear that her fears about choking were not going to change how we did things, she stopped critiquing us. (This, incidentally, is how I know I am a mother in full standing, and a woman to be respected: my mother trusts me to raise my own children. Ha.)
But then she continued.
‘When you were a baby, sometimes you seemed like you didn’t want to eat. So I would force you. You would be screaming and crying and I just kept shovelling food in because I was afraid you weren’t eating enough. I took you to the doctor and he said you were fine, you were healthy, and a baby who is healthy doesn’t need to be forced to eat. He said you would be eating what was right for you.’
A few things from this paragraph.
One, this is a major principle of baby led weaning. You don’t encourage your kid to eat more or less than what they are eating. Only they know how hungry their tummy is. Research has also shown that kids will gravitate towards things that have what their body is lacking. This is why my kids sometimes attack wheat bread and I think I’ll have to open my own mill, and why sometimes they lean towards cheese, or fruit, or beans.
Two, my mother had informed me awhile back (probably around the time Snort and Coco were 6 months old and we were starting solid food) that she had not given me anything but purees until I was ‘well over a year old.’ Yes, all I ate until god knows how old was smoothly pureed stuff. You know, the stuff that I was forced to keep eating even when I was full and protesting.
Three, well, is there a ‘three’?
You all know I am pretty overweight right now. Almost 55 pounds overweight, despite having already lost about 25 pounds. I may have been a healthy, slim weight when I got pregnant, but that has never been my norm.
Longtime readers will know that a few years before I got pregnant, I lost 58 pounds in 18 months doing Weight Watchers. Prior to being pregnant with two big ass twins, my starting weight at WW was the heaviest I’d ever been, and it’s about what I weigh right now.
While I wasn’t a fat child – though certainly made to feel so by my mother – I was never a skinny minnie once I started puberty, and for me that happened in about fourth grade. So being a healthy eater, a thin person, is not my natural mode of being.
Some people are just naturally chunky (and hawt), but I don’t think there’s anything natural about my chunkiness (despite the fact that I am, of course, still hawt!). I think it happened – and is happening – for a number of reasons.
One, I was not allowed to make decisions for myself regarding food as a child. I would have eaten whatever was on that spoon. Two, I was forced to eat even when I was not hungry, and this has perhaps overridden my natural awareness of being full, of being finished. Three, I was not allowed ‘real people food’ until I was long past my baby years.
Even as a child, I was lied to about food. I was afraid of fish, so my mother told me tuna was chicken. I didn’t want to eat meats at all after awhile, and my family bribed me with money, hid the wrappers of meat in the trash, and continued to lie. I was full and didn’t want to eat my peaches? I got hit and screamed at while at the table. I threw up because I was made to eat when I didn’t want to? Hit and yelled at again (not by my mother).
As I got even older, I was enlisted to lie to my sister about the food on the table, as she was 5.5 years younger than me and would only eat what I would.
Now, obviously my family is an extreme. But I still think that the feeding experiences of babyhood – like most experiences of babyhood – remain with us and play a large part in the formation of our character, our self-beliefs, and our choices.
We’ve been doing baby led weaning for about seven months now, and it couldn’t have been a better experience. Sure, at the beginning I worried about how much they were (not) eating. Sure, the first time Coconut swallowed a hunk of bread it scared me so much I didn’t give them solids for two days.
But I kept on, because at the core of it I do trust my children.
And now they are healthy and happy eaters. No doubt there will be bumps in the road, but I feel like I have helped create a baseline for them – learning when they are full, choosing what foods to eat from the variety that is offered, choosing how much to eat. Letting me know when they are done, and that being respected.
Snort and Coconut laugh during meals. Coconut often hums (much like my sister used to do when eating). They drink water and merrily slam their cups down, they hand me choice pieces of chewed up muck to sample, they are weaning themselves off milk. For Snort and Coconut, mealtimes are an opportunity for us to all be together, to have a ‘chat’, to enjoy each other and the good food in front of us.
What a stark contrast – for me as a child, mealtimes were often scary and laced with the fighting of my parents (who later divorced, thankfully in retrospect!), pressures on me to make choices, and pressures on me (still, when I visit home) to just ‘finish things off’, to make sure there are no leftovers. I have received so many mixed messages about food, and I could write a novel on the ways my family have – unknowingly, perhaps – fucked me up in relation to food.
TMD is still struck dumb by it all. At my parents’ house, there is a big breakfast and then one later meal around 4. If you get hungry before then you are shamed for wanting to eat, and if you get hungry afterwards you are shamed for wanting to eat. Yet during the meal itself you are encouraged to gorge, to always, always eat more.
TMD will be driven to secretive eating within days of being there (alongside me!), much as I ate secretively as a child – except now I’m old enough to drive away, order food, and eat in the car and throw away the wrapper before I get home. Ridiculous. We have both made a conscious effort (thank god for TMD and her neverending support) to eat normally while at my mother’s house, though the continual commentary on our eating is tough to deal with.
This will not happen for Snort and Coconut.
I am curious to see what my mother makes of baby led weaning in action, but I am a woman now. I am doing the best I can by my children, making choices I hope are the right ones, and so far it’s working: I have two almost-toddlers who exude confidence, joy, curiousity, and wonder.
Long may it continue.