Things I Want My Daughters To Know

As many of you know, I have spent the majority of my career training people, mostly women, with fat loss goals, and you may have heard me say recently on our podcast that my job isn’t really about bodies.  The bodies part is easy.  It only gets hard once we factor in emotions, willpower, motivation, self worth, a self destructive inner voice, and/or any other psychological obstacle that might possibly inhibit or distract someone on the path to their goals.

So, between clients and the 4 women I live with (my wife and 3 little girls), I am invested in the lives of quite a few women.  As such, I find myself brainstorming often.  Lately, I have been pondering cause and effect in the subjects of weight gain and insecurity about body image.  The question in my head: does a person always gain fat and then become insecure about it, or is it possible that insecurity causes fat gain?  As it turns out, the latter appears to be more common than I imagined, but a poor body image isn’t the only factor involved.  I’ll explain, but first let’s back up a bit so I can break down how I got here in the first place.

There are so many people out there who have wrestled with their fat for the majority of their adult lives.  Paleo/primal/ancestral/caveman (call it what you like, just eat like a human) provides an excellent explanation for this – the lion’s share of our modern foods are garbage and excess body fat is just one consequence on a list of many.  If I were only an author and speaker, I could stop right there and go about my business pretending that I had saved the world by telling them about “the paleo diet.”  But I’m also a trainer.  I don’t get to deliver information and then walk away.  I’m in the trenches with these people and I can’t deny that following “the paleo diet” like it’s nothing more than a set of rules leaves many people with some results, but often far short of their complete fat loss goals.

Then, after following that rabbit hole for years, I have found strong correlations between those who succeed and those who perpetually struggle.  I wrote a lot about that in my book, and to rehash it hear would go way beyond the scope of this post, but I will say that, in my experience, there is almost always a perspective problem in those who struggle.  A broken perspective drives desperation and inhibits repair.  (For those of you who don’t follow my work, you can find an intro to this stuff here and here.)  Those who really suffer at the hands of their inner voice and who don’t have an internal locus of control tend to fail.  Those who love themselves enough to repair the damage that happened while they just weren’t paying attention tend to succeed with the kind of ease that makes it look like they barely tried.

I’m almost ready to return to my question, but I have to explain one more thing.  Our modern mainstream weight loss prescription – eat less and move more – is at best, ineffective, and at worst, horribly damaging.  The “experts” have tried to reduce everything to thermal dynamics, telling us we need to consume fewer calories while we “burn” as many as possible.  Toss a little desperation in the mix and we end up with a huge caloric restriction and hours of steady state cardio.  What most people don’t understand is that this is a recipe for a broken metabolism.  Our amazingly adaptive bodies do their best to adjust to this apparently terrible world where we have to work really hard to stay alive and where there isn’t much food available.  The result is a slow metabolism, to save energy for the next stress event, and very efficient and stingy fat storage, to make sure we make it through the famine.

Okay, back to my question.  Does a person always gain fat and then become insecure about it, or is it possible that insecurity causes fat gain?  You probably read that question a few paragraphs back and thought I was crazy, but I’m finally getting to my point.  Now that you understand the type of situation I’m talking about and the type of advice we have been given, I think I can rephrase my question.  Is it possible that some people, through their insecurities and poor body image, are driven to dislike their bodies where others would not, and do those people often embark on a journey intended to bring about weight loss that instead breaks their metabolism and causes fat gain and perpetual struggle?   The answer is yes, and as crazy as it sounds, I think this seemingly flip-flopped order of events is quite common.

Think back to when you first started to struggle with your body image.  Many of you will be able to look at pictures of yourself at that time and think, “If I could only get back to the shape I was in then, I would be so happy.”  Yet, at that time you were unhappy enough to set into motion those changes in your metabolism that, whether or not you have ever understood them, have always been at the core of your frustration.

My client and dear friend, Christy, has graciously agreed to let me use her as an example here.  Having lived it, she feels as passionately as I do about trying to help young girls avoid the perils of the body loathing path.  Christy is in her late twenties now, and her battle with her body began when she was around 12 years old.  Here she is at age 14:

Christy 14

Typical cute little 14 year old girl, right?  When Christy first showed me this picture, she said, “This makes me sad because I already thought I was fat, and look how cute I was!  I vividly remember being worried when this picture was taken because I thought I had cellulite on my legs.”  Within a year of this picture, she started taking diet pills and restricting her calories.  Since then, Christy has never quite been able to return to a body she loves, although she is finally on the right track today.  Her teenage years and entire adult life are marked by her constant struggle to feel good in her own skin and escape an inner voice that wouldn’t let her forget that it hates the way she looks.  To greater or lesser degrees, every part of her life has been effected by what she began around the time this picture was taken.  And it all started when she manufactured in her mind something that wasn’t really there, setting standards that she finds ridiculous today.

If this story doesn’t describe you, all you would need to do to find someone that it does describe is ask around.  Someone in your world has a very similar story to Christy’s.  Maybe it’s not so crazy to think that insecurity can cause a person to become overweight and struggle with their body fat for a lifetime.  Even though it seems more logical that a person would gain weight and then become insecure about it, mainstream advice can take something that is barely noticeable and turn it into lifelong torment.

So what can we do about it?  Those of you who, like Christy, have already done the damage simply need to get on the path to peak health that Sarah and I preach here on this blog, and in our books, seminars, and podcasts.  It requires the whole lifestyle, and sometimes lots of patience, but the results are sustainable for a lifetime.  As for the next generation, I think we can do much better.   It will require a lot of heart to heart conversations, but our daughters need to, first, know the right way to get an amazingly healthy body that looks and feels great for a lifetime, and second, know what the consequences will be of the cocktail of mainstream advice and desperate body loathing.

Please note that I am not suggesting that we simply teach our daughters to love themselves the way they are and stop right there.  To pretend that they will throw away forever their innate desires to be attractive is a pipe dream and goes against the very laws of nature that create success in any species.  That has never been my message and it never will be.  We definitely need to teach them to love their bodies rather than hate their bodies, and we will do that in large part through example, but we must also teach them that healthy bodies are and always will be most attractive.  This understanding will negate the idea that there is a perfect body shape because healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes are more attractive than unhealthy bodies at some ideal shape and size.  We are attracted to good displays of genetics and, in humans, that means good displays of health.  Regardless of what Disney movies and sappy novels would have you believe about romance, these are the facts.

So please, please, please take the time to explain these concepts to your daughters, step daughters, nieces, and any other young girls with whom you might be close enough to have a heart felt talk.  I spend my days working side by side with women who are deep in psychological and physiological battles to reclaim something that could have been easy, normal, and unworthy of consideration had they only known what you know now.  We can save them from anguish that will permeate everything they do.  Let’s let them stand on our shoulders rather than suffer our trials.

When I look into these eyes, I know I can do better for her.

Daphne

Go forth and be awesome.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve been seeing a few posts like this popping up lately and it’s perfect timing as my husband and I are expecting our first, a girl, in May. While we know exactly how we want to raise her nutritionally, it’s these concepts that are so much more important!

  2. Jodi says

    I am raising 4 lovely daughters myself and can’t tell you how much I agree with you. My oldest 3 have such a great attitude towards their image. My youngest compares herself to her sisters all the time and we struggle to keep her attitude positive. She’s twelve and so easily influenced trying to find herself. Our latest struggle in this area did not come from her but her doctor. She went in for a check up and shot and in the end the doctor told her she was heavy for her age and height and she needed all these other tests done. She was in tears because he “said she was fat” that was all she heard from him. I did respectively tell him that I disagreed and she was a healthy preteen athlete and that muscle weights more than fat and that a scale is not an accurate way to measure the health of a person. We will forever boycott the scales at their office! Attitude and perception need to change for everyone on what is healthy and attractive.

  3. Alicia says

    I am so confused and frustrated by this post. I see that you have good intentions for your daughters, and I appreciate that, but this is so arrogant. We have major issues with our food system globally and it impacts our quality of life dramatically. It’s not just about loving your body or being healthy. What about food access, affordability, nutritional education, etc? These are all factors in being healthy and you barely skimmed the surface of these issues.

    Bashing women for what you deem as poor food choices, is not helpful. This is a systems issue, and telling your daughters to not only love their bodies, but to also make sure they maintain an attractive body puts just as much pressure and insecure thoughts in their head as the mainstream “diet” media.

    Let’s teach our youth to be accepting of one another so that they might also accept themselves. Teach them to challenge the food system by making real changes in and outside of our own communities. Let us embrace health and nurture those that have been working hard to seek that in their lives (even if you think they did it wrong).

    • Jason says

      I’m sorry that you didn’t understand my post. It sounds like you don’t follow my work, and that’s okay, but there’s nothing in your comment that I can get involved with.

  4. Nicole says

    O.K. First off, I enjoyed reading your article! :) Second….. in the picture with the totally adorable girl holding a drink,… was that taken at Honeyman State Park in Florence, Oregon? I know random, I just couldn’t help notice it strikes an uncanny resemblance! Again, great job on this piece!

  5. Steph says

    Jason, thank you so much for this amazing post. I grew up a little chubby (my parents were vegetarian, and totally on the low-fat high-carb train, so of course I was too), with terrible migraines that tortured me for twenty-five years. i found paleo two years ago (Sarah’s first book!) and since then my health, and my entire attitude about my body and health has completely changed. I love your emphasis on healthy=attractive, and as the mother of two little girls, I talk with my kids all the time about how important it is to feed your body with plenty of good food and to exercise it and get lots of sleep, so you are healthy and energetic and strong. I really hope that messages like these will help them weather the adolescent storms and stay focused on optimal health, rather than idealizing the many weird, distorted, and yet oddly homogeneous images of “beauty” that they are confronted with all day, every day. Thank you for being part of the solution.

  6. Dana says

    You just described me in your blog- completely. Working out with Sarah and John now- any advice on next psychological step? Trying hard to be Paleo. Loved the comment about no real food around . It’s how I feel if I forget to bring lunch. Now what? Only garbage out there- hard to really find good eats.
    Ready to hear more…

  7. Aubrey says

    I loved this blog post. I’ve been an avid fan, follower, and podcast listener and love what you are teaching me. But I simply cannot believe that it just actually hit me right now that I am that girl too. (i’m sure so many are). I just never made the connection that insecurity led to my weight gain and issues. (I thought it was the other way around) I could guess it now…but hadn’t ever realized how far back it went, I just always wished that girl knew she was cute and thin. Now my whole goal is to teach my daughter that healthy=attractive. (and myself) Thank you!

  8. Donna says

    Yes!!! Thanks so much Jason. I am a senior high school teacher, and I remember being shocked walking in to the school I currently teach at for the first time during lunch break …. shocked at how grown up the girls looked, and at how slim they were. Somewhere between being in high school myself and going back 7 years later to teach, the appearance of the girls had changed SO much… and, it seems, appearance is ‘all important’ in the mindset of these 15-17 year olds. Having taught there for 9 years now, I see why they look like this everyday. As the boys tuck into their lunches whole heartedly, the girls pick at a lettuce and tomato salad that they are sharing with two or three others, feeling proud of how little they have eaten and how much self-control they have shown. The girls who are overweight are generally outcasts, and the female boarding students eat so little because what is available is so void of nutrients that they would rather starve themselves. Rarely do I come across a teenage girl in my line of work who is genuinely healthy, happy and confident. You have given me much food for thought regarding what we need to change in our school to get the correct information out there. Thanks again.

    • Jason says

      It’s all so heartbreaking, but I firmly believe there is hope. We just have to start talking about this stuff and never stop for any reason. The powers that be have made lots of noise preaching their broken junk science, and now we must be louder!

    • Jason says

      Absolutely! The book is broken into three sections – Think, Eat, and Move – and the whole Think section is about this perspective stuff. The Paleo Coach is a book for the frustrated person with fat loss goals.

  9. says

    Not that I could blame my parents in the slightest, but part of me thinks that if they had had the awareness you show in this post I may have avoided some serious disordered eating issues as a teen. Will help spread this awareness for sure :)

  10. says

    Hi Jason, thanks so much for your post. I am totally Christy. I teared up reading that – I could say the same thing word for word about a picture of me when I was 17. I remember being so horrified by how fat and revolting I looked, I can still see the version of me I saw then in my head… but looking at that picture now, I just see an adorable and super cute 17 year old (I’m 35 next week). So heartbreaking that a young girl who should be happy and exuberant about life should ever feel that way. I agree, I think a lot of times the insecurity and diet culture CREATES fat, and then a particularly vicious cycle begins. Looking forward to reading your other posts.

  11. says

    Thanks Jason, I shared this already with friends, family and followers on FB/Twitter/Pinterest and will definitely be sharing this with my students (I am a university professor in Guadalajara, Mexico).

    Keep up the great work and yes we are listening to the podcast.

  12. says

    Jason, I just listened to the podcast and went right to this post. Wonderful and I posted on Facebook.
    I spent 43 years with body image hang ups and yes I was chubby, fat, skinny and all the other words that go along with poor body image. Yo-yo dieting, being called fat in elementary school added eating more junk, diet pills, starving myself and then eating more again. It wasn’t until 3 years ago I found clean eating then Paleo shortly there after that I never looked back. I do look good, I’m proud to say I’m 46. Am I perfect? Who is? But I’m badass, feel great and I think my now confidence and positivity about myself projects onto other people. I finally feel attractive! Thank you! Your daughters are in great hands!!!

  13. Melissa Rice says

    Hi, all!
    I agree with you, Jason, that my weight struggle has been a product of both poor quality food (Standard American diet) AND a poor body image. I, too, look back at photos and cannot believe that I thought I was grossly overweight! It became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I embarked on diet after diet and wrecked my metabolism, as well as self-worth, further. I ended up severely depressed and topped out at 270 lbs. BUT…the good news is that after embracing a primal/ paleo lifestyle last Feb (2013), I’ve dropped 90 lbs, quit my anti-depressant med, and am more happy and vibrant than I ever have been! I would say that my metabolism AND poor self-image as both well-down the road to completely healing. The future is so bright!

    One more insight: I have a 16 year old daughter who has watched my struggle and my transformation. She has enthusiastically accepted our new way of living. It has resulted in glowing, acne-free skin and unbelievably thick hair for her. But much more importantly, she sees the strong, healthy women in this community who actually EAT, cook, seek out high quality food, are entrepreneurial, and aren’t afraid of building muscle. I’ve got to say, I like role models I see, and I like the confidence and healthy habits I am seeing in my daughter as a result.

    THANK YOU, Jason and Sarah, for this post and for all you do. It has made a huge difference in my life and in my daughter’s!

  14. says

    LOVE the post, Jason! Thanks!!! :) It is sad, but I see myself in Christy’s story… My mom was always skinny, maybe too thin, from not eating (even today, when she gains some weight, she is mad that “her collar bones are not showing anymore), and when I was 10-11 and I had that “kid belly,” I thought I am fat. (I was not! I was just a regular kid who didn’t have boobs yet so I thought my belly is too big for my tiny body!) And seeing my mom as the only “rolemodel” I had, looking at herself in the mirror looking for bones that stick out of her hips, seeing her eating tiny portions of food (or no portions at all), drinking “diet teas” and even then being insecure with her body, there was no wonder I grown up to the same mentality. I was never overweight, at the age of 18 I was 110lbs with 5’4″ and even then I thought I have to be smaller… I was “lucky” to get married at 18 (didn’t work out though..) so I started living on my own and was able to change the body image thinking I was raised with. When I found paleo 3 years ago I was going through divorce and some other major life changes, and at that time, I decided to ONLY DO POSITIVE THINGS to my body. I stopped smoking, I started exercising, I started living life and eat paleo. I am 145lbs today and I DON’T think I NEED to change it. I cured my acne, I cured my boyfriend’s acne, I am strong and healthy and I don’t judge people by the size of their butts anymore. But I had to grow up to this stage on my own… I wish you have lived 20 years ago and wrote this post back then :D I don’t plan on having kids any day soon, but if I do, this post will be hanging on the wall in their room and they will have to read it every night before bed!!! :)

  15. Melanie says

    This is an amazing post, and a must-read for any woman (or for anyone who knows a woman…LOL). Seriously, though…it is so sad to see how young girls are when the pressures of trying to look a certain way hit. I have 2 daughters…one in 5th grade and one who is a senior in high school. I hope I’ve instilled confidence in them to be happy with who they are and what they look like, and to gravitate towards the things that will help them gain and maintain health and happiness. I see them get upset about things sometimes, and I step in right away to address it, always letting them know they are perfect just as they are.

  16. Brian Hartley says

    Insightful Article Jason. I am a trainer myself and have two young daughters under 4 years old. The battle starts early. Barbies at dates with the standard societal “perfect” bodies. Children’s movies and cartoons. It is everywhere. To shield them from this is impossible but loving them unconditionally and teaching them a healthy evolutionary based perspective on health is not. Awesome to see a professional in my industry dig deep and get into the real meat of fat loss. Keep up the good fight and spreading the truth!

  17. Colleen says

    Wow! I can totally relate to this post. I’ve often thought the same things after looking at old pictures of myself and wondering what came first the chicken or the egg. I would also like to add in my experience a huge reason girls feel they’re fat/unatractive whatever is how they see the women in their lives talk about their own bodies. I remember hearing my mom and older sister talk about how fat they were and how they needed to lose weight. I was already several inches taller than either of them and naturally a larger person than them. I remember thinking wow if they’re fat then I must be huge. We can do better for our daughters.

  18. says

    Thanks for the blog Jason. I have been listening to your podcast with Sarah every day whilst travelling to work. Just listened to the one where you mention this blog needing a promote which I have done. You two have gotten me to the gym for the first time in many moons. I have gotten a trainer who is good and is concentrating on getting my technique right to do heavy lifting. My daughter has struggled with her weight and I have slowly moved her onto a diet where she has removed sugar and seed oils. Step 2 will be Paleo with fitness. Keep up the good work.

  19. Sarah says

    This is a fantastic article and I too see myself in Christy’s story. Only after adopting a paleo lifestyle and getting myself healthy for the first time in many years can I fully understand how I want my future children to be. I have every intention of fighting the good fight and guiding them down a healthy path instead of the destructive one I was on for far too long.
    Also, I have so much appreciation and admiration for what you and Sarah are doing and ask that you please keep up the good work!!! It’s a joy to be part of this paleo community with you and Sarah’s leading the way! (And on a side note, you two are the reason I have decided to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner so I can get my masters in nursing and focus on nutritional studies and child development and spread the paleo-awesomeness as best I can to others as soon as i get my degree. I want to do my part having seen and been affected by what you and Sarah do! So from the bottom of my heart, thank you both!)

  20. Megan says

    I loved reading this, and it made me so sad for young me, because I know I was that girl. I was mouthy and assertive and top of my class and I look back at pictures of this smiling girl who was so thin and I remember the moment and thinking the size in my jeans wasn’t small enough, thinking my thighs were thick, and wanting so badly to be better and thinner and less busty, even as I obsessively over-achieved in school and life I was out of control in my eating and working out. I think of how my mom and I joke that we are incredibly well read and educated in healthy habits, yet have never been able to sustain them (probably because “healthy” was never a sustainable plan, from calorie counting deprivation to low carb and on and on). I also think it is a missing link in kid health being so tied to sports/dance/activities (that end), and in sustainable tools to keep healthy. My biggest goal is to keep up exercising this time, as my daughter is aware of it and watching, and because I’m at a point where I know it feels better. And I want to her to know how to nourish her body with REAL food. We talk about food as fuel, and making her muscles and bones strong. I really want her to always get excited at fresh fruit and veggies, and moving. And love her body and herself, in ways I am still struggling to practice. Thank you for the thoughtful blog on this topic.

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