An open letter to my daughters on body acceptance and fostering a healthy relationship with food

As your mother I want to see you flourish daily both emotionally and physically and continue to explore our world with inquisitive eyes, pointing, touching, grabbing, playing, laughing, kissing, dancing, running, singing and most importantly eating and growing into the wonderful loving toddler and child that you both are. I am writing this letter to you because as you know aside from being your mummy, I also work as a Psychologist. This letter will have meaning to your future selves once you start to navigate the complexities surrounding our relationship with food.

As a Psychologist, your mummy specialises in weight management, disordered eating and bariatric psychology. I meet people in my consulting room from all walks of life who all struggle with this collective issue-how to foster a healthy relationship with food and to cultivate greater self-acceptance.

Food goes beyond the simple function of physical sustenance and reaching one’s satiety level. It extends to further roles such as substituting for a lack of emotional nourishment (i.e.: affection, validation, reward, comfort, self-soother, etc.) and/or fulfilling existential voids permeating someone’s intrapersonal and interpersonal world. In those instances, food becomes a symbol of identity and communication.

The act of eating is laden with cognitive-affective, socio-cultural, behavioural, physiological and relational meaning. The reasons and functions behind why people eat what they eat are vast and manifold. For example, someone might eat a particular type of food to conform to an acceptable social norm, to attain a certain physicality, ascribe to spiritual or moral practices, due to physiological markers and intolerances, to contain painful feelings, or most fundamentally to experience a culinary dish with gusto.

However, we are relentlessly bombarded with a constant flux of differing messages in our immediate environment (i.e.: from family and friends, educators, the scientific community, social media outlets, public health policies, press, etc.) about which foods are categorised as ‘good versus bad, ‘healthy versus unhealthy’ and this never-ending dichotomy leaves us feeling more puzzled, perplexed, full of angst and vulnerable as we strive to subscribe and conform to what eating behaviours are deemed the best physiological, social, moral and desirable acts.

Some of us will have numerous slip-ups and relapses along the way as we seek to follow these advised guidelines. Others of us might have an ‘internal rebellious’ voice that leads us to placate and silence these messages and follow our own dietary rules and eat as we see fit.

The most important message I wish to convey to you both my darling Noa and Lily is for you to focus on your body’s strength, functionality, rhythm and physical health instead of aesthetic ideals that might at times seem in the public eye and social circles as the attribute of greater grandeur.

Focusing primarily on your external appearance and consuming your thought processes towards aspiring to a certain body image will only cause you unnecessary anguish and divert you from truly listening to your body and showing it self-acceptance and gratitude for all the wonderful work it achieves everyday.

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Dr Anna Abramowski

Dr Anna Abramowski is an experienced Chartered Psychologist and founder of the North London Psychologists’ Clinic, https://www.northlondonpsychologists.com