Childrearing

Lady Of The Manor: Is My Son A Budding Manorexic?

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Ask any mom of girls and she’ll tell you that boys are easier to raise. Naturally, any mom of boys – including this one – will beg to differ. And yet one thing most parents agree on is that when it comes to food and body image, it’s girls – and their potential eating disorders – that are cause for concern. Boys will simply rack up the grocery bills, carelessly eating their way through childhood.

At least that’s what I used to believe – that fat was a feminist (and feminine) issue. And then my my oldest son, already a picky eater, started asking whether certain things would make him fat. I knew body image issues eventually transcended gender – but in third grade?

A few months ago, we were traveling behind a bus with a poster for a well-known diet clinic plastered on its back. It featured a photograph of a hefty (but happy) couple in the background, while in the center of the ad was a picture of a svelte, happier version of the two. My middle son pointed them out and said, “Mommy, you should try that.” I attempted to laugh it off, just as I did when another son prodded a friend’s newly post-pregnant belly and asked if she was having another baby. Really, I was mortified. Had I somehow passed my own food issues on to my kids? My sons?

We try to eat well in our house without being too crazy. Anything goes, in moderation. It’s not like we’re tending bar for our kids, but we’ve resisted labeling anything as “bad” or off-limits, hoping to keep the allure of forbidden fruits at bay. My husband and I both hit the gym regularly and have tried our best to instill the virtues of healthy living without sounding too preachy. In other words, we keep the binges and benders to ourselves.

Recently, my oldest son, almost eight, started discussing the caloric content of various foods. He announced he’d no longer be eating cookies or candies because he wanted to cut out “crap.” He’d obsessively read the nutrition labels of everything from oatmeal to orange juice, ketchup to Coke. He also started weighing himself daily. It was freaking me out – was this a cry for help? Did I have a budding manorexic on my hands?

And was it my fault?

I started seeing him in a new light. Was he solid? Chunky? Was he eating too much processed food? Were those mini-love handles sprouting up on his sides? This new interest of his was becoming my obsession. Somehow he got it into my head that maybe he really did have a reason to worry!

Meanwhile, he was scorning his brothers’ snack choices, opting for fresh fruit over fruit roll-ups. He was never a real junkyard dog, but he used to indulge in chocolate every once in while. But then he cut it out cold turkey. Is this how an eating disorder begins, I began to wonder?

I tried ignoring it – I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. But after several weeks of worry I finally asked him why he was so consumed with fat and calories. He told me he just wanted to eat whatever would make him bigger. As in, stronger and taller.  He’s the youngest in his class, so he wants to be the tallest to make up for it. And he doesn’t want to sit in a booster anymore.

Turns out the only eating and body issue at play here was my own.

(Photo: Jupiterimages)