How I became the chubby kid

As a child, I was given free reign to eat whatever I wanted. This meant daily bowls of crushed oreos in milk, after-school snacks of burgers and fries as a “treat” for answering phones at the family business and, in the evening, half a pint of Haagen-Dazs for dessert. Every day I satisfied my “junk-food tooth” on top of my favorite past-times: reading, watching TV or playing with Barbies. Consequently I was that kid. The chubby one.

At the time, I didn’t have a lot of critical self-consciousness about it … I can’t remember inner voices telling me “you’re fat” or “if you eat that you’ll get fatter” (although I did always wear a T-shirt over my bathing suit). I say “inner voices” because there actually were some external voices saying these exact things to me, directly and out loud: my parents and grandparents. They saw my bulging belly, thick thighs and chipmunk cheeks and thought it went beyond cutesy “baby fat.”

How I became anorexic

I’m not sure exactly when the transition occurred, when the voices expressing fear and disappointment with my body turned inward and became my own self-critique. But I do remember this: At age 11, I stopped eating. I was 4′9″ and 100 pounds. I started doing my mom’s yoga video, the Jane Fonda Workout, and began to dance. Eventually I reached 65 pounds. I was anorexic. My family stopped making comments. I was thin and totally a mess emotionally … but that didn’t matter. I stopped incurring the snipes and jabs.

There is way more to this story — I am leaving out loads of detail in the interest of keeping this a blog and not a memoir. But the short story involves years of disordered eating, lots of attempts to heal, a tailspin into bulimia for four years, and then finally deep acceptance and healing. This involved completely changing my relationship with myself in every way possible, and learning how to re-parent myself and create new, supportive inner voices.

Next-generation baby fat

A few weeks ago, my dear friend Kirstin from college, who also happened to be in the “sisterhood of eating disorders” clique that I danced with, told me that her 7-year-old daughter, Lyra, recently exclaimed, “My legs are FAT!”

Now, when you have survived hospitalization from an eating disorder because of fear of food, gaining weight and the actual underlying emotional baggage, hearing your daughter utter negativity towards her body for the first time is gut-wrenching.

Kirstin saw the moment in slow-motion. A thousand responses flooded her mind, and, somehow, she landed on this one:

“Oh?” pause, “And how is that for you?”

Lyra grabbed her thigh with both hands, threw her head back and declared, “They feel soooo GOOD! They feel soooo SOFT!” She bear-hugged and caressed her legs in delight. And Kirstin exhaled.

Kirstin’s wisdom in that moment to not invest any of her own body bias was easily one of the most brilliant parenting moments on record. In that moment, she could have directed her daughter to believe any number of perspectives on fat, and its meaning. Instead, she backed off and allowed Lyra to define her own (self-loving) associations and assign her own (supportive) meaning. The inner voices inside Lyra’s head were not the ones that Kirstin or I had anticipated would be there. We both assumed that she was already hosting a negative concept about her body. Silly us.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog next week!

[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]

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Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

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Rachel Taylor

Reading your vulnerability, Jill, I will admit something that I feel quite ashamed of, which is that at a few times while reading the YTU Level 1 training manual, I’ve noticed myself having dismissive thoughts toward you along the lines of “well of course her abs are perfect, look how thin she is, what could she know about any body image issues….” You get the drift. I would try to shoo the thoughts away when I noticed them, but they still happened. I think the lifelong desire I’ve felt to be thinner and smaller than I am– ick it’s hard… Read more »

Sarah Millar

Thank you for sharing, Jill. Self-love is such an important thing to implement in our lives, and our children’s. We often forget as parents the value of sharing positive feelings toward our own body.

Devon

This was an interesting article to read. As a former dancer, yogi and runner, food can be a fine line. I also battled an eating disorder for a good portion of my adolescence and it took a long time to return to what I loved to do and for the right reasons. Even after I recovered and was able to accept my body and the miracles it performs each day, every time I heard another girl complain about her body or mention talk about calories, a part of me would cringe and become very protective. It’s almost taboo to talk… Read more »

Christina Broome

Hi Jill, thank you for sharing this & I would be interested in reading a memoir about your experience with disordered eating and body image and how you came to dep acceptance.
Humbly grateful for you,
Tina Broome

Debi

This is so hard when raising children. When kids are over weight it becomes a thing. We start to police their eating and then it’s a thing and once it’s a thing well we have lost. We all have the ability to regulate when we are hungry or not from birth and some how we derail it and then spend the rest of our lives trying to right it.

Veronica

Its a relief to read that we are not alone in our self deprications and self doubts and that these manifest in so many ways. The other day in class we talked about the distance between awareness and unawareness = advancement. Sometimes for so many varied and numerous factors, we unconsciously listen to our npt so nice inner voices so closely – that we see just that one eyes view. It is when we become AWARE that those negative thoughts exist, acknowledge them and take responsibility for them, that perpective shift takes place and change can happen – advancement occurs.… Read more »

najla

its weird that i came right to this blog post today. a lot of things are weird about today, and what i discovered in class with you about my own body. but the weirdest of all is re reading my story in yours, with the difference being the height i am and weight i reached (5’7″, 95 lbs…i know everyones wondering secretly!) and i came to all of this in a similar way and by learning to think of the FUNCTIONS of my body and what the food is for and how fricking COOL it all is and yay. but… Read more »

Jimmy

I was the chubby kid also. I remember eating candy bars after school on the walk home and then again when I got home playing video games. I used to see how my belly was doing as I sat on the floor, “can I make this belly a little table for my game controller?” I thought to myself and even reveled in the attempt to do so. Much like your friend my mother never made me feel or believe anything about my own royal fatness. In turn I got to a point and just wondered what it would be like… Read more »

Lauren C

Thank you for sharing this Jill. I was also a chubby child and had years of eating issues and weight fluctuation. It took a toll on my confidence and body image. Not until I found yoga, did I learn how to love my body again. Being heavy when you are a child is so hard to deal with, especially around other children as well. I was also rewarded with food from my parents and sometimes have to remember in my adult years that food doesn’t always have to follow a celebration of some sort. You are truly an inspiration and… Read more »

Louis Jackson

Looking forward to the memoir.

Ann Taylor Lashbrook

I love amazing mom stories! Your friend was so wise. I sometimes forget that if I take a breath and allow my inner true voice to say something it just might be the best thing possible. If only I can remember that some day in the future when I have a little girl and keep my practice. This young girl will hopefully continue to be a stand for the positive and perhaps she will be an amazing leader. I wish she had been my friend when I was 7!

Alicia Wang

OH That is so beautiful. It is so incredible to read that little girls comment about her legs and feel the same fear I felt when I was battling my eating disorder and then to hear the wisdom of a child appreciate the beauty of the essential fat in our bodies. I really believe that the seeds of thoughts we bestow on our children has a profound effect on their development. We as a society have to change our consciousness, we have to embody the beauty that is our bodies and look at them and our children’s bodies in a… Read more »

Jill Miller on Yoga, Weight Loss, and Eating Disorders | Intent Blog

[…] extremely obsessed with body fat as a barometer of health, well-being and social acceptance. Having survived both anorexia and bulimia as a young woman, my journey to robust health did not, nor was ever, satisfied by an ideal number on a scale. I can […]

Gloria Tan

Jill, the first thing I need to say is that children are just so flippin’ precious, aren’t they??! I LOVE that story and that innocent child’s response. Thank you for sharing.. Just adorable. … ( i try to write down all the cute things my kids say). ..and the 2nd thing I wanted to say is that I would have never guessed that YOU were that kid! The chubby one.. the junk food junkie…. wow, that’s amazing how you went from that to not eating bread.. 🙂 .. no, but seriously, you are such an inspiration to have come so… Read more »

Gwen

Having struggled with similar things in my youth, I empathize with your experiences. Back in the day, yoga was something that helped me find self-acceptance and a different connection to myself and my body. Kids can bring up our old stuff, and your friend’s response to her daughter was inspired. (And her daughter’s reply was great.) This is why it bothers me when people talk about “yoga bodies” or when celebrities talk about being skinny because of yoga. While yoga brings health to the body and mind, it’s not about having a certain body. To me, that’s the antithesis of… Read more »

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