I‘m so happy to share with you my interview with Dara Chadwick, author of You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own.
In 2007 Dara was the Weight-Loss Diary columnist for Shape magazine, where more than a million readers followed her weight loss journey as she attempted to not only shed pounds, but also old attitudes.
In one column Dara reflected how her body image had been shaped in part by her mother’s feelings about her own body. A mom herself, Dara realized the huge impact she could have on her own daughter’s body image. This led her to write her book where through numerous interviews with women and girls, as well as her own experiences with her daughter, Dara explains the powerful effect that a mother’s body image has on her daughter and how parents can break the cycle.
As this is a subject dear to my heart, and something I also help my clients with, I asked Dara to share some of her amazing insight!
Dara, in 2007 you were the Weight Loss Diary columnist for Shape in, a woman’s fitness magazine. How has losing weight and having a better body image changed your life?
In 2007, I lost 26 pounds as Shape magazine’s Weight-Loss Diary columnist. More than anything else, the experience taught me to let go of the idealized image of perfection that I’d been holding on to and to embrace the best body I could have. I learned that by eating well and making exercise a priority, I could be the best version of myself. After years of struggling with my self-image, it was an incredibly freeing experience!
How long did it take you to achieve your ideal weight, and how important is it to take the weight off slowly as opposed to the “quick fix” everyone’s always looking for?
It took me about 10 months to get down to my goal weight of 125 lbs., which was the weight I was on my wedding day. Taking the weight off slowly through what was essentially a lifestyle overhaul really increased my chances of keeping the pounds off for good. Sure, some weight-loss methods let you see very fast results, but they’re not usually easy or healthy to maintain over time.
How did having a team of professionals (a personal trainer, a dietician and a life coach) help you in your weight loss journey? What challenges did they help you face and do you think you could have lost the weight on your own?
My team of professionals was vital in helping me take off the weight and I learned something different from each of them. My trainer taught me the value of weight workouts in building lean muscle and boosting metabolism – something I still do to this day, even though I now work out at home. My dietitian taught me that while weight loss is ultimately about calories in versus calories out, eating better quality foods like lean proteins, plenty of vegetables and complex carbohydrates gives me way more bang for my nutritional (and calorie) buck. I FEEL so much better when I pay attention to the nutritional value of the foods I’m eating! My life coach really provided the missing element in changing my lifestyle. Through our work together, I learned to face the issues (guilt and fear of judgment were big for me) that led to not only weight gain, but to other ways I was holding myself back in my life.
Looking back, what was the most important element to losing weight successfully — and keeping it off?
The most important element to losing weight successfully was giving myself permission to make my health a priority. I think this is a huge issue for many women, especially mothers. We often get so caught up in looking after everyone and everything that we let ourselves slip to the bottom of the priority list. I’ve learned that when I take the time to prepare a healthy meal – even if I’m the only one eating – or make time for my workout even though I’m super busy, I’m teaching my kids that taking care of their health is important. It’s one thing to talk to kids about good health, but it’s entirely different to be a healthy example.
Now to your book, “You’d Be So Pretty If….Teaching Our Daughters To Love Their Bodies–Even If We Don’t Love Our Own.” How much of our body image is learned from our Mothers?
I think we learn a lot about body image from our mothers. As girls, we watch her to see what it means to be a grown-up woman. If we see her constantly worry about weight and appearance, we learn that that’s what grown women should worry about – and maybe we should, too.
As women, we have a lot of guilt issues around food, our weight and our body. We’ll say things like “I really shouldn’t have this piece of cake” or “I’m going on a diet on Monday” — what effect does this have on our daughters?
I think it’s so important for our daughters to see us take a balanced approach to our health and our bodies. Yes, we should try to take care of our health by eating well most of the time and exercising in a way that makes sense for our lives. But they also need to see us enjoying ourselves, too. If you’ve decided to have a piece of cake, then have it without a single comment about how you shouldn’t be eating it or will somehow need to make up for eating it later. In other words, make the conscious decision to have the cake and then simply enjoy it – and let her see you enjoy it.
In my work, I help women not only lose weight, but have a better relationship with food AND with their bodies. What is the effect of body image in losing weight successfully — and keeping it off?
During my year with Shape, one of the most important things I learned is to accept the limits of my own genetics. I’m not talking about a “giving up” attitude; rather, I’m talking about a realistic picture of what health and fitness looks like in the body that I’ve been blessed with. Reaching that point really made a difference in how I’ve come to see my body. I’m five feet tall with a curvy frame – no amount of exercise will ever make me grow taller or make those curves disappear, even if I wanted them to. But by taking care of my health, I can have the best five-foot-tall curvy frame that I can. Embracing that notion – of making the most of who I am, instead of trying to change myself into something I’m not – takes the pressure off weight loss. Now, it’s just about being healthy and being myself.
When mothers are trying to lose weight, should they not talk with their daughter about it? Should they just avoid discussing the subject of weight in general with her? What’s the best approach?
My daughter was 11 when I wrote the Shape column, so we had lots of talks about “weight.” But I also tried to put weight into the context of good health. She’s a really smart kid, so she was able to grasp the pressure of the monthly weigh-ins for the magazine but when that column ended, we ditched the scale. I think it’s best to substitute the term “getting healthier” for “losing weight.” If you’re making the effort to exercise and eat healthy foods, then you’re already well on your way to “getting healthier.” Don’t make it only about a number on a scale or dropping a size (sure those are ways to measure progress, but there are other ways, too). Make it about benchmarks like, “Look how much farther I was able to walk today” or “Look how toned my calf muscles are from our running sessions.” Above all, speak kindly about your body, even if you think you’re a long way from what you’d consider “perfect.” It will make a difference to her – and to you.
Writing the book — how did it transform you personally?
I loved every moment of writing this book! I especially loved talking to the women and girls that I interviewed – they were all so smart and funny and engaging.
What would be the one thing my readers can do to start to break the cycle of negative body image?
Breaking the cycle of negative body image starts with an awareness, first and foremost, that what you say about and do to your own body affects how your daughter will feel about her body. When you’re tempted to say something critical or nasty about yourself, don’t. Sometimes, it can be that simple and it’s a great way to start.
Thanks Dara! Her book You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own is published by Da Capo Lifelong Books and can be purchased at Amazon.com or at bookstores nationwide.