The "fat" talk
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
This morning, as I was getting ready to walk out the door for work, I heard my husband struggling to explain to my son why when people are sick they generally don't eat much. My son (6) insisted that sick people need more food to help them fight the sickness and my husband said it wasn't so but couldn't explain why.
Being me, I turned around to explain. We need food for energy, I explained. But it takes a lot of work for our body to turn the food we eat into energy. When we are sick, it's not good for our bodies to have to work so hard. We still eat, mostly foods that are easy to digest, but mostly our bodies use up energy that we stored away as fat. That's one of the reasons we make fat -- so that if we need energy when we are too sick to digest food or when there is no food around we can carry extra energy around with us.
He thought about that and then observed: "You have a lot of fat Mom." Yes, I do. I have too much fat, actually. It is important to have some fat for the reasons I mentioned, but it is not good to have so much that it makes it hard for you to move around a lot or fit into places. Too much fat means your body can't work the way it is supposed to. You guys -- looking at his brothers as well -- have just the right amount of fat on your bodies. Dad used to not have enough (he had a BMI of 16 when we met), but he's got the right amount now too. I have too much, which is why you see me measuring out my food and being careful what I eat.
"Grandpa has too much fat also." Here his brother disagreed: "No he doesn't." "Yes, he does -- look at that picture!"
I interjected and explained that Grandpa used to have too much fat but recently he had been working very hard to get healthier and he was very close to having just the right amount now.
"Mom," said my five year old, "If Grandpa was really trying to get healthy, why does he eat so much unhealthy foods?" Now, Grandpa has eaten an extremely regular and very healthy diet since being diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, so that kind of threw me. What kind of unhealthy food, I asked. "You know, the popsicles with poison in them."
He had me there. Grandpa satisfies his sweet tooth with sugar free popsicles. Whenever he comes to visit, we buy a big box of his kind and another box of regular so the kids can share his treat with him -- but we are quite strict that the kids don't eat the fake sugar kind.
So I explained that fake sugar is very bad for growing children but not quite as bad for grownups. And when people are trying to lose weight, they need to eat less energy than their bodies need every day so that their bodies use up some of their extra fat. But our bodies are designed to make sure we get enough energy so when we don't eat as much as we need, our bodies make us feel really, really hungry. That's part of why it is so hard to lose weight once you have extra energy stored up -- because your body doesn't like to use it unless it really, really needs to. This is only a problem you have if for some reason your body already has too much stored energy, or fat. So Grandpa knows he needs to eat less than his body wants to, which is very unpleasant, so he tricks his body. He eats a fake popsicle, that still tastes good and fills up his tummy, but doesn't actually have much energy in it for his body to use instead of fat.
How do you think I did?
It occurred to me writing this conversation up that I had completely ignored the role of exercise in the equation, but I am sure the topic will come up again. And the kids have been watching me exercise and they know it is important for all people to stay healthy and have our bodies work right which, honestly, is how I'd rather have them think about it.