Of fussy-eaters and two way respect

My 60 kg 16-year-old daughter is strictly a carnivore. She eats greens under sufferance, namely to neutralise the acidity of the meat she eats. She often blitzes these greens up into a smoothie, fibre and all, and chugs them down. I have her sports to thank for that. As a footballer playing in high level, demanding international tournaments, she has been taught how to pay close attention to her diet. She herself can see the consequences of not eating well.

Since commencing football training four days a week and following a professional programme, she has filled out nicely from a skinny 14-year-old into a powerfully built 16-year-old:

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Georgina has an informed and healthy attitude towards food (she does not drink, do drugs, smoke or stay out late because of the strict Academy rules) though she eats more meat than I would like.

I, on the other hand, love my greens. I could eat salads all day, fresh greens with just a light, homemade dressing. I would rather my family just eats greens, no meat. Indeed, in my militant vegetarian days in my misguided youth, I used to enforce a no-meat policy in the house. Looking back with hindsight, I realised it was the wrong decision in my household as a family who values kindness and Self very highly. I should not have tried to impose my ‘right beliefs’ on my loved ones, in the mistaken belief that I know what is best for them.

These days, I honour my family’s tastes and choices, but at the same time, I integrate my own wishes and likes into the food I make. I strongly believe that food is a two-way respect thing, not a warring turf. Unfortunately it has been that way in many families for decades – food has been used as an emotional blackmail tool and we often have unhealthy relationships with food stemming from our childhood battles with our parents and from our parents’ unhealthy attitude towards food.

Georgina has several friends who suffer eating disorders in varying degrees of severity, a couple of them requiring hospitalisation. The biggest tragedy is one who lost her life to anorexia. I do not think good eating habits alone can prevent this, but I do believe that good eating habits fostered at a young age goes a long way towards keeping children healthy. Here are my tried-and-tested tips:

(1) Never fight over food. That’s why it is important to exert your authority in this matter when your children are still young.

(2) Introduce children to a wide variety of food at a very young age. I don’t believe in cooking special food for 1-year-olds. They do not need special porridge or special bland food. They can eat what we do and they jolly well should. Just be careful about fish bones and small things like peas and sweetcorn that are choking hazards, and ensure that there is not too much salt in foods.

(3) Terrible Twos is the stage when food battles begin. This is the time to manage it right. Never allow a toddler to win the battle of wills. Be firm (but not unkind or dramatic). When I was in my early twenties, I had three children under 5 years old and was a full time student at University. There was no way I had the time or the patience to pander to food squabbles. My children simply had to eat what was on the plate. No force-feeding and no chasing toddlers with food either. Make the dining table a fun and happy place to be and everybody will eat well.

(4) If they choose not to eat then they can go to bed hungry. They won’t die or suffer malnutrition overnight.

(5) Foster good eating habits in the home.

(6) No snacking in between meals.

(7) Ensure that children understand the consequences of their food choice but no empty threats (for example, if you don’t eat carrots, you will die).

(8) With older children, have a dialogue with them. No drama. I respect your food choices, now you have to respect mine. It is give and take always, as is everything in life.

Here’s my burger, loaded with nuts, seeds and vegetables:



My Daughter, My Role Model

Georgina has my body shape: the skinny ‘slim’ look so beloved of Asians and women the world over too, I guess.

But she never had any intention of pandering to the majority’s perception of beauty – this girl has worked hard (not only through exercise but through optimum nutrition) to have a strong powerful body that wins her trophies and gold medals.

She has bigger thighs and bigger waist than me, and she laughs about it. Her shoulders are wide, which makes her a strong swimmer though she does not compete in swimming.

She is larger than a lot of girls, but she doesn’t care. Because she knows she is solid muscles, and she is proud of them, even if she is perceived as ‘big’. She revels in the fact that she is very seldom sick – in the last ten years, sore throat is her only ailment – and that she has bags of energy to have fun. I don’t stress about her wearing tight clothes, because she is not a feeble little thing pandering to ideals of beauty, but merely showcasing her muscles. Her role model: Jessica Ennis, the British Olympian, and she is on her way there.

Her physical strength gives her mental strength and a different approach to life …. to my surprise, she listens to Martin Luther King’s speeches on her iPod!

Way to go, Warrior Woman!

No to Anorexia

Anorexia Kills

No to Anorexia

“It often starts with the chipping away of self-esteem by thoughtless comments. Then an erosion towards body dysmorphia. And the downward spiral into anorexia.”

There are many positives about living in Asia, but for me, one of the biggest negatives as a mother is the obsession with being ‘slim’. Oh, how I hate that word, and the mindset of chasing useless and dangerous physical ideals.

I am three quarters Asian, so being slim is natural for me. But for my two daughters who have a big and muscular Caucasian father, it can be a minefield. My elder daughter Kat is a glorious goddess at 5 feet 10 inches in her stockings and has that strong Spanish built that would be envied everywhere else in the world, except in Asia, that is. Some of the comments that she had to weather during her time in Kuala Lumpur:

“Who is the mother, who is the dotter?”

“She looks older, hor?”

“Wah, why so big?”

“How to find a husband?”

The modeling agencies we went to suggested that she loses half her body weight. I walked out in disgust, dragging her behind me, her self-esteem bruised. Straight after her last exam, she was on the flight back to London, and no one has made a single comment since about her lack of slimness. In fact, she had not heard the hated word since, and that was six years ago.

My younger daughter G is made of sterner stuff. She had been called chunky and fat, and she would meet these ridiculous labels with a steely glare. “At least I am not stupid,” she would reply sweetly, with the hidden subtext, “Like you.”

G has my Asian build, so she is naturally slim. But here’s the thing: she works hard to put on muscle bulk. She trains three times a week on the football field and eats consciously. She glorifies in her ‘chunky’ body, because it is all neat muscles that she had worked hard for. Muscles that played a large part in making her the Malaysian junior national taekwondo champion when she was 10 and a very successful footballer on the British International Schools circuit. She won the Most Valued Player award for three consecutive years, and she is only 14. One of her powerful kicks could send a football from one end of the field to the other, and you could hear the thwack from the stands. She is 14, but she plays a full game of football against under-21 girls and even boys. A ‘slim’ girl would not have the strength and stamina to do that. I am glad that media pressure and the world she grew up in had not skewed her view. Strong and healthy is beauty, not skinny.

I have been skinny – or to use that over-used word ‘slim’ – during the times in my life when I was undergoing chemotherapy, when I was bereaved, when I was working so hard that I forgot to eat. These slim periods coincided with some of the unhappiest times in my life. Yet the compliments flowed in.

“Wah, so slim! Have you been on diet or doing yoga?” Greeted me when I got back into the Kuala Lumpur groove after burying my friend.

No, I have not been on diet. Nor have I done more yoga. My friend died, you brainless woman, and I am seeing psychiatric help to get over my anguish. I am not slim, but dangerously thin.

One of the things I did when I gave up work was building my body. I ran, did weights and yoga, and ate well. My focus wasn’t on getting the perfect body, but a healthy one that will see me through the second half of my life. At 46, I am the best I have ever been.

I owe it all to my chunky but perennially happy Welsh mother, who had always told me I am beautiful, and who showed me that there are other things in life that are more important than what people think about your body. It is yours, love it.

And here’s a humble request from me: please use the word ‘slim’ responsibly.

Body dysmorphia

Anorexia and bulimia

Campaign for body confidence

Anorexia Kills

I received the sad news that my friend’s 16 year old daughter died of anorexia-related complications. She was 16, pretty, lots to live for, and certainly not fat at all.

Yet she believed she was. And media tells us that women have to be thin to be successful/beautiful. Giorgio Armani used anorexic-looking models this year, for example, the so-called heroin-chic. There are many websites that promote this dangerous propaganda too.

One of G’s friend in her previous school was hospitalized for eating disorders. A 13 year old should not be worried about being fat. Some of the bitchy girls commented behind G’s back that she is fat.

But does G care? Heck, no.

I post a lot about her because one of the things I want to propagate is “healthy and strong is beautiful”. Like her million dollar legs. They are not thin legs, but do you want a thin pair over G’s powerful pair? Girls should be taught to feel empowered by their femininity, not enslaved.

I get infuriated when people compliment me on my ‘slimness’ (especially in Asia). No, I don’t aim to be slim. In certain stages of my life, I was unfortunately slim because I was bereaved, or I was going through chemo, or I could not eat. There is nothing to celebrate, yet that farking word “slim” is so celebrated in Asia. Please think, and use that word responsibly. Don’t propagate the slim culture, because at best, it will give girls stupid useless targets to aim for; at worse, it kills.

Beauty is an inner thing.