Our Bodies, Our Moms: What Does Your Relationship With Food Have to Do With Your Mother?

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Um, everything. No, not, not everything-but a lot.

Quick story (I swear!): Picture a cute little 9-year-old going off to Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house. Her mom is sick and staying home. On the girl’s way out the door with the rest of the family, her very thin mom says to her, “There are going to be a lot of cookies around, don’t blow it!” So what does the kid do? Out of rebellion, or compulsion, or fear of deprivation, she eats 13 of her grammy’s homebaked Xmas cookies (a baker’s dozen!)-and then feels intensely guilty.

That was my very first binge.

Was it my mom’s fault that I became a binge eater? No! This issue runs in my genes-and I believe I was predisposed to eating problems. But did her own preoccupation with health-food, calories and staying slim for the beach contribute to my fears and freaky food behavior? Obviously. Research has shown that mothers attitudes about weight and food have incredible influence over that of their daughters (sons, too, but to a lesser degree).

One of the things I had to do when I started to recover from emotional overeating was think about my mom’s attitudes were about food and weight-and start to separate them from my own. Have you done that? Why not start with these three Qs:

1. What messages did you get from your mom about the importance of weight and body size? (For me, it was that thin was pretty, curvy was not.)

2. Did your mother ever try to restrict or control what you ate as a kid or teenager? How did you react? (I sneaked food and got angry with her for it.)

3. Did your mother have a weird relationship with food? Was she always dieting, overeating or body snarking about her own shape?

Important note: This is so not about blaming our mothers. In my mom’s case, she came from a long line of very beautiful people who greatly valued appearance. She was a product of her environment, too. Throughout my binge-eating and weight struggles, she was there, trying to help me in the only ways she knew how. She and I talk plenty about all of this these days, and she says my experience with binge eating disorder has actually helped her gain a healthier relationship with food as she’s watched me heal my own. Nice!

What weight and food conflicts have you had with your mother (or father)? Sharing about them helps!


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[pic via HA! Designs]

7 Responses to Our Bodies, Our Moms: What Does Your Relationship With Food Have to Do With Your Mother?

  1. Anna says:

    This is such a wonderful topic. For years I didn’t want to go near these questions because I felt so guilty about blaming my parents for my food issues. But, the funny thing is that once I did look at the ideas I picked up from them, I was better able to forgive them because I realized that they struggled with food as much as I did. It isn’t/wasn’t their fault at all. It is my job to heal myself as an adult, and to love my parents for their lovable qualities and put up boundaries around the ones that aren’t so good for me. Thanks for talking about this.

    • hlthygrl says:

      I’m so with you on the forgiveness front, Anna. It’s so true: Our parents (usually) are just doing the best they can with their own backgrounds and hangups. I had to really work through some anger with my mom, but once I accepted the fact that she’s a human, an imperfect person just like me who’s doing the best they can, those feelings really faded. G’bye resentment! xo

  2. Tamara says:

    (1) “Fat girls don’t get husbands.”

    (2) Most definitely. I ignored her for many years, then in an effort to gain approval followed her advice and starved down to 105 pounds. Then I rebelled, started binging, and didn’t stop until I moved halfway across the country and established myself as an individual.

    (3) Never, dieting, but always snarking. Her belly wasn’t flat enough, her arms were too flabby, her skin had too many spots….what’s weird is that I never see those specific flaws in myself. I think my tummy is perfectly flat, my arms just the right size, but when I look in the mirror all I see are thighs thighs thighs.

    It took me forever to stop blaming my mother for my problems. I eventually decided there are much better people to blame-the fourth grade classmates who whispered “Tammy has a big butt” in a game of telephone, the high school classmates who complained incessantly about their looks while chowing down chimichangas and pizza for lunch, and the many many music teachers who went on dangerous fad diets to look skinny on stage and encouraged me to do the same. Yep, mom was the least of my troubles.

    • Heather says:

      Oh my god Tamara, I know exactly what you mean. My mom had (has) her issues for sure…and once, my dad bet me 2000 dollars I couldn’t lose 50 pounds. I did, and he paid. But it was the other ‘friends’ and classmates that screwed me up. I have a clear and distinct memory or this boy named Ronny saying “boom baba boom baba boom” when I walked by in a bathing suit when we were at the Y for gym class…in grade 5!! Still haunts me.

  3. Trish says:

    My mom was always a little on the bigger side for a woman, and I assume that her own personal experiences with people treating her poorly are the reasons why she was so on top of me about food. But I most certainly rebelled. To this day (I am 23 YEARS OLD, MIND YOU) my mother still tries to control what and how much I eat. I live on my own at grad school, and I make myself healthy and proportionate meals. But when I go home, and we go out to eat at a restaurant and I order a slice of cake for dessert, there’s my mom - in PUBLIC - telling me, “Stop it! That’s enough!” when I’ve taken two bites of the cake. Even if I only wanted to eat two bites of the cake, I couldn’t enjoy them because my mom is breathing down my neck about it. I get embarrassed, feel ashamed and feel like I have no self-control (but I know I do, because when I’m on my own in my apartment, I’m not digging into a batch of raw cookie dough every night). It’s a terrible feeling, and when she does that I absolutely rebel — I’ll go home and eat whatever sweet junk food is in the house. It was one thing for her to do this to me growing up, but now it’s even more painful when I’m a fully capable adult and she still thinks she has to tell me when to stop eating, like I’m some barnyard animal.

  4. Heather says:

    My relationship with my Mum has no doubt influenced me.

    It was only recently I realised how her views of having children - “don’t have children; they ruin your life” - and relationships - “don’t get married; stay single” - influenced my thoughts and feelings on these issues until quite recently. I realised that these views aren’t mine, and I am actually open to the idea of a family someday, and would be honoured if my boyfriend ever asked me to marry him (this isn’t a hint! Honest!).

    As regards food, I copied Mum by stealing her Weight Watchers books when I came to Uni and started seriously dieting. I developed anorexia, but my Mum kept telling me how good I looked (while, I think, being jealous) and only afterwards, ever said that I “looked a bit thin”. It hurt. I wanted my family to see how unhappy I was.

    Mum has depression, poor self-esteem and body image to this day. She’s on a cycle of endless yo-yo dieting. Her comment on her wedding dress recently was that she really liked it, but that she felt fat or it was a fat dress or something. I reminded her she wasn’t getting married for a dress.

    She fed us all the things she denied herself: crisps; biscuits; chocolate bars. We didn’t get healthy foods in our lunchboxes and learnt not to like healthy things, and to prefer the sweet and fatty ones. I can see maybe she was trying to give us love in a way she couldn’t give herself, but it has affected my eating habits to this day. I even have to try and catch myself from feeding my boyfriend and others around me, because I know how destructive this can be ,and how frustrating it is.

    I am just at a point where I’m cutting off from feeling responsible for my Mum, and it seems a good time to start to let go of the blame, frustration and anger I feel towards her and the example she set me. I acknowledge her role in contributing to my issues, but they are my issues and I will be the one to fix them.

    I have realised I can’t rely on my Mum’s advice for weight and body issues. Nor can I rely on the example she

  5. Mindy says:

    My mother is 54 years old. She is very beautiful. She is relatively thin, but considers herself to be “fat”.

    I’ve always been on the slimmer side, but I’m not “skinny” anymore…so people are constantly telling me that I am fat.

    My mother loves to feed me when I visit her, but then she will turn around and criticize my body, eating habits, etc.

    She likes to fix food when I visit but she complains about my physical appearance, especially my weight.

    She believes I’m fat because I have big hips on a petite frame. My tummy isn’t flat anymore, so she views my body as unattractive.

    Last week she showed me a magazine with an actress on the cover who lost a LOT of weight and is now very slim.

    She said: “This is how you should look. This girl was a size 16, now she’s a size 6. You need to be skinny”.

    I wanted to cry. I’ve experienced a lot in my life and now my own mother is telling me that the way I look is unacceptable. She doesn’t think I’m beautiful the way I am.

    I’m now a size 8/10. I wore very small sizes in my early 20’s. I was a size 00 back then, naturally. I’m now 26 years old. I don’t have a little girl’s body anymore. I have hips and curves and a more womanly shape. How is a size 8 or 10 “fat”?

    She’s convinced that I eat junk food constantly, but this isn’t true. I drink lots of water. I walk as often as possible. But I’m not 19 years old anymore. My metabolism has slowed down. I’m not fat, but I’m not rail-thin either.

    And my mother makes me feel terrible because of it. My relationship with food is complicated. I love food, but I’m afraid to eat sometimes because of all the comments from other people about the way I look. Sometimes I want to be able to eat a chocolate chip cookie without feeling guilty about it.

    It doesn’t help that everyone thinks it is fine to tell me that I’m fat right to my face. I have a cousin who has battled obesity for years but no one says mean things to her.

    My mother is a wonderful person, but she made some mistakes with raising me. No one is perfect. But I will never make my daughters feel that they need to look a certain way to be pretty.

    My role models are Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, and Beyonce. I think they are beautiful women with gorgeous, sexy curves. My mother believes that thinner is better. I see thinness as beautiful only if it is natural and the person is healthy.

    She allows my stepfather to verbally abuse me. He was abusive until I married my husband and moved out. My stepfather picks on my body shape constantly, to the point where I’m afraid to eat in his presence. He will see me eating and start making comments about how I most likely sit around eating McDonald’s all the time, which is not true.

    So yes, my mother does influence my relationship with food in different ways. *sigh*

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.