You, Me, and My Mother—Getting More Personal

Acknowledging (not blaming) your influences

Her recent diagnosis of cancer brings me to this slightly different post than you’re used to reading from me. I hope you find it useful—I believe you will—so please read on.

I rarely give credit to my mother, although to say she has had a major impact on me would be a silly understatement. More often, my inner circle hears my complaints—my failure to accept her as she is, to live up to my unrealistic ideal, and my frustration in her difficulty over the years to see me as my own person. You know, the usual mother/daughter crap. I can be uber-rational, she primarily utilizes the right side of her brain—the “act on how you feel, not what you know side”. We are a challenging combination at times. That said, the profound positive influence she’s had on me and on the work I do is worthy of this post.

The Early Years

I grew up on mayo sandwiches, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops. I loved canned mushrooms—right from the can—and those olive-green asparagus tips-and peas too. What a weird kid, no?
I ate Swanson TV dinners—those foil-contained frozen meals, most notably turkey, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes with a tiny side of super sweet food-coloring-infused red dessert—which I would eat occasionally for dinner on a folding “snack table” right in front of the TV.  It was the 60s of course, and my mother’s 1950s housewife generation saw convenience as key. Canned food was better than fresh in that era—or so it seemed from my youth’s perspective, just as infant formula trumped breast milk. After all, it was “scientifically formulated”, so it had to be better. Processed food was the new black back then. Everyone had to have it.

As my mother engaged in various diets over the years, I took to baked fish and steamed, fat free vegetables just as easily. I joined her in grapefruit eating with dry toast and coffee for breakfast (the Scarsdale Diet, it was called) in my teen years, but was equally entitled to enjoy her fabulous baked goods for desserts. My first real introduction to balance, perhaps?

My mother encouraged and allowed me full reign in the kitchen—something I've simply taken for granted—until working with so many individuals for whom this was not the case. The kitchen could get messy, and that was all right. She would call me from work and ask if I can start making the fried chicken cutlets (no, not during the Scarsdale grapefruit diet phase, of course!) and I would confidently hop to it.

I learned to be comfortable around all types of food, with cooking and without rigidity in the kitchen. I can't remember seeing a written recipe in my childhood home, but I knew from an early age how to make a chicken soup, and a kugel and chicken cacciatore, to name a few. These days, I do like the structure of a recipe to start with, then play with it from there.

Defending weight

My mother was, and remains, a beautiful plus-size woman. And like many of you living above society’s acceptable BMI have experienced, she had her share of size prejudice and condescension at times. In spite of my average to slim size, I think I always identified with her struggle. I silently sided with the overweight underdog, until I found my passion verbalizing my reactions to such injustice, and finding ways to guide and support those struggling with their eating behaviors and their weight.

Combine this with my mother being the most compassionate individual I know. Really. The warmest, most generous heart you'll ever encounter lives in her. Yes, readers, she deserves any credit due me for the work I do—for my passionate acceptance regardless of size, for the need for balance, for my (sometimes) gentle support you'll hear from me.

Only now can I make sense of what I heard upon returning home from my Freshman college year, 25 pounds higher than I was that September. “You could use to lose about 20 pounds,” I recall her saying. That was more than 30 years ago and it has never left me. At that time, what I heard was “you're not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough...”.

Would it have been better to address my emotional ups and downs as an insecure college student? Or to inquire about how I was eating and if I was taking care of myself? Could she have encouraged some reasonable physical activity, rather than telling me to “hold your stomach in” and “put your shoulders back”? Of course. But no one ever guided her in that way—it just wasn't what she knew. And now I can acknowledge that she only feared that I might follow her path with a lifelong and painful weight struggle. So lifelong, that in spite of her recent diagnosis of cancer, she expressed concern that her weight had increased a bit (following a possible weight drop due to her medical woes). This is what still worries her!

But this time I didn't argue. Okay, I did start to help her see that weight loss is not a smart thing at this point, and that what was most important was her focusing on staying healthy and well fueled. But that doesn't work well with the emotional side I spoke of earlier! Okay, time for me to work on letting it go...

What's the relevance for you and your struggles?

First, if I might encourage it, start to take an accounting of what you do have, the blessing you've been given; try, even if it feels rather late to start this, to see the positives in the people whom you've struggled with. Don't wait until it's too late.

Move from the extremes—even ones that seemso healthy. Black and white thinking has no place in a healthy diet, in this dietitian's opinion. And life is too short to deny yourself the foods you love.

Remember that it's never too late to change. I, for one, was raised on all candy-coated cereals and now have no taste for them. That said, I do love my desserts (have you noticed?) Tastes for food can develop and be nurtured, so to speak. As you know, I've become quite the food snob—I love my coffee roasted to perfection and ground fresh daily, and have my favorite oils—walnut; real, not artificially-flavored truffle; and intense and slightly spicy Mediterranean olive oils. From canned mushrooms to this—who would have guessed?

As for weight, as I have learned to listen to my body and its signals—the very message you read throughout this blog—my weight has settled to a very appropriate place for me—without diets or extremes. Letting go of unrealistic goals is essential. And patience is key, along with an awareness that reducing your size does not equate with happiness—even though you may think it holds the key.

That negative stuff you're still carrying, still feeding with your binging or your restricting or both? Time to work it through. Find an eating disorder therapist in your area along with a behavioral RD—we really work hand-in-hand; explore support groups (not OA, please, whose philosophy is a polar opposite to that which you read in this blog) and use your supports.

But start by believing that you're worth it—regardless of your size! Because you are.

If you enjoyed this post please share it or leave a comment. My mother hardly ever reads this blog, but I will encourage her to read this post. So any comments directed to her would be welcome as well.

Thanks for reading!

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