I just want to talk about something that I think is really important to think about when it comes to your story and your beliefs around food and your body – do you blame your mum for your dieting history?
Now, I do want to start this with a caveat. I’m going to be talking about my relationship with my mum, and assuming you have a similar relationship with your mum. I know and understand that not everyone has the luxury of having been brought up with loving parents, and that some people’s childhoods are very different from mine.
I grew up in an average household, in an average location, with an average income, and with very average relationships (whatever average may be!). This post does not address anything outside of that, and so I talk to you today with an assumption that your upbringing was similar to mine.
If it was not, and if your childhood was not so happy, you may wish to skip this post altogether. In that case, with love, may I suggest that you go back to the blog and find an alternative post that you can resonate with better.
It’s a common story – so many people of my generation have grown up with parents or caregivers, usually their mum or other female role model, on a diet of some kind. (For the purpose of this post I’m going to use the term ‘mum’ but I know that lots of family set ups are different, so this could be any primary caregiver or guardian).
By the way, if you’d like to listen to this one as a podcast episode, you can do that here…
80s and 90s mums dieting
That’s what mums did in the 80s and 90s – they dieted! My mum was always dieting. Mostly Weight Watchers, but with lots of diet branded food like ready meals thrown in for good measure.
Any food talk was usually linked to what we were having for tea that night, what time tea would be (I think I was always waiting for the next meal – but that’s what restriction does to you), and whether food was good or bad in the context of the diet and what it would mean for weight loss that week.
Add to that that food was limited to set times of day, there was very little in the way of snacking, you didn’t need to eat in the evening before bed, sweets were limited to treats, and you sat at the table until you finished your meal….. no excuses!
I also grew up in a house where no-one showed much skin. People got changed behind closed doors, didn’t wander around in a bathroom towel or their underwear, and clothes were pretty modest in their coverage.
There was no talk about bodies. We didn’t compare people’s bodies, or criticise people I don’t think, which is good, but equally I didn’t feel like there was space to talk about my own body, and that meant I didn’t want to. My parents weren’t reserved and prudish at all. We just didn’t talk about bodies in our house. UNLESS….. it was to suggest that we lost weight, because for some reason that was deemed to be acceptable.
That’s a pretty big picture of how food and bodies were seen and talked about in our house – does it sound familiar to you?
I hear so many women say to me that it was their mum’s fault that they’re on a diet. Whether that was because they saw them dieting, because of how they spoke about bodies and weight, or whether it was in the food that they were allowed access to, there is often this common theme of ‘I dieted because it’s all I saw/knew growing up’.
There are so many reasons why you may have had that kind of upbringing though. So what if you understood a little more about that? Do you think you could see things differently? Because what good is it really doing you to hold that blame over another person?
When we feel so rubbish about ourselves, and when we are looking for reasons why we feel the way we do, or eat the way we do, it’s very easy for us to start to blame our parents. To get upset or angry, to accuse somebody else of misguiding you, to place the blame on someone for being the way you are around food, is the easy option. It’s placing it at someone else’s feet so that maybe you don’t need to do anything about it,
But how is that going to help you in the long run? How is that going to allow you to process your thoughts and beliefs around food and your body? How is that going to help you to change the situation for yourself?
So let’s look at some of the reasons that your mum acted and spoke the way she did, and then maybe we can unpick it enough that you can have some compassion for that and free yourself from those links.
Money doesn’t grow on trees
Now there’s a common saying – money doesn’t grow on trees, you know! Maybe there wasn’t much money available in your household when you were growing up? In our house there were me, my sister, my parents, and also my nan. Five mouths to feed.
My nan had obviously lived through the war and rationing, and that is going to impact someone’s view on food. It places an importance on food. Makes it more precious than maybe we believe it to be now. Food seems to be everywhere now I think. Lots of foods in the supermarkets, an abundance of opportunities to eat out or have food delivered in, and so many choices of convenience foods.
Knowing that food was once so scarce impacted on the way we were allowed to eat in our house, I’m sure of that. You couldn’t just eat and eat and eat. There were meal times, and snacks were limited. It was very much frowned upon to waste food, to leave it on your plate, or to seem ungrateful for it because you just didn’t fancy it that day.
Those approaches to food are the polar opposite of what intuitive eating teaches us, isn’t it.
So as an intuitive eater, you are trying to eat when you feel you need to, as much as you need to, and to stop eating when you are satisfied, regardless of whether you have food on your plate or not. It’s not a lack of appreciation for food, and it’s not you being ungrateful, it’s simply you trying to respect your body and maintain good mental health around your eating habits and your body.
Mum couldn’t cook
Maybe your mum wasn’t confident in the kitchen. Not everyone knows how to cook. This could easily be a hereditary theme. If your mum’s mum didn’t know how to cook, maybe she wasn’t able to guide your mum, and so your mum never learnt to cook either. Remember, there wasn’t an internet at their fingertips then. They learnt through being taught by others, such as their parents.
So maybe because your mum wasn’t a chef, you had to eat in a limited way? Maybe there were set meals, or the meals that you did have were basic in their need for cooking – I’m thinking fish fingers and chips, that sort of thing. Because of that, are you blaming her for not giving you the skills that you need to be able to eat well?
Or maybe your mum was an excellent cook who always piled the plates high, and now because of that you feel a pressure to do the same, and you couldn’t possibly cook a meal that didn’t consist of three types of veg, a good quality meat, and a staple carbohydrate.
Because of that you can’t allow yourself to eat in a way that is not seen to be nutritious, not good enough for your family, not big enough to make sure everyone has plenty on their plates.
But what if you knew that that was your mum’s way of showing you love? She used food as her love language, because she didn’t know how to show it in other ways? She fed you up so that you would always feel comforted and looked after.
Now that you can see that as an option, do you think that blame is not quite what is needed here, but an appreciation for what she was trying to provide, rightly or wrongly?
Food equals health
Maybe your mum thought that food equals health, and so she was trying to make sure that you were as physically well as you could be?
Remember that back then the messages were very heavily based around sugar and fat being very bad for us. Sugar would rot your teeth, make you hyperactive, and not provide any goodness. And while we’re talking about hyperactivity, I vividly remember conversations about E numbers, and how bad they are for us, which led to various foods being off the table to try and stay away from them. Fat would…. well…. make you fat!
There were many sayings around food and health too. Lines such as ‘eat your crusts, you’ll grow big and strong’ made a regular appearance in our house.
But the messages that she learnt about food and health were mostly ill-founded messages. Where did your mum get them from?
She learnt it from the diet club that she went to. She learnt it from the magazines, which were huge at that time. She learnt it from the TV exercise gurus (remember Lizzie Webb from breakfast TV?? Click here for a little reminder!). She learnt it from her own mother. She learnt it from other women at the school gates, who were also being fed that information from their own individual sources, and often the school nurse was happy to give information on this too.
So maybe your mum was trying to do the best she could for your health, and thought she was genuinely doing what was best for you, so that you could grow up fit and healthy.
Can you really be mad at that? Can you really place blame at your mum’s feet for trying to give you a good, healthy start in life? Maybe her ways are now seen as problematic, but they weren’t back then.
What does blame do to you?
Those are just a couple of ways that my mum influenced my beliefs, but you may have others that you can add to that list. If I wanted to spend the day writing I could easily have turned this into a post twice the length, but those few examples will do to get you started.
Blaming your mum for her dieting ways, or for the way she fed you can do you no good, and this is where the focus needs to be now – on you.
Being resentful for anybody who’s just doing the best that they can doesn’t change anything because they were operating from beliefs of their own. And as I mentioned briefly already, where do you think they got those beliefs? Parents, doctors, school nurses, other parents, diet clubs, magazines, TV…. lots of the same places that we are susceptible to now, but only now we know better. We see through them. Intuitive eating wasn’t around then. It wasn’t there to educate your mum. It wasn’t there to give her a better understanding of how food really affects us, and how our eating habits affect us as we grow up and move into adulthood.
Blaming somebody who’s doing the best they can doesn’t do anything, because they’ve just been doing the best they can with what they learned from a young age themself..
The chances are, if you’re a parent yourself, you have maybe already started to pass on these beliefs to your kids, and that is not your fault either because until now YOU didn’t know any better until recently either, right? And now you do, you can break the cycle and change the trajectory.
But even if it continued, do you think it would be fair of your children to blame you, when you have only tried to give them the best up until now? No, of course not. So do you think you could give your own mum the same understanding in that way?
Your mum may have influenced your eating habits, and the way you feel about your body, but the key here is that it is not her fault. She didn’t come into this world with her beliefs around eating and her body. No-one does. She learnt them over time, from her environment.
Blaming or shaming anybody isn’t going to do anything. If anything, some forgiveness may be in order here. Some forgiveness, some compassion, and some gratitude. Yes, gratitude!
Do I wish I’d not got to a place where I was really unhappy with food and my body? Yes, of course. But I am, and I can’t change that. So instead I am now really grateful for what I learned in terms of not having the healthiest relationship with food and body image, because it’s what led me on this path, brought me into this work, and it’s what’s led you here to me today.
And just think for a moment, how much more you’re going to appreciate and enjoy the new relationship you will have with food, because of the struggle you have gone through. How much more you will come to appreciate your body, because of the lows you have been through with it. You will appreciate it all so much more.
I always say that you cannot appreciate how good something is, until you’ve seen how bad the bad things are.
Time to choose your beliefs
I don’t know what your personal story is, and what your personal beliefs around food and body are. Only you know that.
Now is the time to work on turning those negative beliefs into positive ones, and I hope that this has given you some food for thought around how you see your past relationship with food, and your upbringing in a house where dieting was rife.
Now you make a choice. Do you hold on to those beliefs, knowing that they aren’t really YOUR beliefs, but those adopted from others? What is it costing you to hold on to them? Are they affecting you emotionally, physically, mentally? Are they affecting your relationships with your family, friends, partner, or your own self? What will life be like in 12 months time if you hold on to those beliefs?
Or do you acknowledge them, know that they came from a well meaning place ultimately, let them go, and replace them with your own, new beliefs? What would all of those emotions, physical feelings, and relationships be like if you let them go and had instilled new beliefs?
It is safe to let them go.
What are you going to do? What is your choice now, in this moment? The work is ongoing. Tomorrow you might need to choose your new beliefs again. The next day, you might need to choose to let go of old beliefs again. Can you imagine, though, if you continue to consciously choose it over time, how much better life could be if you did that?