Are you a mom who’s feeling helpless as you watch your daughter overeating, gaining weight, losing confidence and obsessing about food? Find out how you can support her by first working on your own eating issues.
Today at 52, I’ve struggled with trying to lose weight for most of my life. But when my daughter, C ara was 10 years old and gaining weight, I finally realized that my food and body image issues had gotten handed down to her.
So I made the decision to stop dieting because somewhere deep inside of me I knew that dieting was part of the problem. A friend of mine who was an eating disorder therapist offered to teach me how to eat in response to my body’s hunger. He explained that by learning to trust myself around food, and becoming a more discriminating eater, I would be able to teach my daughter how to stop overeating.
In pursuit of learning how to eat, Doc told me to go out and shop for all the treats and goodies that we loved the most and to fill the house with them. At first we both ate them all the time and each time we craved the food, we ate as much as we wanted.
Over a short period of time that desperate urge to eat those favorite foods changed and shifted and we ate them less often. Both of us were becoming very discriminating eaters, often refusing to eat foods because we didn’t like the taste or texture.
One day during the course of our learning how to eat intuitively, I watched Cara as she prepared her camp lunch in the kitchen. She spread a slice of bread with some peanut butter folded it in half and then took out a container, filled it with salad, then she smiled as she grabbed for an apple.
As I ended my workout, I asked her, “Ooh, what’s that?” She told me. I’m making lunch.
Knowing that she had been getting school lunch, I asked her why she was making the sandwich. She explained to me that the food offered on today’s school menu did not “appeal” to her and that she wanted something different. She said, “those mozzarella sticks are too salty” for me. I smiled, pointed to the jar of peanut butter and asked her if she would fix one of those yummy sandwiches for me.
Suddenly It hit me. My daughter was learning how to be discriminating. What a miracle! I thought it would never happen. My memory flashed on a scene back a few months before when I had brought her to the doctor, in hopes that her favorite pediatrician would be able to convince her that she needed to lose some weight. I felt that, as her Mom I had to remove the nag factor in order to gain leverage.
About 6 months earlier, I had noticed that Cara was gaining weight and I felt totally powerless to help. I was kind of hoping that the doctor would add some credibility and influence her. I figured that Cara’s favorite doctor would be gentle and kind and offer her words of encouragement and tell her that she was great and all that.
Unfortunately, neither Cara nor I were prepared for what Dr. Casler had to say. She told Cara that she was getting too fat and that she was really disturbed that she had gotten so heavy. She kept repeating the words, “fat, overweight, and chubby” saying that it’s not pretty for such a young, pretty girl to be overweight. She was going over lists of what Cara should and shouldn’t be eating and making comments, gestures and faces expressing disappointment and disapproval.
Feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable, I kept looking at Cara. I could tell that she was near the brink of tears. I was shocked and stunned that the doctor would be so unkind and insensitive but I did not know what to say to the Doctor. I’m ashamed to say that I kept quiet, my thoughts percolating.
A few days later we were shopping for clothes for camp. Cara and I were in the dressing room in Target and she had picked out a mini skirt to try on. As I watched her struggling to pull it up over her new little tummy, I said, “Honey, first of all I’m so sorry that I was so quiet during our visit with Dr. Casler. I was shocked and it brought up so many painful memories that I was not able to protect you as I should have from her mean words.
Then I told her. This is the deal. There’s an element of truth to what the doctor is saying and she means to offer you the best advice that she can. She’s concerned about you and so am I.
I realize that you’ve gained weight and that I’ve been a really bad role model. You’ve watched me over the years abuse food, go on diets and off diets. It’s no surprise that you have picked up on my bad habits. I’d like to help you to change some things. Would you be willing to have me help you?
Cara looked at me, dazed and surprised. Her big brown eyes reflected a sadness that I couldn’t bear. A big tear fell from her right eye and she said, “Mom, I don’t know what to do. I hate my body and I can’t stop eating. I don’t want to be fat. I can’t fit into my nice clothes anymore and I just want to eat all the time. I’m angry at Dr. Casler and I’m angry at myself. I’m so mad at everyone. I don’t want to be fat anymore. She took her hand and she held her stomach and said, “I wish that I could just cut this fat off of me and be skinny again the way that I used to be.” I burst into tears and moved to hug her.
That was when I really understood the gravity of the situation. I remembered that this strong arm approach of trying to get kids to lose weight doesn’t work. It didn’t work for me as a child and it hasn’t worked for me as an adult. It just made food so much more desirable and left me feeling hopeless, frustrated and unable to trust myself with food. Like Cara, all too often I’ve wished that I could just cut off parts of me in order to lose weight. Then I caught it. I realized it was that kind of thinking that drove Cara to feel the way that she did.
I realized that if I wanted to help my daughter change then I first needed to change.
That was when I began my change.
Since then I’ve become aware of what I was eating and how I was feeling during the times when I overate. I realized that I needed to share with Cara what my process was. I saw that what we both sought was a way to heal the hurt and the shame. We needed to find a way to come back to ourselves, to our bodies and to love them again, to make them whole, to feel whole again. We had disowned a part of ourselves because we felt that we weren’t perfect.
That was a big day when my little girl realized that she was entitled to enjoy her food. She made a choice to be assertive and to take care of herself. She wasn’t satisfied with the scraps. She wouldn’t consign herself to eating something that didn’t “appeal” to her and she took steps to take care of her needs. Bravo!
Over the past two months, I’ve told Cara that I trust her and that she can trust herself to allow her body to tell her what to eat. She could be trusted with food. I’m not censoring her food anymore. Since I’ve done that, I’ve noticed tremendous changes.
Now Cara is nearly 18 years old and she has a very peaceful relationship with food. She doesn’t hide food anymore, I don’t see any mood swings, there are no food related arguments and her cravings for fast food and junk no longer play a key factor in her life anymore. But more importantly than that, is that she is very confident about who she is. She has no issues in speaking her mind or asserting herself. She’s strong and tough and I am so proud of her.
How about you? Are you a Mom? Do you have a son or a daughter? Can you relate to this story? How are you dealing with your child’s eating habits? Do you notice that they are a mirror and reflection of your own behaviors? What’s going on in your life now? I’d love to hear from you.
I’d just like to leave you with one thought. It’s not what they’re eating, it’s what’s eating them. Don’t rush to judge the food. Look at the emotions that are driving them to overeat. The first step is yours. Make a choice to be gentle with yourself and with your kids. If you want to help them change, you have to first do the changing!
Andrea Amador, The Juicy Woman, eating disorder, food issues, body image, overweight, intuitive eating, Not Fat Because I Wanna Be, LaNiyah Bailey