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.
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.
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...
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 seem
so 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
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