Child on diet: I thought if I was thin, my mother would finally accept me
This a series of interviews with women who first encountered shame at their body size and diet attempts from a young age, and the impact it had on their self-esteem, happiness and life. All information is true, apart from where names are changed at the interviewee’s request.
Female, 22, Single
- What is your first memory of realizing that something is wrong with your body? How old were you? What did you feel and think?
I have memories of body shame from a very young age, though not necessarily all size/ weight related. Probably the first real memory I have is the anger and self-loathing I experienced looking at a picture of myself at about age 11
2. Did you feel your parents feelings about you were affected by your size/ eating?
I grew up with lots of ‘diet culture’ at home. My older sisters were all dieting, and that definitely lent to the feeling of being ‘good’ for restricting, and the importance of being thin. When I was 12, my parents put my sister who was then 9 on a diet, (she was slightly chubby), and reminding me what an important value they placed on weight. From high school age and up, once I was caught in the restrict/ binge cycle (and gained and lost considerable amounts of weight). My parents commented frequently on my size- mainly comments from my mother when she decided I needed to diet, and compliments from both of them when I lost the weight. When I was only in ninth grade (and pretty thin) my mother bought me some girdles, and wouldn’t let me wear certain outfits without proper ‘support’.
3. Describe what happened next. When did your start dieting / restricting?
I was 12 when I went on my first diet. The official trigger for that was weighting myself and seeing that I weighed a weight that I officially deemed a ‘scary’ number. The deeper causes for that first diet was a mix of negative feelings toward my body, and even more than that, a need for control in a life that was otherwise chaotic.
4. How was your self-esteem impacted in this time? How much of your energy and thoughts were devoted to food, dieting, weight?
Food and dieting were everything from age 12 to 20.
When I dieted, I obsessed constantly over what I ate and would eat for the rest of the day. I have loose leafs from middle school and high school that have pages and pages of calorie counts instead of notes.
Before I hit puberty, I was an ‘expert’ at finding the lowest calorie options. Later, as my diets got more sophisticated, I would spend hours daily, researching ‘permitted recipes’, preparing elaborate meals made out fake substitutes. I also went through a stage where I was obsessed with health, and added wheat germ to smoothies, and rating my success as a person, by how ‘good’ my eating was.
5. Describe any shame you experienced in the process. Did you turn to binging?
When I was bingeing, food took on a huge thrill. I ate when I was happy, sad, and when I knew I would be starting a new diet. I was ashamed of my binges, which gradually grew more and more intense. I would closet eat, stealing all the forbidden chocolate from my mother’s pantry, sliding it up my sleeves, gorging on it in bed, then hiding the wrappers under my bed (to be discovered erev Pesach) or stuffing them to the bottom of the garbage cans.
I would skip dessert at meal times, then take three portions as soon as everyone left the room. I HATED myself for overeating, and have ‘diet journals’ from when I was about 15 where I called myself ‘disgusting pig’ and all different other names, and pledge to be ‘good’ the next day.
6. What did you believe would happen if you lost weight?
For me, weight loss meant having my mother finally be okay with me, it meant getting compliments from my classmates who never saw me succeed otherwise. It meant control and success and popularity and self-worth. It meant that someday, someone may be okay enough with my body to agree to marry me.
7. When did you come across IE, and how did it change your life?
I came across Intuitive Eating at age 19, when I started therapy. It was a long long long journey to self-acceptance, ditching diet mentality. Learning to cope without using food etc. When I started therapy, I literally felt apologetic for ‘dirtying’ up my therapist’s couch with my ‘gross body’. I couldn’t even talk about the shame I was experiencing. I would self harm, and carve the words ‘fat’ and ‘hate’ into my body, as a reminder of everything I believed. Slowly. slowly, with the help of my therapist, I learned to break past the beliefs I had. I learned to eat foods that I thought of as so ‘bad’, and stop when I didn’t want more. I learnt healthy coping mechanisms. I learnt it’s okay to comfort myself with food. I learnt that I could pick myself up after a day of bingeing or restricting and just move on, one moment at a time. I learnt to be calm around food.
8. What changed in yourself, your life, your eating, your self-care once you started practicing IE?
During that time, I learnt new methods of self care. I learnt how to nourish my body with food I enjoyed, without feeling the need to binge at night. I learnt treat myself gently like by going out for manicures, take hot showers, go out with friends, buy a latte, etc when stressed. Most of all, I learnt I was worth it.
9. What do you wish parents knew when talking to their kids about their bodies, food, weight etc?
I wish my parents, and parents the world over, would stop fearing larger bodies. I wish they’d teach their kids to love their bodies, by example. I wish they wouldn’t comment on their kids food choices, wouldn’t comment on kids sizes.
10. Describe your current relationship to food and your body.
At this point, my relationship with food is pretty okay. I still occasionally say no to food because I’m afraid of them, or overeat as a reaction, or just because of emotions. But for the most part- I am just calm around food. The slip ups don’t mean failure, eating cookies for breakfast is not bad, and for the most part, my eating looks fairly ‘normal’.
My relationship with my body has come so far, though it’s still a big struggle. There are times I pass the mirror and want to disappear, but for the first time ever, I can look in the mirror and see an adorable girl staring back. And I think I rock the fat look.
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