Recently, I was interviewed for an article about HAES(SM), and the interviewer asked, “What was your earliest experience with dieting?”
I felt a little funny telling her that I did my first diet when I was 4 years old. Even though I include that fact in my biography, and I hear similar stories all day long in my practice, it still felt funny to say it.
I actually remember quite a lot about that first diet. I don’t remember what I ate or how I went about it, but I remember telling my mom that the kids at nursery school were calling me fat. After some discussion (I was a really talkative kid), we decided that I would go on some sort of diet, and I would get a gold star on the calendar every day that I stuck to it. After a certain number of gold stars accumulated, I would get a toy.
As you might imagine, I think that this set me up for a lot things that some of you may have experienced, too. For years I had underlying beliefs like: it’s important to focus on weight and food, it’s important to please people in order to get something (a toy, approval), I need to change how I look to be accepted, and in some ways, a belief that the bullies were right.
Maybe in reading this you’re thinking, “I would never put my kid on a diet at such a young age.” And perhaps you wouldn’t. But when I think about my mom’s experience of life, how she was the chubby one among her thin siblings, how her mom (my grandmother) worried about her weight and my mom’s weight, how she had gone through life thinking she was fat, starving herself to fit in, etc., then it doesn’t seem so weird. In fact, it makes perfect sense. My mom was trying to avoid the pain that she had experienced as a fat kid.
When I write in my gratitude journal, I often find myself writing about my Mom. I feel grateful to her for so many things, but I’ve also come to a place where I’m really grateful that she put me on that diet at age 4. That diet, and the diets that followed, were part of my journey to where I am now. I would never have been the anti-diet crusader, the fat activist, and the healer that I am today if I hadn’t gone through the intense torment of repeated dieting. I wouldn’t wish it on another kid, but I see that journey coming to fruition in the fat activists around me, and I think there will be legions more of us in the years to come, since childhood obesity has become such a lightning rod issue (phony as it is).
I inherited so much from my mom. I have her wavy hair, her love of learning, her zeal for social justice, her love of humor, her love of creature comforts and beautiful things. I know she blames herself for my inherited weight, even though I would love for her to let go of that. I think that would be a great Mother’s Day present to herself, even though my mom hates Mother’s Day and thinks it’s a commercialized, fake holiday. (I guess my mom’s hatred of fake holidays is another thing I inherited, though I solemnly and devoutly celebrate International No Diet Day every year – and every day, really.)
So here’s a tip for finding some healing from the guilt and blame cycle: take a moment to picture your mom (or whomever was like a mom to you) in different stages of her life. Picture her as a young child, a preteen, a teenager, and a young adult. For each of these stages, ask yourself, “What were her dreams for her life? What were her fears and insecurities?” Doing this exercise may help you understand your mom a bit better.
It’s a good reminder that, as Louise Hay says, “our parents were doing the best they could with the understanding, awareness, and knowledge that they had” at the time. (And by the way, if you’re not there yet in acknowledging your parents’ journey, that’s okay, too.)
Please share your insights in the comments section below.
Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. is a certified holistic health counselor who specializes in transforming your relationship with food and your body. Go to http://www.bodylovewellness.com/stay-in-touch/ to get your free download – Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining.