Since before I was born my parents have struggled with their weight.
I don’t know every detail of their personal story and I don’t speak for them. I am simply going to talk about this from my perspective and the impact it had on me.
Pictures of my parents in their teenage years show them as very beautiful, classic, 70s looking people. I know because they’ve told me that when they were in their early twenties they both started trying to lose some weight with something called the rice diet together. The rice diet is a very old low calorie fad diet that focuses on eating mainly rice and fruit. Nowadays we can look at the rice diet as just another fad diet with easy to see short term benefits but detrimental long term disadvantages. It is very clear to me that from this point on my parents became trapped in a classic yo yo dieting cycle that they stayed in for over a decade.
They would successfully lose weight with restrictive, hard to maintain diets that they eventually could not sustain in real life. The weight would come back on every time but of course with additional weight gain because their body’s metabolisms were protecting themselves for when they did it all over again. We all know here that there is always going to be an overshoot when you gain back weight from an unsustainable diet but the problem was that my parents repeated these weight loss techniques over and over again, completely messing with their natural metabolisms and ultimately always gaining more weight and being unsatisfied with themselves.
My memories of food growing up revolve around weight watchers, Atkins, Nutrisystem, and more. I remember my mother had dozens of notebooks with every day’s food point calculations. I remember my dad getting sent boxes of pre-made meals and winning little teddy bears every time he lost weight. I remember having diet books sitting casually on the coffee table or in my dad’s bookshelf. I remember fat free yogurt, 90 calorie cookies, and diet sodas. I remember my dad buying and failing to follow through with exercise machines, DVD programs, and workout regimes. I remember my mom going to the gym so often that I was a regular at the daycare facility there. I remember weight loss goals being written in my parent’s bathroom, watching them take before pictures that never got after pictures – because despite diet culture existing in every facet of our lives, my parents never permanently lost the weight that seemed to haunt them.
I have no idea if my parents would be at the weights they were so unhappy with if they didn’t constantly force their body’s through diet after diet after diet. I often wonder now if they would be a little smaller had they never begun messing with their bodies at all. I don’t think they’d be super model thin – but who is? Certainly not anybody in my family – and we never will be, that’s just not in our genetics.
Now when it came to me, food was an entirely different story. I was able to eat whatever I want, and I wanted cookies and candy and ice cream. My parents did not food shame in front of me. Occasionally at the start of one of their new diets all of the junk food had to be thrown away, but I knew it was about them and not about me. Despite calling themselves fat they never once called me fat. When I gained some weight in high school and complained they always assured me I was beautiful and didn’t need to change. I ate intuitively. I ate junk food and healthy food. I did not consider dieting until after I moved away from the unconditional love my parents surrounded me with.
Despite how wonderful they were, growing up with their attitudes internalized a lot of incorrect messages within my mind.
- It incorrectly taught me that being fat was wrong, ugly, and unhealthy.
- It incorrectly taught me that the only way to combat being fat was by restrictive and obsessive dieting
- It incorrectly taught me the only way to try and attain happiness was to lose weight quick
- It incorrectly taught me that junk food was bad food
I don’t blame my parents for my eating disorder. I don’t blame anybody – anorexia is a mental illness that is triggered and effected by the world around us. Media, entertainment, advertising, clothing stores, commercials for diets, fat shaming, and a general lack of respect and proper understanding of healthful nutrition are all reasons people get stuck the way I did. My ED was however, triggered by the first diet I ever attempted. Self-conscious about the weight I put on naturally in college I attempted my first diet much like my parents did in their twenties. My diet morphed in a way theirs never did though of course.
Now my parents and I have our shit way more figured out. We have all learned a lot through our own journeys about our weight and health. Set points are real and my family’s is a little bit higher than average. We cannot chase an ideal that our body’s will never be happy with because we will be chasing forever instead of enjoying where we are now. No food is scary, no food is bad. Food is food. If we eat what we love, when we love, while listening to our body instead of punishing it we will be right where we need to be. Eating full fat yogurt and fresh baked cookies won’t set our health goals back. Wherever we are in our journey is perfect because we are all good people and that is what makes us beautiful.
That’s what it was like growing up in a household with parent’s who yo-yo dieted my entire childhood. My parents are loving, hardworking, nurturing, hilarious, fun, intelligent people. That’s how I know that nobody is immune to diet culture, but that with a little bit of work – we can all fight it.