Moms, Daughters & Cookies
Growing up in my house, we ate wholesome, balanced meals. We never talked calories or nutrition, but we ate pretty healthily for the most part.
My mom wasn’t one of those moms who wouldn’t allow cookies in the house; a cookie was a treat, not something we had every day or abused. So if we had a cookie or two for dessert, it was a special night.
She never told me I couldn’t have one. But if I reached for a third or fourth cookie, she’d usually ask me gently, “Lissa, do you need that cookie?”
Nine times out of ten, I didn’t. I’d sometimes feel a little bit of shame, but only because I knew deep down she was right.
My mom used this gentle tactic out of genuine concern. She didn’t restrict me, but let me know cookies weren’t a free-for-all, either.
She often struggled with her weight, and she didn’t want to pass those issues on to me (or my sister). So she taught me early on that food wasn’t meant to be feared … but also was very realistic with me in that genetics would not work in my favor if I chose to indulge a little too much.
The truth is, moms have so much influence over their daughters, and while I’m glad my mom realized it, many don’t. What they say, how they react, really shapes us. That’s why I love Dara Chadwick’s book and blog, You’d Be So Pretty If … and recommend others take a look at it — you can read my review here. (She’s fantastic — she did a Q&A on my blog not too long ago).
My own mom was my biggest supporter when it came to building my self-esteem and my sense of self with respect to body image, especially during those formative pre-teen and teenage years.
She taught me how to dress for my shape … not the shape of my friends, or whatever celebrity was popular at the moment.
Instead of bemoaning my hips and thighs or the fact that I wasn’t tall and lean like my sister, she encouraged me to see my best assets. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Heck, I still use some of that advice even today, even though I’m a leaner version of my early-twenties self: buying some pants a size up and tailoring the waist if need be (it usually gapped); accentuating my strong shoulders and a trim midsection with long, lean tops and button-downs; wearing flowy skirts vs. pencil skirts.
Truly, she wanted me to be comfortable in my own skin. And I was, for many years. I cheered and competed; danced; ran track; coached my sister’s squad. I wasn’t the smallest girl on the squad or team, but I still fit in just fine and didn’t really worry too much. She (and my dad) always made me feel beautiful.
Ironically, in spite of that loving upbringing and the positive relationship with food/body image that was instilled in me, today I’m a grown woman who struggles with emotional eating … while recovering from a history of disordered eating. Yea, that’s a mouthful.
You could say in this case, nature trumped nurture.
Like many women, I use food as a coping mechanism for anxiety … anxiety I can’t always pinpoint. It’s my “drug” of choice, and unfortunately, since it’s related to food, it’s not something we can quit cold turkey.
It feels funny to say it, but it’s true. In spite of it all, I still developed a screwy relationship with food in my mid-twenties.
I don’t blame my mom one bit for this; I believe this is all me, my hardwiring that has led me down this path. My mom has been my biggest supporter in my life – including through my weight loss and then throughout my recovery.
The moral of the story is this: moms (and dads!) can do their absolute best to raise us to be strong, powerful, confident women – and they should! (I will strive for that, myself).
But sometimes, even that isn’t always enough. Sometimes outside influences or personality traits dominate, and nature trumps nurture. It’s not a pretty thing, but sometimes, it’s a reality.
I have no doubt it’s difficult for moms not to beat themselves up if their daughters struggle with an eating disorder, wondering what they could have done differently, if they should have recognized it sooner …
I know my own mom felt a lot of guilt when I came out about my disordered eating behaviors. She knew I was pretty rigid with food and exercise for those past couple of years, but I lived a thousand miles away and she never saw me chewing and spitting … she thought I was just very disciplined with my “regimen” and even admired it. (No one knew what was really going on for a long time).
But I really believe having a daughter with an eating disorder is not something she, or any mom, should feel guilty about.
Especially if they know, like I want my mom to know today, that they did their very best in raising us to be confident young women with good self-esteem. That they provided us with a safe haven to talk about our fears, our changing bodies, etc. That they were good role models.
And really, is there anything more we could ask of our moms, the women who shape us and help define us early on?
Moms, you really do have more influence than you know.
I am so very grateful to have been raised by my mom. She’s truly a class act, and I’m thankful and grateful every single day for her support. I can only hope to be the half as great a mom as she is someday.
How about you? What kind of influence – positive or negative – did your mom have on your self esteem as a tween/teenager or even as an adult? Were you restricted by your parents when it came to certain foods? If you struggle/struggled with an eating disorder, do/did your parents feel any guilt?