This month we have dived into discussing the impact that strict food rules and having a dieting parent can make on your relationship with food and body as an adult. If you allow yourself to wade into the shadowy waters of your childhood, you can find a lot of understanding as to why you are the way you are with food, your choices to be on a continued diet, and the way you may criticize your body and others.
Last week, in my article, Growing Up In a Diet Household, I discussed that you learned to value your body size morally when one of your parents dieted. Living in the diet culture that we do reinforces that message. It is easy to stay engrained in the belief that you must change your body to be accepted.
Eyes on You
When a parent diets, you became aware of the attention they placed on their body. This was through comments about their body. They felt “fat.” They asked how a particular body part looked in clothes. They check their body under careful examination in the mirror. Those experiences leave an impression on a young mind about how criticism comes with having a body. Especially a woman’s body.
Just being the observer of these body comments and attaching thoughts to them lingers with you. It becomes an imprint on how you see your body. But what ensues a larger war on your body is when the comments become about your body. Oh, how this is like a knife to the self-esteem, especially to the young girl who is naturally in a bigger body. You develop a belief system that something is “wrong” with your body because it is bigger. And worst of all, you are then faced with weight stigma inside your home and out. You walk out to society, and the message is reinforced.
These are the facts that we live in. Our society seeps weight stigma. There is a very slow body size acceptance movement, one that I am proud to be a part of. But it is slow and far from mainstream and in the majority of people’s belief system. Even those that live in a bigger body that wants to have body acceptance often have to look at their own weight stigma.
When a young girl is brought hearing that her body must be different than what it is, that in some way it is “wrong” because it is bigger, she often develops the belief that she and her body will never be good enough. See, there is often the marriage of the two-self worth and body. So she becomes obedient to the foods that she is to have while she watches her siblings eat all the foods she craves. She becomes tactful when she will sneak her cravings or wait for when she is alone in the house. She will learn she has to hide the evidence of what she desperately wants under her bed and in her closet so no one finds out that she has eaten what she wanted versus what she “should.” The shame she holds wraps her so tightly. There are times she can barely breathe.
How to Tend to the Wounds
When I sit with someone who has grown up in this childhood, there are often the common threads that link these women together. Parents were frequently commenting on their weight or the size of their body. Classmates, cousins, or siblings teased them. They were often put on a diet when they were anywhere from fourth to seventh grade. They would dread shopping with their mom and the comments made about their body or size. They would get served a smaller portion of food or different foods from their family.
If you have found resonance in these experiences, it may feel overwhelming to tend to these gaping wounds. You may try to be “better” by going on the latest diet, only to, at some point, fall off and scrutinize yourself and your body. The first stitch in suturing the wound is to stop dieting. This may ignite so much fear inside of you to do this. You continue on a plan that tells you what, how much, and when, only keeps the voice of your parent that you have adopted as a part of your own, very much alive and in charge. This part is why you rebel. It is why when you fall off the diet, it can feel like such a deep spiral. You are bringing all the years with you in the f-you eating.
You have to start making peace with where your body is. If you have always been in a bigger body, that is your body. It is not realistic to shrink it to a place that it has never been without actively engaging in an eating disorder or disordered eating. Look at how much space and time food and your body take up in your life. When you are not in a place of peace, it is usually a good majority of your day. Can you find other things that you can be open to experience? Are there things that you would want to try? And not when you lose the weight, but now. You are worthy of experiencing happiness, FUN, and joy, regardless of the size of your body.
Can you become more open to wading into the muddy waters of your childhood and how your body was treated and talked about? You will likely need professional help to do this. Seek this. Just because you felt alone back then doesn’t mean you have to feel alone now. You need someone to help be the voice you didn’t get until you find your own. A voice that speaks of respect, kindness, and compassion towards you and your body.
Here is the work. You become the parent to the wounded girl who was told her body was wrong. You are willing to stop telling her that her body is wrong. You are extending a gentle hand and bring her into your arms and say, “I love you. I will take care of you. I will nurture you. I will feed you. I will move you. I will be kind to you. You are with me now. I’ve got you.” These are the words she is so desperate to hear. These are the words that can help to soften the military diet officer inside of you. The diet officer is a hard worker, but their role can change. It can change to one that serves you and provides you with loving boundaries and kindness.
As an adult, the beauty of healing is that you can be aware of what those wounded parts of you need, what they needed to hear. It is the ever-evolving work of self-discovery and acceptance. You can be the one that brings peace to the war that lives inside and offer a treaty of respect and compassion. You can be the one that takes all the sticks and stones that were thrown at you and build a house within you that is filled in with acceptance, tenderness, and grace. A house, a body that one day can feel like home.