The Shrinking Woman

November 13, 2013

I recently came across this beautifully written and perfectly executed piece by Wesleyan’s Lily Myers as performed at Barnard College’s 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. You really need to listen to it twice to fully capture its depth. {The text is printed below the video on its YouTube page.}

Myers does a brilliant job describing the divide between men and women in her piece. Thoughts of my own childhood come to mind.

I remember both of my parents fluctuating in weight, the never-ending struggle. Fortunately they have both maintained a healthy weight range my whole life.

I remember being told that Lunchables were not the most nutritious lunchbox option.

I remember when I was older, free access to Little Debbies followed by fat-free salad dressing over romaine lettuce.

I remember my dad weighing his food at dinner at times to make sure his portion was sound.

I remember being encouraged to drink milk with dinner, bowls of fresh fruit, and my dad’s nightly microwave-steamed vegetables seasoned with only a few dabs of butter and salt.

And just this week I remember my mom telling me that by age 60 she hoped to finally lose those last pesky 10 pounds.

You have to wonder: What is nature? What is nurture?

Everything we see, hear, smell, taste and feel affects our lives. And the definition of “healthy” is ever-changing.

What did you observe from your parents?

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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sara November 13, 2013 at 10:55 am

I feel lucky that my mother demanded respect from others as I grew up – not in a literal sense, but in her ability to just do things and not ask for permission and not worry about what anyone else might say. And her feathers always got ruffled when anyone questioned her/my ability to do anything “because we were female”. I didn’t realize what a gift she was giving me at the time.

I don’t really remember my parents fighting with their weight, per se. My dad always played raquetball at lunchtime and my brother and I were encouraged to always play sports. I continue to lead an active lifestyle in my 40′s, so something must have stuck. But I worry about what message we’re sending our kids because even though we try to only stress a “healthy lifestyle” my husband and I catch ourselves talking about our weight way too frequently…

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2 Claire @ Health Nut Claire November 13, 2013 at 10:57 am

Everything in moderation. Both my parents have maintained a healthy weight my whole life. My mother, however, has always been very thin and it’s made it difficult for me not to compare myself to her.

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3 lynn @ the actor's diet November 13, 2013 at 11:10 am

I went to Wesleyan! Thank you for sharing this.

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4 Matt November 13, 2013 at 11:11 am

Fat foods are fattenin’! is about the extent of the nutrition talk that occured in our household! I guess I grew up understanding that a meal needs veggies, starch, and protein to be balanced. But we really didn’t talk about nutrition on any kind of scientific level.

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5 Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs November 13, 2013 at 11:17 am

The women in my family have always been overweight. Luckily, I saw it coming on and made changes before I could really follow in their footsteps. Now, even though I have certainly fluctuated a bit over time, I’m managed to stay within a healthy weight range & maintain an active lifestyle!

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6 Angie November 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

In my family of 5, only my father and I were overweight. My mother constantly “dieted”,though, to lose that last 5 pounds that she never really needed to lose. For whatever reason, I went from overweight to obese and then morbidly obese. At the age of 28 when I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing I decided to get serious. I did weight watchers and lost over 80 pounds. Now almost 15 years later I am still at a healthy weight and am in much better shape (a runner and triathlete).

That poem brings home my biggest fears about raising my kids. I want them to feel good about themselves all the time and not have the hang-ups I had (and will always have to some extent) about food. It is one of the reasons I coach Girls on the Run – I want to teach my daughter about being a strong, confident girl who becomes and strong, confident woman. I try to teach them moderation but at times find myself depriving myself of certain foods and being called on it by them.

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7 Amy November 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

My parents have always been slightly overweight and growing up, I recall my mother constantly being on some diet or another.

Based on my experience, I think these habits are all about “nurture” (but I am definitely interested in what other commenters will have to say). Now that I have kids, I am hyper-aware of the things I say and do. I try my best to just quietly lead by example by making good choices and not focusing toom much on weight or food.

But it certainly isn’t always easy or effective, especially because my husband and I have our own (different) struggles with weight. Sigh.

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8 julia November 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

this was great, thanks

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9 Jesse November 13, 2013 at 11:46 am

a lot of people on both sides of my family have struggled with weight over the years. i was acutely aware of the negative fat talk as a kid, but it took me till my mid 20s to really develop my own sense of self worth separate from weight, and focused on healthy body image, exercise and fresh, real foods. i’m certainly not perfect, but i’ve maintained a healthy body size and image for about ten years now.

http://semiweeklyeats.blogspot.com/2013/11/weekend-outfit-2.html

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10 colleen November 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I remember growing up (and still do) listening to my mom’s ramblings about her weight and how she hated having her picture taken. She was very petite until she let the Navy, got married, had four kids, went to school and worked. We had access to all types of food and never really heard about nutrition – just the latest diet my mom was on. I do remember when I was college she (and others) commented on my weight, exercise, and eating habits (border line eating disorder) and she said a little fat is a good thing.

Once I got married, I started enjoying food in moderation and exercising correctly (30-60 minutes a day not 2-3 hours). As a mom myself, I am trying to give my family a balance of foods and showing by example with eating and exercising.

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11 Janelle November 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm

This is great – thanks for sharing! I think I learned a lot of bad habits from friends. I remember sitting at the lunch table in middle school and other girls talking about watching what they ate and their weight. It seemed so weird to me, because I was active, scrawny, and had a big appetite and I was naive to why people even cared about weight… but I felt like I was suppose to be doing what they were doing.

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12 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm

That’s a good point. Girls share habits too

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13 Abby A November 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Love this! I’ve struggled with the same thing- my mother was a constant example of “dieting” and my father grew in size and now I worry about his health. The one time I talked to her about the example she was of “health” she got upset and we didn’t talk for days. When we talked again I agreed that what she ate wasn’t my business- and I wouldn’t bring it up again…
I just really want to be an example of health to my kids, I don’t want to bring up calories or skip meals. That’s why I’m working on it now!

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14 AW November 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm

It seems to me that it’s best for our children if we serve nutritious food and model healthy exercise behaviors without talking about it all the time. And we definitely shouldn’t be talking about our weight. (Which is a boring topic for children – and adults, tbh – anyway.) By making food this major issue, and labeling some foods “bad” and others “good”, we encourage unhealthy habits.

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15 Jackie November 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm

My mom always struggled with weight and ‘only loses weight by starving’. She calls me often to tell me how little she’s eaten for the day, but it’s ok because she ate ‘healthy’ food like 0-point soups and a banana. Her weight has fluctuated my entire life because that’s a cycle you can’t maintain.

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16 Kaila @healthyhelperblog! November 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I absolutely loved that video when I saw it a few weeks ago! Such an important message…women should be putting themselves out into society and be confident in our worth rather than trying to take up as little physical and figurative space as possible/

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17 Eileen November 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Wow. Loaded question. Great poem and performance.

I think I got some positive lessons from my parents, but more negative ones. I try to be so mindful of this with my kids … but it is such a complicated issue. Can it possibly be LESS complicated for the coming generation? Wouldn’t that be great?

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18 Jessica November 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm

My mum (and grandmother) are very healthy women. My grandmother had 0% milk sent in the mail because they couldn’t get in shops, she bulk ordered brown rice and sent the kids to school with alfalfa. In the 70′s. So, my mum has very, very good habits and they have been largely passed down. We have also been influenced by the tastes and habits of my Eastern European family down the paternal side. Think the food in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you get the picture. So we had a balance.

I remember both my parents taking up running when I was 10 or so but they didn’t maintain it beyond a few years. So, we probably haven’t learnt the value of activity and sweating to the extent that we learnt to eat properly and not out of packets.

Both are now slim, healthy people. I will eternally thank my mum for instilling good habits in us!

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19 Laura November 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm

My parents were progressive hippies in the 70s. We ate that nasty dark wheat bread, always had two different colored veggies at dinner. My mom has eating issues and food is the enemy. I didn’t see this until I was older. Instead of having that issue, I overeat b/c I’m not sure if I’ll get enough to eat b/c of the way my mom sees food. Now that I have my own children I try to let that go and observe healthy habits but it’s hard. I do tend to freak out if my kids aren’t hungry and don’t eat “enough”. That has been the hardest thing to stop. I’m thankful that my kids do eat well and will eat fruit and veggies regularly. It is very hard to hide the eating demons that my mom and I have from the kids.
I’m so glad you posted this today. It reminds to relax and just maintain overall health, the kids will eat when they are hungry. They aren’t quite old enough to start emotional eating.

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20 Lea November 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm

It is not nature to weigh food before eating it.

It is not nature to compensate for junk food by eating fat-free salad dressing.

It is not nature to choose microwaved vegetables seasoned only with fat and salt.

The food choices you’ve described, here, are all learned, not genetic. How our bodies respond to the food we put into them is genetic.

It’s very interesting how we can see what you learned from your parents expressed in your own habits and blogging. Myself, I’ve always tried to avoid any such behavior in front of my children, starting from birth–no obsessing over my own body shape, wishing that I weighed or measured less*; no critical assessment of what’s on anybody’s plate or rationalizing why I ate something; mostly unrestricted access to snacking vegetables and apples (except when they need to be portioned to make sure everyone gets an equal share, or it’s almost time for a meal). I was fortunate in that my parents were, generally, not concerned with these things; I never saw the kinds of behaviors you did, and anything negative that I happened to learn, I learned from my peers.

*my hobby is sewing, so I have a legitimate need to obtain body measurements… I’m always careful to explain to my kids why I’m doing it!

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21 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm

My nature/nuture question is directed towards the male verses female divide Lily presents. Hormones can do crazy things, but I agree with you that I believe most of this is learned and passed on generation to generation.

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22 Lea November 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I have to be honest and admit that I don’t see what the poem has to do with hormones, because my reading is that it is directed to how gender roles are established through learned behavior. There is nothing “nuture” about it except for some kind of societal prejudgment that is predicated on XX vs XY. (But what do I know, I studied physics and never actually studied any of the subject areas that would be relevant to this analysis!)

Is your commentary, then, that you did not experience what is described in the poem? From what you wrote above, sounds like both of your parents exhibited similar behaviors?

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23 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I mean that women and women have different hormones, so there could be more to the divide than just learned behaviors. It seems odd to me that so many women relate to this poem yet we all have different mothers, cultures, ethnicities. Is it something biological about women that causes us to want to be thin and lose weight? It could possibly be related to the fact that we naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men. Or perhaps because we gain weight when we have babies and hold onto it while we breastfeed. Or is it simply because one women centuries ago decided to obsess about her body image and her daughter and her daughter passed on the behavior. It’s mostly likely a combination of both. I’m not saying I have any answers, but it’s definitely a loaded topic.

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24 Jenny November 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Or the fact that society places different pressure on women than men to achieve the perfect body. The media sends us (women) much different messages than it sends men. Those messages are internalized at a young age.

I’d also be interested in seeing how you expand these ideas into raising a child. I’m raising a daughter, so maybe it’s different, but I worry a lot about this.

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25 Lea November 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Ah. Although now you’ve got me curious about your demographics, and what cultures/ethnicities etc. are represented by your readership (or Myers’s?).

And referring to your comment about “centuries ago”, remember that fuller-figured women were revered (and maybe still are, but not in North America). And here we have my academic failings, because I mostly recall vague things about fertility, Renaissance artwork and Earth Mother figurines. Strangely, the one point that really stuck in my head was from my middle-school history book about the “Filles du Roi” (French girls sent to New France (I’m Canadian) to marry settlers and boost the population in the 17th century): plump girls were better, because they were more likely to survive the harsh winters. (No further explanation. Did this mean they were hardier? had fat stores to consume? more fertile? Or did the authors just make this up? Is it telling that I remembered this point I learned 25+ years ago?)

Of course, we no longer need fuller figures to signal fertility or hardiness. I’m pretty certain there’s all sorts of studies about what makes body shapes desirable linked on sites like Jezebel. :) Sorry for the long comment!

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26 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Great thoughts on the changes from the past. This could be someone’s college paper topic :)

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27 Rachel November 15, 2013 at 10:39 am

I think about growing up in my house and any food “issues” I have, definitely come from my father. He was always the one dieting. Because he did low carb/Atkin’s on and off, I really am not a fan of bread, pasta and potatoes. I have them occasionally, but definitely not regularly. They are all treats to me.

I also come from a family of very strong women on both sides of my family. On my mother’s side I have a Great-Grandmother who was widowed with 5 children with my Grandma, the eldest helping her hold it all together. On my Dad’s side I have a number of interesting and strong women, including my Great-Great Grandmother who owned and operated a business with her husband as an equal. I definitely was not taught by the women in my family to occupy a small amount of space, just to be who I am and be confident about that. I think the way women are about body image–totally a learned behavior, passed down generation after generation.

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28 Kay November 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Your comments re: hormones don’t make much sense in light of your post above, where you describe BOTH of your parents having disordered relationships to food. Did it occur to you that women are often pressured by media and society to be thinner and to diet?

I do not see what “hormones” have to do with any of this. That seems sexist and ignorant.

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29 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm

It was just a suggestion Kay. I’m trying to be open minded to all hypotheses. Nothing is ever black and white.

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30 Maxine November 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I think Kay’s point is that this is the same kind of thinking sexist people often use to rationalize why women shouldn’t be permitted in certain fields — e.g., women are too hormonal, so they shouldn’t be in positions of military leadership. (Just one example.) I think being open-minded is great and very important, but it doesn’t mean we need to give credence to or legitimate unsubstantiated notions that have no scientific support. Just a thought! Love the poem. :)

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31 Lea November 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm

This meshes with another thought I had after writing the above–in the poem, the woman is taught to absorb while the man is taught to emit (sorry for the visual, that’s what it says); the woman apologizes for speaking up in class; the woman is taught to accommodate, and shrinks where the man expands. This is a very patriocentric attitude, one that is adopted in many religious forms, where women are relegated to a subservient role (giving up food, education). And based on what? Biology. The poem ties this to disordered thinking about food, illustrating that it’s destructive to internalize this kind of attitude.

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32 Amy November 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Geez, you sure are the perfect mother! I don’t think Kath shows any of those behaviors, fyi.

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33 Connie November 15, 2013 at 6:58 am

What an awful, ignorant, and rude reply to somebody who is articulating in a very intelligent manner her response to that poem. I don’t think she was saying AT ALL that Kath shows those particular behaviours. Kath, I’m disheartened that you let that comment through, because if someone had aimed such a snide remark like that at you, I have no doubt you would have blocked it.

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34 Jen D. November 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Luckily, I don’t remember my parents ever talking about dieting or weighing their food in front of me. I’m so sorry you experienced that. I do share your experience with hearing my mother talk poorly about her body or feeling fat (even though she’s always been a healthy weight). Unfortunately, when we were younger I don’t think our parents knew how damaging those kind of actions could be.

So, I learned some things I’d like to do as a parent and others I want to avoid. My parents always talked about how eating vegetables and being active make you strong and healthy and able to do all of the things you love. Those are things I will say to my children. I will never weigh food or say anything about dieting in front of my children and I’m so glad my parents did not.

I will also never say bad things about my body in front of my children…especially if I have daughters. I will encourage healthy food and activity, but as an avenue for staying strong and healthy, not because I feel fat or need to lose weight to be skinny.

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35 Leslie November 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I am the fourth generation on my mother’s side to have suffered from a serious eating disorder. My mother demonstrated restrictive behaviors when I was growing up, and frequently criticized her own size. Her mother demonstrated even more restrictive behaviors, offering very small amounts of food at meals, but then opening up the freezer to reveal at least six kinds of ice cream. I couldn’t visit my grandmother without hearing comments about my weight/size.
My eating disorder (anorexia) developed as a result of a serious imbalance in my home life, but it was fueled by years of unhealthy influences. My mother did not have an active eating disorder when I was growing up, but she relapsed completely right after I had reached an adequate weight and left my treatment center. I spent my senior year of high school fighting to retain all that I had worked for so that I could leave home for good, and in the same house my mother was absolutely floundering, losing weight like crazy. When I finally left for college, my mother wasn’t there to see me off because she was in a hospital two states away, trying to recover.
A dozen years later, I now have a six month-old daughter. My mother and I have repaired our relationship, and we have worked hard to develop good relationships with food. However, those years of disordered eating really took a toll on both of us, and we are now quite susceptible to digestive distress. This means that after years of trying to be kind to myself whenever I wanted something that didn’t seem perfectly ‘healthy’, I actually have to limit my diet on a regular basis just so that I can digest my food properly. I can eat dairy and wheat and white sugar occasionally, but most of the time I have to avoid those things.
When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was terrified. This was a planned, much-wanted pregnancy, but I was so afraid of passing along destructive behaviors. Now, I am absolutely committed to accepting myself even more; treating food as just what it is: fuel; and creating a positive atmosphere around mealtimes. Having experienced body image issues since I was in kindergarten, I have decided that there is no more room in my life for shame and uncertainty when it comes to food and my appearance. I still struggle with this, but I want the big struggles to stay in the past, where they belong.

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36 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Thanks for sharing Leslie. You are a strong woman! I’m sure you are an amazing mother too.

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37 Leslie November 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm

That’s very kind of you to say! Thank you for sharing this post; I know that so many of us can relate on different levels, and it is so important that we support one another in finding what is healthy and balanced for each of us.

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38 eliza November 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Thanks for sharing Leslie. You will be a wonderful mamma :)

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39 nancy November 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Wow. What incredible insight from such a young woman.

I remember my dad being an emotional eater whose weight fluctuated wildly for over 30 years. My mom maintained a healthy weight, never over 114 pounds, but I recall my dad commenting negatively if he ever thought she was gaining any weight. My mom made healthy food for her generation and snack foods and sodas were only an occasional treat. I was a healthy weight until college when I gained about 5 pounds and then lost nearly 20. I totally related to the reference made to needing to take up as little space as possible. With the exception of pregnancies, I have not allowed myself to weigh over 100 pounds my entire adult life.

Our diet at home is plant based with plenty of fruits and vegs. I have three very active teenagers who supplement what I provide for them with trips to various fast food places. Inside I cringe but let them figure it out on their own. I have provided good food choices and modeled good exercise habits and they are all athletes. I don’t want to pass on any of my food phobias to them. I just remind them to do something nice for their bodies and to make good choices whenever they can.

My husband has health issues that I believe are grounded in a poor diet very high in sugar growing up. His family is borderline obese. I feed him very carefully, and then watch and say nothing as he follows up his healthy dinner with ice cream right out of the carton or handfuls of cookies. He cannot stand feeling restricted and so makes his own choices that do nothing for his body as he struggles with diabetes and heart disease. He has never conquered the sugar cravings developed in his childhood.

I have found Michael Pollan’s Food Rules to be so on target. If we all concentrated on real food and eliminated the “edible food-like substances”, we would raise up a generation of much healthier people. I’m sure hoping my kids will embrace that idea and not be burdened by the generational issues of their family.

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40 Spice Chicken November 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Kath, thanks for sharing Lily Myers’ performance and for a thought-provoking post. The relationship between women, food, and power is important; it touches so many lives and needs more attention. It’s heartening to see in the comments here that the majority of people grew up in households with relatively healthy attitudes toward food and/or consciously try to embrace them today. In my family, food was a reward and exercise was a punishment, yet, paradoxically, my parents gave me a hard time about being a chubby kid. Though I’m a kale-munching Zumba queen today, I still struggle with self-esteem fallout from my upbringing.

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41 Shel@PeachyPalate November 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Oh god so many things. I don’t at all blame my mum for my eating disorder but her focus on weight and going to weight watchers most definitely encouraged and helped form some early bad habits. Sweet sugary stuff was bad and restricted, home baked goods didn’t count, low fat or fat free were the “healthiest options” and there were a zillion foods my mum disliked I was convinced I didn’t like until I finally got over my fear of trying them…sauerkraut, tofu, avocados…

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42 Lauren @ Lettuce Eat Cake November 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Such an important topic. I recently wrote an essay about my grandmothers’ (both paternal and maternal) obsession with my weight, and the pain and shame I still carry to this day. As I said in my piece, every critical word they ever uttered about my body is forever filed in my brain, a special place I go when I want to feel like shit about myself. My parents basically never uttered a word about my weight (even when I gained 60 pounds in college), and I am so grateful. My mother has never been at a healthy weight, but she doesn’t really fixate on it; she has kind of just accepted herself, for better or worse. I do wish she would attempt to be healthier, but I’m glad I grew up hearing her talk about her gorgeous eyes instead of her fat rolls. I agree that kind of talk does absolutely no good.

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43 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats November 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm

My mom was ALWAYS on a diet growing up and I know that really affected me. She also would sneak “bad” food like keeping M&Ms in her desk drawer or grabbing Oreo cookies and then making excuses if I saw her eating them. I was a kid – I didn’t care! But I know that all rubbed off on me.

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44 Jenny November 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for sharing this poem. It’s definitely given me a lot to think about!

Do you ever wonder how your own behaviors might affect Mazen? I worry about what I do in front of my daughter all the time. You have a unique circumstance where you often photograph and share your meals. Do you wonder what your child(ren) might think of that 30 years down the road? I’m not saying it’s a negative thing at all, but it’s definitely something worthy of consideration. Obviously your life has a strong emphasis on food (you and Matt both, since it’s also his job.) Any chef or RD or restaurant owner would have the same consideration.

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45 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I do think about this. I hope to present it as being creative with food online through photography, writing and networking with others. I hope he thinks his mom has a pretty cool job. We have talked about Matt’s beer brewing hobby too and how we should talk about beer with him as he gets older.

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46 LLY November 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Our parents do the best they can at the time. They are human beings as well. Just as we try to do the best we can at the time.

Mazen or your future little one may one day observe that his mom recorded everything she ate online for 5 years as well as exercise and daily routines. That in itself may be deemed as obsessive or narcissistic. Or not. It depends I guess. As adults, we need to learn to separate ourselves from these learned behaviours and develop our own beliefs. It’s not just food, we learn a lot of concepts about life and death growing up. Are these right? Often, no sadly.

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47 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I like to think that Mazen observes his mom expressing creativity online – in the form of sharing meal ideas, recipes, photography, writing and the like. That’s how I will present it to him.

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48 Kate November 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm

As someone who suffered with anorexia for several years, I really love to read your posts. You have such a respect for food that I find is missing in our culture. You have really helped to enforce what I learned in recovery, that nutrition is more than just calories, but a way to connect us to the earth, to each other and to live full lives.
I think Mazen is lucky to have that in his mother!

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49 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Thank you Kate

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50 Elyse November 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for sharing this–very thought-provoking!

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51 Tess @ Tips on Healthy Living November 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm

This is a great video! Though my mother never discussed dieting growing up, every time she goes out she either splits a plate with my dad or gets a side salad when it’s just the two of us. I guess this is why I always feel self-conscious about having an appetite as a woman. Anyway, thanks for sharing this– it really got me thinking.

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52 Emilee November 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I remember my mom always saying how fat she was, she still talks that way and I hate to hear her do it around my niece. I want to help break the cycle, and encourage my niece and hopefully daughter one day to make healthy choices in a positive way without engaging in”fat talk”.

BTW, I didn’t know if you knew, but there is an ad for McDonald’s happy meals under this post.

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53 Margaret November 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I’m a bit confused – are you saying that you’re glad you had your parents’ examples to eat healthily, or that you think they were negative behaviors that influenced you? The situations you describe sound like behaviors that could be healthy or unhealthy, depending on the extreme they are taken to or the focus they take from the rest of life. I saw this video making its way around facebook, too, and I think it provides some really valuable thoughts to ponder. I wish you would have taken this post to explore a bit more about where you developed your foods habits, both good and bad, either because of or in spite of your parents’ habits.

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54 KathEats November 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I’m just telling it like it is. More reflecting than analyzing.

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55 Katie @ Talk Less, Say More November 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I ran across this the other day too, freaking INCREDIBLE!!!

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56 Kavi November 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Wow, what an amazingly talented and well-spoken young lady. She brings to light so many thought-provoking points. And I completely agree with you, RE: “more reflecting than analyzing!” Thanks for sharing, Kath.

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57 Grace November 14, 2013 at 12:17 am

Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s amazing. I love that your website promotes not only healthy eating but also a healthy relationship with food. You are a wonderful role model for Mazen.

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58 Patricia November 14, 2013 at 1:26 am

I don’t think this poem is about food at all. It’s about how women often “shrink” themselves to give space to others and how they always put themselves last. Men tend to occupy so much space in the room and women try to shrink themselves to occupy less.

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59 Ray November 14, 2013 at 8:11 am

Agreed

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60 Marie-Sophie November 14, 2013 at 3:22 am

The funny Thing is that I NEVER heard anything from my parents about losing weight, about fat or fat-free or anything weight- or Food-related. My mum loves cooking, we ate sauces with cream, we ate meat, we ate side salads, veg, Dessert. We ate regular meals (my mum demanded that we have breakfast which was always muesli with yogurt by my choice), we always had family meals .. and even though I struggled with food in my early twenties (stress-related and weight-obessive from magazines in my opinion) I Attribute my General healthy relationship to Food to my family!! There are never restrictions at festivities, there’s never the question of fat-free or “lighter” options. Everyone eats until they are satisfied. And both my parents have been slim their entire life, right until now.

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61 Ella P November 14, 2013 at 4:37 am

I spent the first two decades of my life in the land of fashion & food.
Italy.
There is only one way to make the two meet harmonically:
nutritious food in controlled portions & exercise
There are no shortcuts. Whatsoever.

This is what my parents, my teachers, my family doctor taught me.

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62 Sara November 14, 2013 at 8:34 am

Like someone else commented (and as a new mother myself) I know my parents did the best they could and I’m sure they mostly followed what their parents did or are a by-product of how they were raised. I know I have some eating habits similar to my father. So I’m not sure if that is something I picked up from him or something that was passed down to me? I’m thinking it is a habit I picked up. I know my husband has some traits like his mother–i.e. he won’t eat breakfast and she doesn’t either. My father-in-law likes all vegetables and foods–my husband does too, but that’s how he was raised. I didn’t eat a lot of variety of vegetables growing up because we tended to have the same ones with dinner every night. Lots of corn, peas, etc. But I taught myself later to eat a variety of vegetables. Anyway… I remember my mom drinking a lot of diet soda when I was really small but she didn’t once I was older. I don’t remember her ever putting an emphasis on weight–losing or gaining. I think she was really careful not to discuss that with me. I don’t ever remember being told I couldn’t eat something (except candy/sugar/chocolate when I was younger and caffeine). I think my parents just wanted me to learn “all things in moderation?” I don’t know. Food was never a big topic at our house. I do remember hiding foods in my room as a teenager because otherwise my dad would eat all of my favorite cereals, etc.! Ha ha ha

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63 Sara November 14, 2013 at 8:36 am

Oh and I hope my son will have a healthy relationship with food. I plan to introduce him to TONS of fresh fruits and vegetables so hopefully he will not be as picky when younger (like I was) and will eat a lot of things (like his father). I want to teach him that sweets and things are for moderation and I don’t want to eat out too often–just special times. His father and I gained a lot of weight from eating out constantly and from the choices we made about food. I don’t want him to do the same. So I will try! That’s all I can do! Curb it now and set a good example.

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64 KathEats November 14, 2013 at 9:42 am

this is such a good point… That our parents probably did the best they could. it has only been in recent years that all of the behaviors around eating and food I have become such a hot topic. Hopefully this means that we can all do better.

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65 Sara November 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Exactly! And how my parents eat now vs. when I was growing up has changed greatly over the years (for the better) in light of more recent nutrition discussions/information. It’s amazing to think of all the changes we’ve seen with food. My parents (as children) ate what they had nearby–what was grown on their farm or farms nearby. Then we had the invention of convenience foods and fast food in the 60s and 70s–now we’re back to eating at home more and having an emphasis on nutrition, local foods and organics. Pretty cool! I’m interested to see what happens in the future.

P.S. Have you done a post on butter vs. margarine before? It’s such a “debate.” I still can’t decide what is best. I’ve read numerous articles. Anyway, might be an interesting topic? If you’ve already written about it–I apologize!

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66 KathEats November 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Yes – my parents are better eaters too! (As am I )

I haven’t done a post on butter vs. margarine but I say butter (particularly organic) wins by a long shot!

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67 Sally November 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

My dad worked in agriculture, so food was always something as a source of pride because by growing citrus and raising cattle, my father was providing nutrition for others as well as a living for our family to have access to the foods we enjoyed. My mother always made balanced meals for dinner–meat/veg/starch, and I continued that when I went off to college and now for my own family. My family loves to cook together and talk about food in a positive way, whether it’s a fish fry-off at my parents’ house, or calling one another and describing a delicious dish we came up with the night before. I am probably the most nutrition-conscious in the family (I am in school to be a dietitian), but I think that just the fact that we all appreciate real food for what it is has had a big influence on my healthy way of thinking.

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68 Juli November 14, 2013 at 9:52 am

I love this. Thank you for posting!

For the first time in my life, a few weeks ago, I spoke to my mom about the impact she and my dad had my weight as a child. I was a little chubby as a kid, completely in the normal range but my mom looked like a model and my dad was fit and this is how they expected me to be. They were concerned other kids would tease me and they tried to “push me in the right direction” early on. From the time was about 7 I remember being told “that’s enough” after eating half a bagel, while they pushed food on my big brothers plate, always offering him seconds and dessert. I didn’t understand. I wasn’t angry; I just felt ashamed. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to have the whole bagel but I wanted it – my body wanted it. But this was wrong and I felt guilty. When I was 13 I developed anorexia. I didn’t feel like I deserved food – this is what I had been taught. By 15 I had been hospitalized and was on the road to recovery. My parents began pushing me to eat more – it was the most foreign feeling – why, all of a sudden, were they telling me to put more on my plate when for so long they were stopping my hand in mid air as I went for seconds? Now, almost 15 years later and far removed from my eating disorder, I am saddened to realize how many young women fight the same battle.
And, while my parents inadvertently taught me that I did not “deserve” food, they also taught me that I do deserve happiness and success. They didn’t mean to do me any harm, and ultimately, they have been the ones to support me in the way I choose to be and live my life – looking like a model or not.

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69 KathEats November 14, 2013 at 10:16 am

Thanks for sharing Juli

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70 chris November 14, 2013 at 10:07 am

I loved this when I saw it! My mom told me I wouldn’t be able to eat like a “truck driver” my whole life, and she was right :-) But I continue to try. And I was always told to leave a little something on the plate, that was “polite.” Funny how my brothers always asked for seconds.

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71 E November 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Hey Kath,

Since you’re thinking about these issues, I thought you might be interested in Ellyn Satter’s work (if you’re not already familiar with it).

https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/
http://www.amazon.com/Ellyn-Satter/e/B000APPUYQ

One of her most important points, I think, is that it’s better just not to talk about nutrition with young kids. Talk about things that taste good, talk about being creative with food and trying new recipes, but don’t talk about calories or protein or fiber or (especially) dieting or restriction. Young kids just don’t have the cognitive sophistication to take in all that information, process it, and put it in perspective, and since kids are prone to black-and-white thinking, any information about nutrition can quickly turn into “good foods”/”bad foods” dichotomous thinking. And since children are incredibly observant, as you know, it’s just as important to be careful about what you say around them as it is to be careful about what you say directly to them.

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72 KathEats November 14, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I have one of her books in my stack. Cant wait to read it.

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73 Gloria November 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Oh wow, that was great! Thanks for posting it. The line about all of her questions starting with “sorry” really hit home. Growing up, my father was verbally abusive and very critical of my mother and my sister and I. My mom was always talking bad about her body and always yo-yo dieting. I remember I put myself on a diet when I was 10 for the first time, even though I was at a healthy weight. Maybe if we heard more voices like that of the poet growing up, we could have saved ourselves from years of mistreating our bodies. Thanks again for sharing.

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74 robin November 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I learned from my mother that she did something called Watching my waist line so I wanted to also. I learned from my Dad you eat til you cant eat anymore.

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75 Jess November 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Thanks for sharing. One thing I observed a lot of growing up was guilt around food on my mom’s side of the family. There was also a lot of talk about “healthy” without any real evidence behind whatever the claim of the month was. Even as a kid, I knew something was not quite right. Haha that’s probably why I became a dietitian—I really wanted to understand the way the body works and how food factors into that. I still have to bite my tongue sometimes at holidays when the aunts start on the “omg I’m such a pig” talk and whatnot, but fortunately, I have no problem eating until I feel satisfied and I truly enjoy a nice meal, guilt-free. A healthy diet has room for special occasions!

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76 ALM November 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Great poem, interesting discussion. A related story: I was at a party last Friday and at one point was standing next to the table where all the appetizers were laid out and I was waiting for a chance to talk to the hostess. While she was finishing up another conversation, I had 3-4 minutes standing there in silence which led me to overhear the comments other people were making as they came to the table for appetizers. After a minute or two, I was astonished to realize that EACH AND EVERY woman who came up to the food table made some sort of remark about the food, whether it was how much they “should” have, which food they “shouldn’t” eat, telling themselves to “stop” eating the crab dip, saying the fudge was going straight to their hips, etc. NOT ONE SINGLE MAN that I noticed in that time made a similar comment! Can anyone relate? What was that all about?

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77 KathEats November 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Wow, interesting accidental social experiment!

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78 mary @ minutes per mile November 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm

very thoughtful post — and clearly very thought-provoking for many readers! thanks for tackling a sensitive topic in a level-headed way. though i do miss your 3x daily meal postings sometimes,these topical posts are equally (if not more) enjoyable and satisfying to read!

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79 Caitlin December 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

This post definitely provokes thought! Unfortunately I picked up some bad thoughts about food/exercise from my mom. She has her own history with body image issues and always perpetuated the view that dessert was something to be earned by physical activity. She always had good intentions but I recall being in middle school and her having me run up and down the stairs 10 times so that I could have gotten in some activity for the day. Definitely not normal/healthy. I’m sure that some of that attitude contributed to me developing an ED later in life but there’s a ton of factors there. All I can say is she has learned a LOT from my recovery journey, and now we are helping each other better our relationships with food/exercise.

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