(trigger warning: eating disorders)
Body image is complicated for a child of someone with an eating disorder. My mom has suffered from anorexia for thirty years. I think it warps your idea of what is a thin weight. I remember my mom watching Food Network all the time, yet barely eating 1,000 calories a day. I remember my mom making us one small sliver of steak and a tiny red baked potato almost every day. She didn’t know what a normal meal was. We would fill ourselves with gushers, potato chips, and anything else we could. I don’t think I recognized then what I do now.
In high school, I was naturally thin. I rarely exercised, but was just naturally small. In my senior year, I started eating at Moe’s Mexican Restaurant. I would come home, and my mom would comment:
“If you keep eating Moe’s, you’ll get fat.”
It never really occurred to me that this was unhealthy behavior.
My freshman year of college, I gained 15-20 lbs. The freshman 15. It never concerned me until I went home. My mom would make comments:
“I told you. You need to start exercising.”
I didn’t get into the exercising thing until sophomore year. I remember walking around campus, feeling incredibly fat. I was at a weight that I had never been before. I didn’t know about the BMI. I didn’t know what a healthy weight for my height was.
I spent my junior and senior year exercising every day, running several miles a day, counting my calories. My example had always been my mother. She, she ran for miles a day, eating even less than I did. No matter how much I exercised or how little I ate, I could never get to the weight I wanted to be. I could never get my stomach to be flat.
My example had been my mom. As young girls, our example is always our mother. My mom ate so little. Until I was 24, I didn’t think about my mom’s illness in terms of how it affected me. I didn’t realize that her behavior was controlling behavior. Not only did she want to control her own weight–she wanted to control mine.
When I was 23, I was in a relationship with a guy who was into weight. “I like how thin you are,” he commented. He would obsess over the fat in my arms that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. He obsessed over weight. My weight, in particular.
When he broke up with me, I rebelled. I didn’t necessarily gain weight, but my perspective changed.
I could say 24 was my turning point. For almost six years, I had obsessed over weight. I had exercised every day. I was my mother, it just hadn’t caught up to me. “Why am I doing this? Why do I care so much about my weight?” I realized. Then I stopped. I just stopped caring. I didn’t gain weight necessarily. I just started to eat what I wanted. I didn’t stop eating at 3pm. I didn’t work out every day. Something in my mind just switched. I stopped looking in the mirror and obsessing.
I know that not everyone has this moment, but somehow, I did.
I’m 26 now. My mom has been treated in a psychiatric hospital for the last eight weeks, and I desperately wish she had this switch that she could turn off. I’ve told her about my turning point. I told her about the day everything changed for me. The truth is after thirty years, she may never have that day. Her eating habits, her controlling habits, and her warped reality may never change after thirty years. But mine can.
We mimic habits of our mothers about food. It probably didn’t help that my mother would project her feelings about weight onto her children. She would comment on my weight. She would comment when I lost weight. She saw all those behaviors in me. I’m not sure what she thinks of it now. I’m not sure if she realizes how it affects her children.
I would never say I had an eating disorder. I think I mimicked a lot of behaviors of my mother. I think my body image was warped. I saw fat. When I look in the mirror today, I don’t see any of that. I see a normal woman within the bounds of BMI. I eat what I want to eat. I exercise when I need to exercise. I think about weight with a healthy attitude.
My mom is an addict. She’s addicted to these controlling eating behaviors. One day, I realized I couldn’t become her. And I changed.