Daughters, our mothers influence us in a variety of ways. But have you ever considered it in respect to diet? Three mums and their daughters* shared their feelings about diet, food and body image with health and nutrition writer Kelly James-Enger.
Gloria Pennington and Juliet Pennington-Matte
Gloria, over 50; mother of Carter, 38, Juliet, 37, and Adam, 33.
My mother is Armenian and a wonderful cook. Food was always an integral part of family life. With my children, I cooked the same way she did—“sit-down dinners every night and celebrate with food. While I always prepared balanced meals, I realise that the portions we ate were quite large.
I was a size 10 when I had my first child; I’m a size 18 now. I dieted when I was younger, but finally I gave up. After awhile, you realise that maybe your body is meant to be a little heavier than when you were 22. I’m more concerned with my health than my weight. I might look “matronly,” but I don’t feel it. I have energy and I feel great. I eat sensibly. I’ve cut down on the portions, and eat more fruit and vegetables. In cooking, I don’t use butter anymore.
When Juliet gained weight in high school, I was concerned, but I never pressured her to diet. I did try to be encouraging and had healthful foods on the table. I know carrying the extra weight is hard on her, and I’d like her to lose weight for her health’s sake, but I don’t criticise her about it.
Juliet Pennington-Matte, 37, mother of twins Amanda and Nicole, 10, and Tyler, 7.
I’ve always liked food, especially “junk food.” Growing up, dinnertime was family time. My mum is an amazing cook, and always prepared more than enough. We’d eat and talk and eat and talk, having three or four helpings.
Because I know those extra helpings contributed to my weight issue, I feed my children differently. I fill their plates and if one of them wants more, they have to ask. I cook differently as well. I’m a vegetarian, and don’t serve meat.
I eat for stress relief and snack if I’m feeling sorry for myself. But I try to set a good example for my daughters. I will eat only healthful foods in front of them. They don’t see me snacking on junk.
If I focus on it, I lose weight—but I don’t keep it off, because my old eating habits always creep back. I’ll go 20 kilos up and down, but I’m more concerned about how I feel physically than a particular number. I want to be able to keep up with my kids as they get older.
Sure, I’d like to take off 10 or 14 kilos—but I still feel good about myself. My mother and father always made me believe that it’s who I am on the inside and not what is apparent on the outside.
Lynn Kline and Micki Hendricks
Lynn Kline, 57, mother of Micki, 32.
I was slender size 8 as a young woman, and even drank milkshakes to try to add some curve, but my weight always stayed around 35 to 40 kilos. Then, when I worked as a beautician in my late 20s, I developed an allergy to the chemicals. Cortisone controlled the allergy, but I ballooned. I went from a size 8 to size 18 in six months!
It almost killed me. The weight gain caused other health problems, like high blood pressure, but the emotional pain was just as bad.
I tried the egg diet; I tried the grapefruit-and-egg diet; I ate nothing but salad; I drank diet shakes. But nothing worked. Between caring for my daughter and ageing parents and running my business, my weight wasn’t a priority, but it was always on my mind. My eating habits were terrible—I never ate breakfast and often worked through lunch. Today, I’m careful to eat balanced meals. I’m diabetic, and have to control my blood sugar.
I was always trying to lose weight when Micki was growing up, and I worried that kids would call me fat in front of her. Even if I never said anything, it was probably on her mind.
I struggled so hard with diets and tried so desperately to lose weight, I finally got tired of worrying about it. I decided, “thin may be in,” but “fat is where it’s at,” and everybody would just have to take me the way I am.
Micki Hendricks, 32, mother of Taylor, 5, and Jared, 2.
It was during my seventh or eighth grade that I became self-conscious about my body and decided to lose weight. By the time I’d finished, I’d lost about 10 kilos. I ate one small meal a day and exercised constantly. I even took diuretics to keep from gaining weight.
By the time I graduated from university, I’d regained most of the weight I’d lost, but I continued to diet through my 20s. I always had to start on a Monday, and it was the same old cliche. If I blew the diet, I'd just forget about it till the next Monday.
Seeing my mum struggling with her weight was always in the back on my mind. She was once really thin, and then gained weight, ad I knew she wasn't happy with her body. I'd decided that wasn't going to happen to me. Even when I was extremly thing, though, I was very self-conscious - If I wore bathers, I'd cover up as soon as I got out of the water. I felt loike I just didn't look right.
Although I've gained weight with both babies, I'm more accepting of myself. I'd like to lose some weight, but its not on my mind every minute like it was in my 20s.
My five-year-old daughter recently made a comment about her calves being "big". That shocked me. I explained that her calves are muscles, but it made me realise she's already noticing and criticising her body. I want her to feel comfortable about her body, so I avoid any negative comments about how I look in front of her.
Kathleen Hames and Kelly James-Enger
Kathleen Hames, 56, mother of Kelly, 33, Andy, 31, Stephanie 28, Mark, 17
I was an average eater as a child. but when I went to uni my roommates and I would stay up studying. We would raid the snack-food machines and eat as many as five snack bars! That's when I first began eating out of anxiety for fun, rather than hunger.
My weight stayed stable until my early 40s. I had my last child at 39 and never lost all of my baby weight. Then I noticed that I was gaining a kilo each month, so I dieted for a while, but noe that I'm older, I prefer to eat smaller portions and less sugar, and be more active.
Being thinner and attractive is still important, but I don't want to make the sacrifices.
It's easy to open the fridge and pull something out without thikning about why I'm doing it, and I still eat sweets when I'm stressed. But when that happens, I don't beat myself up over it.
I think my daughters have pretty good eating habits, although Kelly has always had more of a "carbohydrate attraction," like me. We are both active and can still enjoy eating and still maintain a healthy weight. I knew Kelly had gained weight at uni, but I never knew she was bulimic until recently.
Kelly James-Enger, 33, no children.
I've always been a picky eater. I ate my salads and baked potatoes plain, and I didn't like meat or vegetables. I inherited my mum's sweet tooth, and would hide sweets in my bedroom. It was in high school that I started bingeing, mostly on junk food, and gained about two or three kilos. I thought about taking laxatives before a binge to prevent me from gainging weight. I tried it "just this one." It was the beginning of a nightmare.
I did the binge-laxaties routine two or three times a week right through uni.
Ironically, it didn't prevent me from gaining weight - I put on 20 kilos. I contanstantly tried to diet, but always wound up bingeing and purging within days.
When I felt depressed or anxious, or lonely or frustrated, I'd eat.
In my final year of uni, I decided to quit trying to diet and focus on just being healthier. Once I began eating more nomally, bingeing became less frequent. Over time, I learned other, healthier ways of coping with my feelings and eventually lost most of the extra weight.
Today Mum and I joke about our mutual chocoalte addiction, but she never realised that I was sick. While I haven't binged in years, I still turn to food when I'm anxious of bord - and I still love sweets.
While I don't "diet", I do try to eat healthfully. My husband and I want to have a baby, and I want my body to be strong and diet for pregnancy. And, if we have a daughter I want her to see food as merely nice-tasting fuel for her body, not an emotional crutch.
How To Be A Positive Role Model To A Daughter
Mothers have powerful influence on their daughters' eating habits and attitudes to food as well as their bodies, says nutritional counsellor Nan Fuchs, PhD, author of Overcoming the Legacy of Overeating: How to Change your Negative Eating Patterns. Each set of mum and daughters can learn from their experiences, she says.
Gloria and Juliet
- Need to remember that food and love are different. You can show your love in ways other than by preparing special meals or eating large quantities. Take the love - and pass on second helpings.
- Should continue to concentrate on being healthy, not on achieving a particular weight.
- Should find ways to reduce stress that aren't realtd to food
Lyn and Micki
- Should realise and acknowledge to one another that diets are not the answer.
- Should reinforce their understanding that their weight may differ from other women's due to genetics or health problems.
- Should continue to work on body acceptance.
Kathleen and Kelly
- Should understand that some people can't eat a lot of sugar or carbohyrates (including "healthy" carbohdrates) without feeling more tired and anxious.
- Need to remeber that eating out of anxiety is only a short-term solution, and to develop other ways of coping with stress
- Should be easier on themselves if they do slip up and eat for stress relief. Do the best you can.
Set An Example
To be a positive role model for a daughter, be aware of the messages you send. "Children learn about specific food from the foods their mothers serve; they also learn about how to relate to their bodies by observing the way their mothers relate to theirs," says Fuchs. If you skip breakfast, your daughter will think that it's OK to go without. And if you often complain about your body or comment that you need to lose weight, she will get a message that her body needs improving too. "All children are deaf," says Fuchs. "They don't do what you say; they do what you do."
- Don't use food as a reward; find other ways to praise your daughter.
- Don't sneak junk food. A daughter wil find out and think its OK as long as it's hidden
- Don't categorise food as either good or bad. A balanced diet can include all types - but consumed in moderation.
- Do pay attention to how your body responds to certain foods. If pasta and potatoes make you sluggish, your daughter may have the same reaction.