A Mother Knows Best
August 11, 2010

Awesome responses to the energy bars! I’m excited to see how they hold up to your own recipe testing.

It’s been a while since I subjected you all to my musings, and today I’ve got some leftover thoughts from staycation week. I typically waste no opportunity to vocalize gratitude for my mother and everything she’s given me: a good upbringing, a love of art and culture, a model of female independence, an appreciation of books – the list goes on. Most of all, I thank her for instilling in me a sense of my own worth. But there’s one particular part of my thankfulness that I rarely put into words, and this is my appreciation of my mother’s relationship with food and body.

It’s hardly a secret that a huge percentage of women who have struggled with disordered eating can trace the genesis of their problems to a mother figure. It is the theme of countless emails I get from clients, and countless conversations I’ve had with eating disorder veterans. She’s always there, hovering in the background of these narratives: the mother who sipped diet coke all day or nibbled on low-carb bread; who tried every diet plan and bought every weight loss bestseller in print; who woke up at 5 a.m. each morning to do calisthenics or jump on the stairmaster; who cautioned her daughter to eat less, to stay away from sweets, to avoid seconds.

My mother did none of these things. Not a one. For as long as I can remember, my mother has loved food without qualification or neuroses. She loves to eat it, to prepare it, to talk about it, and even to look at it. She’s famous for making enthusiastic exclamations about tempting food commercials on TV, or for interrupting a conversation to say, “you know what I would love right now? A slice of chocolate cake.”

My mother is beautiful, and although she conspicuously lacks conceit of any kind, she’s also comfortable—as comfortable as I think any woman can be—with her physical self. Once, when I told her how much I admire her seemingly peaceful relationship with her body, she said, “well Gena, no woman is ever totally happy. There are always little things I would change. But yes, it is what it is!” To someone like me, who has hated, resented, and fought furiously to accept her physical self for as long as I can remember, this statement seemed astoundingly simple. My mother has her little insecurities, but they do not obsess her, and I don’t believe she would ever do anything self-destructive in an attempt to correct them.

Of course, my mother is a woman like any other, and I remember a few brief “diets” when I was growing up. There was the Scarsdale diet one summer, an intense but short lived regimen that stood out to me mostly because my mother was miserable without cream and sugar in her coffee (my mom likes her morning java “light and bright”). I also remember the Scarsdale diet because of its ill-fated creator and our indelicate jokes about him; Dr. Tarnower was murdered by a spurned lover, and my mother and I always used to say, “guess the diet didn’t work for her!”

But these little “diets” were, in comparison to what the average American woman puts herself through in a year, let alone a lifetime, truly negligible. My mother rarely persisted with them for very long, or gave them much thought. In the end, love of cream in her coffee would always triumph over my mother’s patience for a regime, and when it did, she was more pleased than rueful. The guilt that so many women experience when they deviate from a “diet” was, as far as I know, entirely foreign to her. My mother is a sensualist, a lover of taste and color and smell (it should come as no surprise to you that she’s an artist), and food is a part of that. I hope that I’ve inherited at least a bit of that love of food, even if it’s taken me a rather long time to grow into it.

That I was never able to directly emulate my mother’s relationship with her body proves how unpredictable disordered eating is. There is no single family dynamic or genetic predisposition or media influence that’s determinative. But the fact that I didn’t grow up with a sense of ease within my body hardly means that I’ll be that way forever: I’m far more at ease than I was even five years ago, or ten years before that, and who knows what the next decade will bring. I’d like to think I’ll eventually be a lot like my mom: that I’ll recognize physical insecurity as a part of life, but I’ll manage not to let it dominate me in any significant way; that I’ll be able to look upon my body and its imperfections with humor, rather than a sense of doom; and that I’ll always eat with relish.

My mother and I are similar in many ways, and in many ways we’re different, but I’ve never had trouble knowing when I ought to follow her lead. When it comes to food and body, I’m pretty sure she knows what’s up. Thanks, Mom, for for never drinking black coffee for too long. I love you for it.

It would be great, you know, if you’d consider coconut milk creamer 😉

xo

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    43 Comments
  1. I love this post. My mother was not always happy in her own skin but she has always enjoyed food. She makes a party of out it. Every bite she takes, she enjoys and wants you to enjoy too. As we’ve gotten older she’s started to realize the risks that come with too much fat in your diet (ie. the high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type2 diabetes that she has) and we’ve all learned to make the right kinds of changes in our diets. She still struggles (don’t we all?) with sweets and bread and fried foods, but she is much healthier food wise than she was 10 years ago. In fact–we all are. I hope that accounts for something in the future!

  2. Such a sweet and beautiful post. I’m surprised to learn how similar our mothers and we are. Mine has always had a comfortable relationship with food and body image too, never over did anything or fretted about the little treats here and there.

    Yet I’ve battled some sort of ED through high school and college and while I’m miles better than just a few years ago too, I still envy her total comfort with food in general.

    For me, I think the lack of experience my mother has with disordered eating didn’t exactly help my struggle – not a bad thing at all, just generational differences. The miserable relationship I had with body image and trying feel normal were completely foreign to her and something she never really understood.

  3. You know, my mother wasn’t disordered in her eating either. She ate when she was hungry. Loved ice cream but didn’t obsess or overdo. She wasn’t a great cook, but not a terrible one. She loved food and enjoyed it thoroughly, but food was just not the most important thing. I sort of wish for that attitude!

    I do remember both my parents doing a couple of diets, around when I was in high school, but my body image was already skewed by then. Was it due to her “health kick” in my early childhood? Who knows? Maybe not though, I eat that way now and love it, though she discarded it after just a couple of years! No, I actually think my body/eating problems stem partly from my Dad, and partly just from me being in the world.

    It’s funny, I think kids are born with a temperament, a personality, a propensity to be who they are already intact, and the world shapes them, but the parent is not always the one key factor. I love my Mom, I wish she could have passed on a few more of her easy going genes to me!

  4. Great post Gena! Your mom sounds like a wonderful woman, you are both very lucky to have each other. And I agree about the kind eyes in the comment above 🙂

  5. Such sweet things you wrote. Your mom sounds like a beautiful woman inside and out. So glad you’ve learned so much from her and admire her. That’s a lovely photo of both of you. You both have kind eyes. 😉

  6. this is a lovely post. thank you! for sharing! your mother sounds like a wonderful role model.

    i’ve had a different experience with my parents – a role reversal of sorts. my father has been an extremely restrictive eater his entire life, and still is to this very day. his constant obsession with health food and his weight certainly had a negative affect on me, and now that i’m all grown up (sort of) i can easily ignore his silly commentary when i am home for dinner (which is once a month at most). it’s nice to grow older and see your parents from a more realistic and mature perspective: as people with faults and problems of their own that we mustn’t allow to deeply affect us in negative ways.

  7. Beautiful! This makes me want to thank my mom for also creating a warm house filled with real, nutritious food. Without even criticizing Hi-C, fruit roll-ups, and soda, she just didn’t bring it into the house. McDonalds wasn’t a once-a-week “treat” it is in some households; it was nonexistent for us. Instead, she grew mint and basil in the garden, was sure to make us smell it, and mixed it with homegrown tomatoes, too. I will be forever grateful to her healthy and balanced approach to good food, focusing on our worth rather than our bodies, and taking the time to eat every night with family. Thanks Mom!

    And thanks, Gena’s mom!

  8. Gena, I was so inspired by this thoughtful and lovely post. The photograph alone, is enough to bring tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful writer and a beautiful young woman who is truly blessed to have such an intelligent and beautiful mother. It must be true what they say: The apple does not fall far from the tree.

  9. What a beautiful post! I hope one day my daughter feels the same about me! 🙂 You are such a great daughter and your mother seems just as wonderful!

  10. What a beautiful tribute, Gena! I aspire to convey the same sense of acceptance of my body to my own daughter.
    See you soon!
    Love, Katie

  11. Hi Gena – thanks for this post. I’ve been a reader for awhile but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. This passage really struck me:

    “the mother who sipped diet coke all day or nibbled on low-carb bread; who tried every diet plan and bought every weight loss bestseller in print; who woke up at 5 a.m. each morning to do calisthenics or jump on the stairmaster; who cautioned her daughter to eat less, to stay away from sweets, to avoid seconds”

    because it is the perfect explanation of my step-mom. I worry constantly that she is breeding an eating disorder in her 16 year old daughter (my half-sister) with her actions. Not only her actions but I see her now sucking my sister into her behavior as her diet partner in crime. I’m not sure if it’s right for me to say something, and I feel like the only thing I can do is to be the best example possible of a woman who can be comfortable with her body and food and be there for my sister when she needs someone other than her mom to talk to. Sigh…

    • Yeah, eeks. When I was eight, my ex-stepmom and her kids (who were all tall and rail thin) made a bunch of jokes about my “bottomless pit” appetite. I never got over it. Parents have no idea how their criticism lives on, and on, and on.

  12. beautifully written and beautiful sentiments. i often say how lucky i am to have such a strong relationship with my parents – i relish their company, the lessons they teach me, the life they’ve built for me. i’m sure you feel lucky to have that with your mom as well.

    i really applaud your mom for her mindset, and i love the truth in her statement that no one woman is ever completely happy with the way she looks. we accept our imperfections in our personalities, why not our appearances, right? as i’ve mentioned to you, my mom has been incredibly hard on her appearance and restrictive with her eating her whole life – i don’t blame her for my issues, but i know that’s where i learned what was i thought was “normal” for a woman. these days, i like to think that maybe i can be a positive role model for her – i think it goes both ways!

  13. Your picture says a thousands (positive) words. My favorite time with my daughters are when we are in the kitchen together creating a mess!!! They are 15 & 12 and we share a love and appreciation of food. Thank you for sharing.

    Vicky

  14. Gena
    This post made me miss my mom so much. She wa exactly like your mom. A food lover and a life lover too. She passed away after a long bout with Alzheimers two years ago, and I can still remember she gave me my first taste of every food I love now. While other mom’s were making Franco American spaghetti out of a can when I was a kid, my mom was making her own homemade sauce with herbs and parmesan cheese. She bought me my first Cuisinart food processor. Thanks for sharing your personal life. It stirred up so many wonderful memories. I love your blog so much, I’ve even book marked it on my website so others can meet you too.

  15. Hi, Gena! So nice to hear about your wonderful relationship with mom. My mom is the same exact way, but I developed an ED. I am a firm believer that the Type A, perfectionist, goal oriented, over-achiever personality type has a lot to do with why some people develop EDs and some don’t, despite media and relational influences. I’ve never done my own research but I see patterns. Believe it or not, the majority of people with my illness are young, white females, and if you dig deep, many of them have had or do have EDs and are the Type A perfectionist. Hmmmmmm. Interesting, right?

  16. I am a little teary eyed after reading this one! It’s been a surreal day for me. I have learned today, not that I didnt know this before today, but it was just reiterated…anyway that body image doenst matter so much as having your family members safe and close to your heart does.

    However, I am trying, doing everything I possibly can, to raise Skylar with a healthy body image and attitude towards food. The words “ate too much”, fat talk, chubby, or any other weird attitudes around desserts, second helpings, snacking, etc…NONE of that exists in this house. Nor will it ever. I am trying to neutralize the environment as my own childhood was an environment not so ideal. Not horrible, but not without some baggage,

    Anyway, lovely tribute to your mother-daughter relationship too. I want that with Skylar 🙂

  17. Thanks for sharing! Haha, it made me laugh that your mother’s love for cream triumphed over diets – the few times I have been on diets I have always felt like some personal victory when my body came out and demanded the nourishment and the joy(!!) back into my diet. Awesome! So life-affirming! 🙂 Not that the good life doesn’t mean taking good care of your body…so good luck with the coconut creamer conversion if you’re going down that road 😉

  18. What a beautiful post, Gena…I’m sure your mom would be tearing up if she read this…in fact, I insist you make her read it! She sounds like a great role model not just for you, but for every woman out there. We need more women like her!

    My mom is like that, too. So I don’t believe all disordered eating is the same, nor that the parents are entirely to blame. There are so much more complex and complicated things going on in an eating disorder.

    p.s. You and your mom look so much alike!! I love your mom already!

  19. I read your blog all the time, but never really comment. I’m going to break that tradition tonight.

    That gave me such a warm feeling. Relationships with mothers are so complex- it is so gratifying to hear you commend your mom for something I’m sure she’s not even entirely aware of. I think she’ll read this with tears.

    Now I feel like calling my mom!

  20. Ah mums, somehow we each have the best one ;). Beautiful post Gena, and I can really relate to the strength you see in your mum and it being such an inspiration for you.

    Go Gena’s mum!
    xo

  21. great post. a woman with a healthy body image is hard to find. my poor mother has hated and rejected her body for over 50 years, it helped me realize it’s just not worth it to waste that kind of energy on something so unproductive. That photo is so incredibly beautiful!

  22. Beautiful sweet post Gena!! Your mom sounds like an amazing person, so great to have such a strong beautiful mom! I love my mom, she has always been so supportive of me. I always made me feel important, and still does, no matter what she always has my back.

  23. What a sweet post, indeed. In my family we are all sensualists, lovers of FOOD above all, dance, music, art, and the outdoors. We get more excited about food that almost anything else! My mom sounds just like yours, though. She worries about many things but not her weight or body image. I actually think her lack of interest in beauty and body image backfired a little on me, but certainly her views of food and eating are as healthy as they come. I was raised on kale, tofu, beans, fruit, carob chips… and lots and lots of milk and cheese ;). I hope to emulate my mother in raising children one day, although I also believe that a small and positive amount of energy focused on the child’s appearance can prevent the body hatred I went through as a consequence of serious overeating and lack of focus on grooming. I think a healthy sense of pride in ones body can prevent destructive hatred later on.

  24. This is an absolutely beautiful post about your mother! It made me a little teary eyed.

    My mom was, I guess, the stereotypical eating disorder mom. Diet coke guzzling and bought every diet book in sight. To this day she eats low carb AND low fat. I don’t blame her in any way, but I know I internalized a lot of her body hatred. However, I know that everyone is different and there is no typical “eating disorder parent”. Also, just because a mother has an eating disorder, it doesn’t mean her children will. My sister and I had the same mother, but I’m the only one who developed a disorder. Psychology and genetics and all related factors are very complex.

    Your mother sounds like an amazing, beautiful women and I’m so happy you shared this. Thank you 🙂

  25. As someone who often gets the “are you mother and daughter or twins?!?!” comment when out with my mom (usually by older men who are coming on to my mother, might I add), I hate to say it, but the resemblance is striking!

    Anyhow, this was a beautiful post, and I can relate! I have spent the better part of my life obsessing over food – whether from deeply negative binge/restrict cycles to my more positive, foodie outlook today – while my mother always eats when she feels hungry and enjoys it. The only thing close to a diet regime that I remember her doing was when she bought some supposedly menopause-fighting vitamins from a neighbor. Oddly enough, most of the dieting I witnessed as a kid came from my dad. He has struggled with weight for much of his adult life, and did a number of fad diets like Atkins, as well as being on Jenny Craig for years (I used to love the peanut butter snack bars as a kid). I am happy to say that he has turned a corner in recent years, and now aims for healthy, whole foods and lots of exercise instead of fad diets, largely due to my influence (ahem, *constant harpy preaching*). He has even embraced some vegetarian cooking! He can now be seen eating kale-based salads and my famous black bean chili on a regular basis! I’m afraid I will never see the day that he gives up his ‘low carb’ eggs + bacon breakfasts, however. One day at a time…

  26. Lovely post. I was fortunate to grow up in a home in which any size was acceptable (and there were four girls, four distinct sizes) Thanks for sharing such a personal, and important, side of you!

  27. I loved “meeting” your mom! Thanks for sharing!
    As for mother-daughter similarity in eating habits, I have to say that in my family I did follow a very similar pattern to Mama Broc. She struggled with body image for much of her life and had a short bout with anorexia in college. My struggles started much earlier and were more extreme in nature (ugh), but I think the mindset was strikingly similar.

  28. My mother is the same way and has never, ever been a negative role model for me in any way, yet I am still trying to find that happy place! I know I’m getting closer to being there every day!

    Also… can’t WAIT to see you again in a couple days!! Have a safe flight! 🙂

  29. Oh, what a lovely post and a beautiful tribute to your mum! She sounds like an amazing woman, and you guys seem to have an awesome relationship. Thanks for sharing this with us 🙂

  30. Such a sweet post Gena. I am eternally grateful to my mother for the exact same things – instilling a deep appreciation for food, especially homemade food, and never talking negatively about body image. My mom just got done juicing and canning a billion jars of tomatoes, fresh from her garden and also canning pickles the same day! Mothers teach us so much, its heartwarming to hear your sentiments.