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Discuss: childhood dieting & related trauma



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Posted (edited)

Warning -- I imagine this topic is triggering to a lot of people. It would be triggering to me outside of this community. But I want to create a space for people to talk about how their weights and bodies were treated when they were young and the impact that still has on them. I apologize if this already exists somewhere -- tried to do a search beforehand. Anyway.

One of the primary brain things I am working through leading up to weight loss surgery is my relationships with my parents and their relationships with my body when I was young. My parents were pretty restrictive with food. There were certain designated "no dessert days" and when I was a little older, "no carb" days. There was a lock on the pantry, not in a way like I never got enough to eat, but it sent a message. We always had a lot of diet-oriented foods at home. During the summer, my brother and I would each spend a week with my grandparents, where we could eat pretty much whatever we wanted. When we got home, my dad liked to weigh us, and laugh about how much we gained.

Both of my parents were always on a diet. There was a period of time before I was born that my dad was obese, and a period of time when I was in elementary/middle school when my mom was obese, but other than that, they've always been a 'healthy' weight. But -- always on a diet. Never thin enough. When I hit 10 or 11, my mom started wanting me to diet with her. When I was that age, I was not overweight, and did not become overweight until I was about 15 or 16. On my most generous of days, I think that she probably just was looking for a way to bond with me as I was getting older. That was the trauma of her generation, I guess; women bonded by talking about their bodies and dieting.

I started going to Weight Watchers with her when I was 12 years old. A doctor had to sign off, and despite my 'normal' BMI, he did, and I will never, ever forgive him or understand why he did that. I guess the early 2000s were another time. Between the ages of 11-14 I did eDiets, Weight Watchers, the Zone diet, the Master Cleanse, normal calorie counting -- etc. Not for health; all because my mom told me that if I lost 5 pounds, or maybe 10, or maybe 15, I "could be a model." Or because, as she told me one day, "No one wants to be that fat girl in high school who can't get a date to the prom."

On top of that, both of my parents, but particularly my dad, were always talking about other people's bodies. They were obsessed. They talked disdainfully about other relatives, especially my dad's sister, who were "yo-yo" dieters, whose weights kept going up and down. I helped out at my dad's small business one summer and went to lunch with him and two of his friends when I was maybe 13 years old, and they took turns guessing how much a table of women with obesity weighed, combined. My dad made it clear, over the course of many years, that he hated fat people, and I have no doubt this is still true -- he just doesn't say those things in front of me anymore, because I've become what he hates.

There are probably a dozen reasons why I gained so much weight in my late teens and through my 20s, but the connection I feel between eating whatever I want and freedom from my parents is intertwined in a way that is painfully clear. It is all about control, and watching what I eat still feels like they are controlling me. Eating whatever I want, until I got so overweight that it was taking a real toll on me, was how I felt in control of my own life. Now I feel like I have control over almost every area except food.

All of this is working together to form a really big anti-motivator for surgery for me, which is that the idea of making my parents happy (and grandma -- don't even get me started there) in the process of losing weight is absolutely repulsive to me. I am desperately looking forward to a smaller body so that I can so things that everyone else talks about here -- fit in an airplane seat, have more stamina, have an easier time exercising, reducing risk of weight-related health problems, finding clothes that fit that actually reflect who I am, etc. But I feel sick whenever I think about turning up at home in a couple of months, looking noticeably smaller, and them saying something about it. I feel like I'm not going to be able to handle it. I don't want them to say a gd thing about it. And I don't want to get into unpacking years of hurt with them. I'm already thinking of ways I can minimize my weight loss when I'm home; baggy clothes, etc. It is such a mind mangle to want the result of surgery so bad and simultaneously be dreading them.

I don't want them to ever think I did this because of them. I don't want them to ever feel that they won.

If you have stuff related to this you want to get off your chest, I hope you feel welcome to share those things here.

Edited by muala94

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My issues are different but food issues just the same. My life revolved around food. Big family dinners and lots of food always available. Holidays filled with tons of food and Desserts and Cookies and pies. Seeking out the best restaurants referring to myself as a “foodie”. Not caring about how much I consumed or how many calories. Working so many hours then coming home and taking care of family with no time to take care of myself. No exercise, no control, no boundaries. I watched my husband die from diabetes and cancer and that shook me. I decided it was now MY time. To take care of ME. I need to take my life back. I have support but not from anyone that truly understands. Everyone says oh thats great but they dont really get it.

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I had a very similar upbringing and I just wanted to say I understand everything you mentioned, I’m sorry you also had to go through that and here’s to future success for all of us here

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I can kind of relate, although your situation sounds worse than mine was. My mother was always really weight-obsessed though, and was constantly on me about my weight, even when I was a young child. Even now, when I've been normal weight for about four years now, she seems to gloat in the fact that she weighs about 20 lbs less than I do. Yea - but she's barely 5' tall, and I'm 5'6". I finally just gave up and let her gloat. I think it gives her great pleasure. Whatever...

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Oh, goodness. This is a tough topic for me. I think I mostly avoid thinking about how my history contributed into shaping me as a morbidly obese person. My entire family, including extended family, does not have obese people...definitely some overweight individuals in the family, but not morbidly obese. Except me. My mother has always been normal BMI and my dad is a very fitness conscious person. He is overweight right now, but works out regularly, at 80 years old.

I am not ready to dig into this topic today, and maybe not ever, but my heart goes out to you. WLS is for you, for your health, and not to appease your family. Your family will likely feel proud of your weight loss and make comments. Let that be about them and not you.

Wishing you all the best! 💕💕

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Wow. This is all really awful. My parents didn't push diets on me at all, even though I was heavy as a child. We did have really odd rules about food - we couldn't have sugary cereals except as dessert, we could only have fruit roll-ups during presidential elections, etc. But we ate out all the time, so that wasn't really healthy. I lost a lot of weight when I was 13 through being really restrictive and exercising a lot, but then I gained 100 lbs in two years when I was put on medication for bipolar disorder. My parents basically didn't say anything. They've celebrated when I've lost weight and been really supportive when I'm trying to lose weight, but then my mom will push me to order a dessert at a restaurant because she wants dessert but won't order it herself. She and my dad are a tiny bit overweight, but both have at times been heavier; they have more time to exercise now that my dad is retired and my mom works fewer hours. My brother (not genetically related to us - he is adopted) is very overweight, so I know there is something definitely obesogenic about our family environment.

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Wow... this hit me in the feels today. I've been overweight since I was 10 when my parents divorced, and we moved in my grandmother. The only thing that was ever said about food was about leaving any behind. I - like many on here - was a card-carrying member of the "Clean Plate Club." It is still hard for me. I have to consciously think about it to leave food behind. That being said, what struck me about this post deals with how I parent my own girls.

Parenting is hard, and kids should come with instruction manuals. I NEVER wanted to give my kids a food complex. I've never made them clean their plate. When they're done, they're done. Both of my girls are on ADHD meds, so they don't like to eat during the day, but they're hungry at night. Usually, they come back for a second dinner sometime before bed. Neither one had a weight concern until last year. My oldest became a cave dweller during the lockdown, and it wasn't until she went back to school in January that she walked further than from her bedroom to the kitchen. I tried to get her to go out for a walk -anything - but she's 14 going on 25 and knows everything. All that to say, she gained about 50lbs in less than a year. It's not healthy for her, and she's not happy with it. I can tell that she's now self-conscious about it. Like many of us, it snuck up on her. It's all good when you're wearing PJs every day, but when you try to wear real clothes and they don't fit, it's a shocker. She brought it to me first. I told her I was concerned because it wasn't healthy to gain that much, that fast. She said - you think I'm fat! (Remember she's a teenager.) I told her I absolutely didn't think she was fat, BUT it's not healthy and she's not happy. She's really lost her stamina and endurance. My husband, who is 6'7" so 300 lbs for him is way different than 300lbs for me, was an athlete and is of the mindset that we tell her she needs to lose weight - and no... I stopped that cold - but he has that athlete mentality that if a coach said he was bad at free-throws, he would have practiced them until he was better. <eyeroll> I told him that she's not an athlete and she's a girl so telling she's overweight is NOT the route we're going. If we tell her she's fat then this will be her mental talk - Well, I'm fat so I better just go along with what my friend wants because I'm fat and no one will like me. Well, I don't want to have sex, but I better because he's showing an interest, and I'm fat so this is my only chance for love. Well, he's abusive, but I'm fat so I don't have any other options. - He looked at me like I was nuts, but I told him this is how many girls think. I'm trying to talk to her about it without being a nag or a dictator. When she's asked for help, I've made some suggestions like slowing down when she eats, taking smaller bites, cutting back on some of the sweets. I told her that I would help with things that I'm learning through this process, but that she has to WANT the help. It's hard because I can see that right now she's going down the path to end up where I've spent the last 3 decades, but I'm also trying to not make her worth about her weight. I could become the crazy food police, but that's not how I want our relationship to become. Weight can be lost, but if I make her not even want to be around me or her family, then I've completely lost her in other ways.

I'm sorry your family made you feel like that, but I hope you don't "cut off your nose to spite your face" as my GiGi would have said. If you're to a point where you need it, this surgery is for YOU. In the end, if your health deteriorates or you don't get to enjoy things, you are going to pay that price. If they gloat or whatever, they'll gloat. I can't relate exactly because I didn't get that growing up so I don't mean to sound flippant and if you don't already have a therapist, I'd recommend you try one. My mom married someone just to get away from her mother and her nagging. I moved out at 15 and she spent 8 yrs in an abusive marriage because she didn't want to be "wrong" and have my grandmother "tell her so." Don't let them and their pettiness drive your decisions any longer. You do you.

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I’ve really been thinking about this recently. I love my parents and I think they did they best job they knew how to, and in many ways they gave my siblings and I an amazing upbringing. But there was always an undercurrent of weight shaming from my dad toward my sister and I. He has always brought up how we need to lose weight, and how concerned he is for our health. I’ve always been a bit resentful because growing up there was kind of a free for all on food- many nights we were left to figure out meals for ourselves. There was always plenty of food, but I didn’t know how to cook so I would eat graham crackers and saltines with a can of coke. But still there were endless comments about our weight. I frequently rebelled- I didn’t care about losing weight, I cut my hair short because my dad had forbidden us to get haircuts because girls should have long hair, I made sure to get a B so I wasn’t a valedictorian, etc.

I lost weight years ago and got to a healthy weight. My parents were thrilled, but I couldn’t maintain it and the weight piled back on. My dad was vocal in his disappointment. I’ve been moderately successful in other areas of my life- I have a masters degree and a good career, a husband and two children, a house, etc, but I know my weight has always been the forefront of his mind.

Both of my parents have moderate dementia now- they know who I am but the cognitive decline is apparent. I visit weekly to meet with their caregivers and fill pill cases. My dad has routinely made negative comments about my weight, and then when I started losing weight it was always “keep it up, don’t stop!” It bothered me that he could forget so much and still remember everything related to my weight.

The other week we stopped wearing masks because we were all fully vaccinated. My dad commented my face looked different, and that it looked good now. I joked with him that you’re not supposed to say that, you’re supposed to say that I looked good then and I look good now. He looked shocked and said “you didn’t look good then!” I know part of it is because the dementia is causing him to just say whatever he is thinking, but it still kind of hurt. I know I look better now, but I kind of wish he thought I still had value and looked good when I was 130 lbs heavier.

I’ve had to come to terms with knowing that losing weight has to be for me, now. I need to stop having a pleasing my parents/rebelling against my parents mindset. It isn’t “giving in” to be a healthy weight (or to have long hair for that matter) it’s me living my life as an adult.

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57 minutes ago, njlimmer said:

My husband, who is 6'7" so 300 lbs for him is way different than 300lbs for me, was an athlete and is of the mindset that we tell her she needs to lose weight - and no... I stopped that cold - but he has that athlete mentality that if a coach said he was bad at free-throws, he would have practiced them until he was better. <eyeroll> I told him that she's not an athlete and she's a girl so telling she's overweight is NOT the route we're going. If we tell her she's fat then this will be her mental talk

Obviously I'm just speaking from my own experience here, but I'm very glad you stopped that. I know in my case, any comments on my body, then or now, just gave/gives me shame and resentment toward my parents. I love that you are letting her come to you. I never had a chance to go to my parents because they always got to me first, so I don't know how that would've made me feel. But I do think there is a lot of power in empowering her to make decisions about her body, instead of sending the message that it's out of her hands.

As I've been grappling with this over the last couple of years, I've seen that there have been recent studies on parents encouraging dieting in kids and teens, and the fact that this not only can cause 'traditional eating disorders' but obesity as well. This was affirming to read because it made me feel like I wasn't alone. I don't know if your husband would find this compelling, but here's a link: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/wellness/story/parents-encouraging-teens-diet-higher-risk-obesity-adult-53537394

I also appreciate the therapy comment. I do work with a therapist. I love therapy. Everyone should do therapy! Lol.

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50 minutes ago, blackcatsandbaddecisions said:

The other week we stopped wearing masks because we were all fully vaccinated. My dad commented my face looked different, and that it looked good now. I joked with him that you’re not supposed to say that, you’re supposed to say that I looked good then and I look good now. He looked shocked and said “you didn’t look good then!” I know part of it is because the dementia is causing him to just say whatever he is thinking, but it still kind of hurt. I know I look better now, but I kind of wish he thought I still had value and looked good when I was 130 lbs heavier.

I'm so sorry you are having to deal with this on top of the baseline layer of stress that caring for parents with dementia must bring. ❤️ I can't imagine the things my dad would say with less of a filter, and don't want to.

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I think my parents did a lot of damage to my relationship with food and eating when I was a kid. I know they didn't mean to. They meant well -- they just wanted the best for me, and they knew that being fat would be a hard life, so they tried to stop me from being fat, but unfortunately, most of what they did was totally counterproductive.

I remember my mom always being unhappy with her body, but looking back, I don't think she was as fat as she thought she was. She was probably overweight, but not obese (but of course her weight fluctuated as she yo-yo dieted). I remember once when I was very young, we were on vacation and my mom had a meltdown because she ordered curly fries and they gave her regular fries and she didn't want to waste her calories on regular fries. That was probably my first awareness of dieting. When I got older (junior high), my parents made me participate in whatever fad diet they were doing at the time.

I was always chubby, but I have brothers who were skin and bones and couldn't gain weight if they tried. And they did try. My mom bought them all kinds of Cookies, crackers, candy, soda, etc., but she didn't want me to have any, so she had them hide their Snacks in their rooms. I think this is one of the biggest things leading to my food issues because it made me feel so deprived. It felt so unfair that my brothers were being rewarded and I was being punished, basically for no reason other than my natural body type. So every chance I got, I snuck food. I spent all of my allowance money on candy and junk food. I hid food in my room because I wasn't allowed to eat it openly. It blew my mind when I went to friends' houses and they just had chips and cookies in the kitchen that they were allowed to eat in front of their parents. When I was old enough to babysit, I always looked for junk food to eat after the kids were in bed. I'm so embarrassed now to think about what the parents must have thought of me pigging out on their junk food!

I got into a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting, losing a little weight but gaining it all back and more, my parents trying to control my eating more and me feeling more deprived and sneaking more food (which got easier as I got older). My parents made me go to counseling and dietitians, and for a while, my mom weighed me every other day and tracked my weight in a notebook. It made me feel like my entire worth as a human being was based on my weight, and I could never be good enough.

Ironically, when I first looked into weight loss surgery, my mom talked me out of it. She cried because it was so dangerous and she was afraid I would die on the table. That's a big part of why I haven't told anyone in my life -- not even my parents -- that I did it. It was my decision that I made for myself and my own health. Not to finally win my parents' approval. My parents were actually the first to notice my weight loss (actually before surgery -- I lost about 70 pounds before surgery) just by seeing my face on a family Zoom call, And the first time they saw me in person after surgery, of course the FIRST THING out of my mom's mouth was how good I looked. Now, my parents had given up on trying to get me to lose weight by the time I was in my 30s, so my weight had ceased to be a topic of regular discussion, but it kind of hurt to see that they are still so hung up on my weight that they got so excited to see that I lost weight. Even though they stopped talking about it, it's obviously still important to them and to what they think about me.

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17 minutes ago, muala94 said:

I don't know if your husband would find this compelling, but here's a link: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/wellness/story/parents-encouraging-teens-diet-higher-risk-obesity-adult-53537394

I also appreciate the therapy comment. I do work with a therapist. I love therapy. Everyone should do therapy! Lol.

Thanks for the link! Luckily, my hubby may not understand teenage girls, but he does know when to listen to the mama or else! I will share that with him for sure. I absolutely believe it can cause weight gain. I mean - don't most of us to some extent try to do the exact opposite of what our parents want especially when we're teenagers!

I love therapy too. It's why my oldest has survived this long. There were years there when I was sure only one of us was gonna make it!

Good luck, and BTW - I think figuring out the root cause of an issue is a point so many people miss so you are already ahead of the game.

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It’s kind of wild, to be honest. Some things are actually kind of funny. He was telling a story about a dentist they used back in their hometown. He was talking about how expensive he was, then he was talking about how he was having an affair with his hygienist, then he decides to announce how the whole town knew he was a “coke head” and he came in on the weekend once to fix my moms broken tooth “high as a kite on cocaine”. I was just sitting there like...why did you lead this story with the expensive part??

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Posted (edited)

My stepfather tried to bribe me to lose weight with a whole new wardrobe when I was 14. He constantly judges women’s value on their body and whether or not they are married. I’ve told my mother that I do not want comments from him on my weight loss. He’s stuck to it.

Edited by WanderingHeart

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1 hour ago, BigSue said:

My mom bought them all kinds of Cookies, crackers, candy, soda, etc., but she didn't want me to have any, so she had them hide their Snacks in their rooms. I think this is one of the biggest things leading to my food issues because it made me feel so deprived. It felt so unfair that my brothers were being rewarded and I was being punished, basically for no reason other than my natural body type. So every chance I got, I snuck food. I spent all of my allowance money on candy and junk food. I hid food in my room because I wasn't allowed to eat it openly. It blew my mind when I went to friends' houses and they just had chips and Cookies in the kitchen that they were allowed to eat in front of their parents. When I was old enough to babysit, I always looked for junk food to eat after the kids were in bed. I'm so embarrassed now to think about what the parents must have thought of me pigging out on their junk food!

I'm so sorry that this happened to you. I can relate to so much of this, especially with hiding food and seeing what my friends' houses were like. I'm glad you decided not to tell your parents to help you do this for you; I'm not telling mine either.

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