Thursday 14 July 2011

Do you remember?

When I talk about my relationship with food and where it all started to go pear shaped, I often tell the story about the summer I turned 11 and my mother stood me in front of the mirror asking me if I wanted to go to the beach 'looking like that'. This was the start of my 20 year dieting career but if I think back there are other episodes that shaped my struggle with food and my body forever. And they go back to when I was even younger.

One such episode which is burned into my memory happened when I was about 6 years old. We were staying with my mother's best friend, P. P is a retired ballerina, she has always been stick thin, obsessed with her weight and bordering on anorexia. She was so controlling about food that she severely restricted what her children could eat. I remember lunches at her house. She would put one fish finger on each plate and then count out the number of peas she doled out to each of us. Yes, she counted peas. I never saw her actually eat anything. My memory of P as a child is of her drinking black coffee and smoking cigarettes all day long. Of course at the time I didn't have a clue what this all meant. I just knew that P was my mum's best friend and that I was always hungry when we went round there.

I remember sitting in P's kitchen on a warm, sunny afternoon. Maybe there was a dinner party planned because my mum had brought with her some strawberries and a big pot of double cream. I love cream and my mum had given me a spoon so that I could eat what was left in the pot. I sat there happily licking the spoon, enjoying the smooth, rich taste of the cream on my tongue. My mother and P were, as usual, leaning against the kitchen counter, cigarette in one hand, mug of coffee in the other chatting away.

At one point, P looked at me and then turned round to my mother and said in a loud whisper: "Well it's no wonder she's so...if you let her eat cream like that!" whilst putting her arms out in front of her belly and puffing her cheeks out in what is the universal sign language for the word 'fat'.

I remember this moment perfectly. I remember how the cream suddenly stopped tasting good. I remember the rush of burning shame that started in the pit of my stomach and flooded my whole body. I remember what felt like a huge, black hole of despair open up in my heart when my mum looked embarrassed and strode over to snatch the pot away from me. I remember suddenly hating my body, wishing I would crawl out of it and go hide under the table.

I was six. A beautiful little girl with dark, glossy hair, big brown eyes and a sunny smile. I was six and ashamed. Ashamed of liking cream, ashamed of my body, ashamed of my hunger.

This is not about pointing the finger and blame. After all, P had her own struggles and was only trying to be helpful. I know she loved me and my mother very much. This is about looking back and understanding how, and by whom, our relationship with food and our body has been shaped. It's about feeling compassion and love for that little girl who 35 years later still feels a pain in her gut when she thinks back to that moment in the kitchen. It's about giving myself permission to eat a whole pot of cream, spoonful by spoonful knowing that it's OK. That I am OK.

What do you remember?


  1. I sadly remember my Dad making pig noises at me, and warning me "don't get fat, cos if you do, no-one will love you".

    He has his own body image and food issues. I can see it now, looking back. My Mum could eat 2 chocs out of a box then stop, he would eat the whole box.

    Like you, I don't blame him. He was trying to protect me - he believed fat people somehow got "less" in life, and he didn't want that for me. I remember him saying "don't get fat like me".

    It made eating hard, as I was scrutinised. That's when I started to hide food and binge in secret... a few years later along ame the vomiting and the laxatives.

    I'm glad we're all talking openly about this these days. We need to challenge the attitude that thin = healthy = good and start accepting that, just as we all have differing shoe sizes, we all have different body shapes.

  2. I remember my Mum putting me on my first diet when I was about 12. Looking back at photos's of me then, I was NOT fat. But my Mum had struggles with being a fat child. I know she meant well - but when your Mum tells you are fat - you beleive it. Now more than 40 years later I struggle with my weight - and I really AM fat now.

  3. One of my earliest memories is my Mum telling me to hold my tummy in, I must have been about 4. I can still remember clearly the shock at the message coming clearly across of 'you are not ok as you are, your body isn't ok'.


  4. I don't remember any negative comments about my weight, shape or size when I was little - but I do remember being actively encouraged to eat and being praised for eating lots, particularly by elderly relatives. So the message I got growing up was that I could gain approval by eating, particularly by eating lots. The elderly relatives had all been adults during the 2nd War and still had the attitude that food provided should be eaten up, all of it, because it was precious. They were all fully paid up members of the 'clean plate club'. I grew up using food as a reward, as comfort, to gain approval ... the weight issues didn't kick in for me until I was an adult... It just shows how many different ways there can be to mess up someone else's eating even if such was never the intention :(

  5. How is it possible that something so "natural" as eating is deeply connected to our feelings? It is the nurturing side of eating that connects us to our parents, and how we have found in food a way to indulge, comfort, reward ourselves in moments of stress. We may even thank food for that, and find new sources of pleasure in cooking, sharing meals with friends and enjoying the whole experience, the atmosphere, the chat AND the food.

  6. For me, food was offered to me by my Mother as a substitute for her time and her love. She was always too busy to spend time with me - I never remember her playing with me or reading me a story - but boy could she feed me! As an active kid it didn't matter, except that the sugar sandwiches rotted my teeth, but as a less active adolescent the weight slowly crept on and so begain a lifetime battle with my weight. Food is still emotionally-weighted for me: it comforts and soothes me when I'm tired or depressed. I need to find other, less damaging ways to look after myself, but after 44 years the habits are very deeply ingrained. But I'm trying!

  7. During Art class in primary school we were to draw our nick name. I never had one, so I asked my teacher what to do. She said, I'll make up one for you! Matty-Fatty! The word fatty rhymed with a slightly changed version of my surname....I was one of the biggest children in the class. And she said that in front of other children. I smiled, covering shame and pain, and drew a big fat teddy bear. I hated myself. And this grew with me for years and years....even in my skinny times, I would consider myself as fatty one.

  8. I can remember so much that I could actually make all those memories in a film !
    My mum - yes - she was nearly anorexic - but also bingeing - and yes - me at 6 and 7 and 8 and 10 - and diets, and her weekly diets and weekends frenzy with sweets, forced on me also - and her lack of love for cooking and giving me a sandwich instead - because the kitchen was clean - , and not giving us meals, that you can see her not being proud of cooking, but just cooking , because she had to feed us at meal times.. not because she felt we needed to be fed properly - like she did with my small sister - one new member in the family - the older get neglected, and so so on - then grandchildren - my daughter was her first grandchild - but when my sister had her little boy - my daughter passed to second place - and my mum never look back at her the same = My mum gave me hell in life and then - when se dies .... .. she died very thing, she died of cancer, and she died alone, thanks to my sister... who decided to kidnap the body of my dead mother and no telling me she had died .. I read all this (yours posting - and this chilling post I am created from the inner of my soul ) - and I see also that my whole food problems, is partly thanks to my dearest mother .... I think I have to do a re-birth... and it is not late..... today can be the day....Thanks for opening my eyes....


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