Thoughts on Growing Up With a Fat Dad

by Andie Mitchell on July 26, 2012

Recently, I discovered a fantastic series on the New York Times blog, entitled “Growing Up With a Fat Dad” by Dawn Lerman. Her writing is honest and enlightening.

Lerman discusses her experiences as a young child who had an obese father. In the first piece she explains how she never felt properly nourished by her parents because her dad was constantly dieting and her mother wasn’t interested much in food. “Most of our meals consisted of my dad’s diet foods, a meal replacement shake, a frozen dinner, or a bagel or pizza in the car. We never had meals together as a family.”

She goes on to say she developed an appreciation for cooking and homemade food from her grandmother and fondly recounts the time they spent together in the kitchen. After moving away from her grandmother she was still able to remain close by sharing recipes and continuing the tradition of cooking.

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As the daughter of overweight parents, this author really spoke to me. I relate on so many levels. Like Dawn Lerman, I also developed a non-ideal association with food as a child. The difference between my story and hers being that in my house, rather than hop from fad diet to fad diet, we overindulged constantly. Diets and scales and low fat anything were unspeakable.

My mother, a fantastic cook and baker, always made sure our house was as stuffed with goodies as our bellies were. She instilled in me the passion I currently have for food and cooking, and I am ever grateful for that. What I’ve learned about her in growing up is that she loves in as wild a way as we eat. Food is the way we love. And honestly, I can’t wish she’d done anything differently. I can’t blame her for thinking chocolate cake could distract me from an alcoholic dad. I can’t even begin to hate our trips to McDonald’s, because they were lovely in their own disorderly right, and sometimes we only had $5 between us. All I can do is know that I was loved and that she did her best.

My father was almost always severely overweight, usually weighing upwards of 300lbs at 5’10”. All my life I watched him eat ceaselessly through the night as he drank. Subs and chips and ice cream at bedtime. The thing is, he was happiest then. I was happiest then, in turn. A few times, Dad lost weight by restricting what he ate to iceberg lettuce salads and omelets, but the weight never stayed gone for long.

I didn’t learn the joy of cooking nutritious and nourishing food until later in life.  Perhaps especially in the past five years, after losing 135lbs, I have made even more of a life in my kitchen. Uncertain of how to reintroduce the foods I loved all my life, but had given up throughout weight loss, I began creating my own recipes. Healthier versions of the classics. I said to myself, “Anyone who throws caution to the wind and uses an unlimited amount of butter, cream, oil, and the like, will ultimately make a dish that tastes delicious. Because butter, in and of itself, takes taste to the next level. But the true challenge, the mark of a truly good cook, is the creation of flavor. Knowing the essence of good food, understanding flavor complements, how to use herbs and spices to cultivate that perfect palate pleaser, believing that food can be just as beautiful on its own without makeup and a ballgown.

What I’m interested in hear from you, now, is how you relate to both me and Ms. Lerman.

Those of you who were raised by an overweight parent, how do you think it affected your relationship with food as a child as well today?

Do you think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent?

Those parents who struggle with their weight, what do you do to try to make sure your children have a more healthy relationship with food?

For the cooks out there, when did you first learn to appreciate preparing nutrition meals for yourself or your family?

{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah July 26, 2012 at 9:39 am

My mom was overweight while I was growing up…my father was active and passionate, but as he changed jobs and introduced more stress into his life, he bgan to pick up my mom’s eating habits and he is now overweight as well. I learned to love cooking from my father, but I learned to be an emotional eater from my mother. Food was my mother’s comfort in depression, and my father’s passion is a busy hectic life. I am grateful that I learned how to cook and learned my father’s passion for food….I am also grateful for the disordered eating I got from my Mom. It has taught me to be more cognicent of what I put into my mouth, and challenged me to face my emotions. I believe being an overweight parent definately can teach your kids bad eating habits. I do however know I was loved profoundly…and as an adult we all have the power to change our lives. Blessidly, Ive been able to teach my parents a thing or two about changing their eating habits, and we are doing it together!:) I hope that I can learn to maintain a healthy relatonship with food when I have kids of my own. I know that especially little girls, they learn to eat by what they are seeing in their parents, so I want to teach my kids a respectful love of food and their bodies.

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D July 26, 2012 at 10:00 am

My parents always yo-yo dieted when I was young, gaining and losing 75-100 lbs at a time. I had a very healthy relationship with food until I started college. Throughout college and the few years afterwards I became somewhat of a yo-yo dieter myself, gaining and losing 25 lbs at a time. I developed a very unhealthy relationship with food, and definitely became a disordered eater. A few years later, I now consider my relationship with food a good one, thanks to a lot of therapy and reading blogs like yours!

I think parents and family in general have a MAJOR impact on one’s relationship with food. Because of my upbringing centralized around unhealthy foods and eating patterns, I will strive to create a healthy and positive environment for my children so they are conscious and aware of what goes in their body. This includes both health foods and treats. One thing I’ve learned from my own mistakes and my parents’ is that moderation is the only way to maintain a healthy weight for life.

Thanks for another great post.

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Emily @ www.main-eats.com July 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

I think in my family it goes back back farther…my grandmother forced my mom to step on the scale every week (something I only just recently found out) and determined what my mom would get to eat based on what the numbers said. Because of that experience, there was never a scale in my house growing up and my mom shoved food in my mouth like it was going out of style. She really helped to empower me and never made any kind of comment about my weight. Pretty interesting….it all makes me realize that what I do for my (future) children will be really important…

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April July 26, 2012 at 10:37 am

With me, it wasn’t so much my parents, as much as it was the women in my mom’s family. She has five sisters and a brother and I grew up thinking – knowing! – that I would end up being one of these ever-expanding, pear-shaped beings when I reached my 30′s and 40′s and beyond. I felt like it was a genetic inevitability.

As I got older, I realized so much of it has to do with lifestyle. I don’t have to be overweight. My mom’s family are country cooks. Down-home comfort food, lots of bread and butter and oil fried foods and few vegetables. Not to mention very little activity. I took my own path to cooking more healthy foods, teaching myself and learning from other cooks I met along the way – and I’m still learning! I won’t say I have a perfect diet, but I feel like I lead a healthier lifestyle, and eat a healthier way than my parents and their families did. And I definitely feel that I’m teaching my kids that food can be delicious without being horrible for you. It’s all about balance.

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simple girl July 26, 2012 at 10:57 am

Those of you who were raised by an overweight parent, how do you think it affected your relationship with food as a child as well today?
My dad was a pleasantly plump man of 6′tall frame whose charm seemed to erase his hefty frame. Mom was beautiful and thin all her life until her marriage to my dad began to fall apart. Dad was a “happy drunk” which was cleverly concealed by my well-meaning mother. Her weight (along with my little sister and me) escalated with the demise of her marriage. Being a fat girl all growing up left me with permanent scars. My adulthood was polka-dotted with periods of curvy slimness but my relationship to food has always been on the thorny.
Do you think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent?
Even though I’ve not been able to achieve a healthy weight for myself (yet!), the fact that my 3 kids (ages 23, 16 and 13) are all perfectly slender and healthy (and always have been) proves to me how that having a healthy relationship with food is essential to good parenting.
Those parents who struggle with their weight, what do you do to try to make sure your children have a more healthy relationship with food?
I make healthy meals and we eat them together at the table every day. We eat to fullness and then stop. I have taught my children to eat small portions first and get more only if they’re still hungry, which they never do. I must be doing something right! 
For the cooks out there, when did you first learn to appreciate preparing nutrition meals for yourself or your family?
My mom never like to cook and often fell back on tv dinners and hamburger helper. When my Dad remarried his inner chef came out and he became quite a foodie. He introduced me to foods I’d never tasted before, like mushrooms, avacados, grilled onions, zucchinni, eggplant parmesan, seaside fish ‘n’ chips, broiled salmon, tri-tip steaks. I loved tasting his masterpieces.
Once married myself, I was inspired to cook gourmet meals for my husband. But 3 kids later, my weight went up with each pregnancy and learned that losing weight is much more difficult when you have a family to feed instead of just concentrating on yourself and your own body. It has become the most challenging aspect of my life. And at this point, slimming down to my ideal weight has now reached the equivalence of being the sole winner of the state lottery.

I’m not a binge eater, never have been. And I don’t relate to a cake, 1 fork and an empty room. I’m just an overweight, clutzy girl over 40 with no gallbladder to regulate healthy fats, whose metabolism has slowed, making the challenge even greater. :)

I am currently trying to lose weight by lowering my carbs and it is proving very difficult. I am not good at details which is why I have never been a calorie counter. I eat exactly what my kids eat – 3 squares a day – and they are slim and I am fat. That makes no sense to me but there it is!

Thanks for your inspiring blog. Love it and you.

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Abbie July 26, 2012 at 11:07 am

What an incredible topic. I have literally never considered how my both my mother and father’s constant dieting influenced my own relationship with food. My mother is and always has been very slim, but regularly she would cut her calories to a drastically low level for a week or two. My has never been terribly overweight, but his constant need to “diet” without ever having much success definitely shaped my own dieting and perception of my body.

I just had a baby seven months ago and throughout my pregnancy and everyday now that he is starting to eat “solid” foods, I think about how I want his eating habits to be different from mine both as a child and now. It is something that is gravely important to me, and in some ways I think that yes, being a good parent means being in control of your own weight (which I’m not.)

It’s a very risque topic with all the childhood obesity out there, but SO much of who we are comes from behavior we learned from our parents… Thanks for such a thought provoking post. I absolutely ADORE your blog.

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Melinda July 26, 2012 at 11:32 am

My Mom has always been overweight and struggled with it. I remember this contraption that she attached to the handle of her bedroom door, it was a pulley system and she would use her arms to pull her legs up. It looked ridiculous to my 8 year old self. Now I have compassion and empathy for her struggle. I vowed to teach my daughters to love and respect food, not use it as a reward. I’m happy to say they don’t have the issues I do. Even when I’m not overweight I think I’m fat. I’m back at weight watchers and struggling, trying to slay the inner fat girl as well as maintain healthy habits. My aha moment with your post is that I’ve realized I need to look back and wade through the past to face some of the issues that contributed to my lack of self esteem.

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Carolyn July 26, 2012 at 11:40 am

Parenting is a tough job on so many levels. With an almost ten-year-old who still has the chub of a baby, combined with the watchful eyes and powerful brain of a much older kiddo, I’m careful about what I eat, what I say about what I eat, and how often I exercise. We talk about foods as either “helping your body to feel its best (lots of energy to do all the things you want to do, no headaches or sleepiness from too much sugar) or not. I encourage fruits and veggies as the best snacks by keeping them cut up and in the fridge and have a loose one treat a day policy. I never say no to life’s deliciousness, just try to model moderation and thoughtful eating. It’s hard to know what’s right, especially with little girls, but focusing on how your body feels and which foods make you feel best seems right to me.

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Emma @ BITE | Boredom Is The Enemy July 26, 2012 at 11:44 am

Neither of my parents were ever seriously overweight, but both of them yo-yoed and emphasized dieting/restricting over building a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle. The “healthy” food we ate was bland and not very filling or nutritious (iceberg lettuce, sugary yogurt, processed low-fat everything), and it was always either that OR pizza/Oreos/etc. It wasn’t until I started cooking (in college) that I realized there was so much more of a gray area, fell in love with food and flavor, and really began to understand what it means to eat well in the long run.

Snacking was also “sneaking food” in our house, which I find really damaging in retrospect. It interfered with listening to hunger signals, and it fetishized junk and kept us from enjoying (all!) food in its appropriate context. As one of four kids, there was a sense of having to stake your claim on a finite amount of food during mealtime, and then anything else was this secret, shameful thing. I’ve talked a lot with my siblings about food hoarding/binging tendencies, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I do pretty well these days, but I’ll still impulse buy things I’m not even hungry for just because I subconsciously feel like they’ll be gone when I want them later.

Such an interesting topic, and so crucial to understand in healing a relationship with food. Thank you for sharing, as always!

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Sarah July 26, 2012 at 11:48 am

My parents went through periods of being overweight. My mom was a recovered alcoholic most of my life. She would have periods of being thin and periods of being overweight. She was never person who cooked dinners and we never really ate dinner together as a family. When we did, it was meat and potatoes based. My father also went through periods of being overweight – he is a mindless eater to this day. He lost a bunch a weight when I was younger but that was because he was having an affair with a younger woman.

As an adult, I am finally trying vegetables that I have never had but just assumed I would hate (brussel sprouts on the menu tonight). After my parents divorced, my mom gained a lot of weight due to her depression and worsening health. She only lost it when she had end stage renal failure and it very hard to keep your weight up. After my mom’s heart attack, I was determined not to follow the same path as her and lost about 25 lbs. That didn’t last long and became a distant memory when she died three years ago. But last January, I really focused on my own health as I was coming out of the depression I had from her death. I have lost over 90 lbs and still working on it.

Their decisions as parents and what they taught me about food was very influential. It shaped my taste buds for sugary, salty, fatty foods. It has taken some time to reshape those and find pleasure in healthy food. But I have had a good influence on my father, he is now trying to eat better and has lost some weight.

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Jenni July 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

My food relationship formative years were interesting. My parents are perfectly balanced in every way. Where my Dad is the optimist and health oriented my mother is the realist and prefers butter with her butter. When I was in high school my father was diagnosed with cancer. He progressively got sicker and sicker as I progressed through my schooling. My mother gradually began losing herself too through depression and the rapid decline of her other half. Consequently, many more meals were eaten out and fewer prepared. During this time my mother and I would go on our “dates” where we would get dinner (drive throughs or otherwise) and cry together while talking about the future and how we would take care of eachother. My Dad has been gone for about 5 years and though I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my mother for anything in the world, I also wonder if I would be a different size, shape, or health level if my dad had been around to get me excited about running in the Bolder Boulder. I miss the confident secure person I know I would be with my Dad still here.

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Megan July 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm

My mom was never overweight, but she was always concerned with being thin. She was also a bit of a workaholic. This resulted in many McDonald’s dinners followed by weight criticisms by my mother. Because of that, I never had a healthy relationship with food. It was delicious or diet.. and nothing in between. I’m currently on a journey to be healthy and fit. I’m doing this so when I (one day) have children, they will be healthy and not have a complex when it comes to food.

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SnohoMomma July 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I can’t relate to having overweight parents. I am an overweight adult of healthy eating, healthy weight parents. Although they divorced when I was very young, both remarried healthy, thin people as well. I grew up in a home where we had water or milk with meals. No juice, no soda. My mom regularly cooked with whole wheat pasta, ground turkey, spices and LOTS of VEGETABLES. My dad’s biggest indulgement was steak and spaghetti at my grandma’s house on Sundays. My friends had Lunchables and Twinkies in their lunch bags. I had tofu & carrot sandwiches with an apple. I always felt deprived. When I moved out on my own, I felt free to buy whatever I wanted at the grocery store. And to eat fast food, which I RARELY had growing up.
My bad eating habits have continued. I am married to a man who is not overweight but does not have very good eating habits. And I now have 2 young children, the oldest will usually name a restaurant when you ask him what he wants for dinner. I know we ALL need to make some big changes. All this to say that your relationship with food can be bad even when your parents have been the very best models.

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Ruthie July 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm

For the cooks out there, when did you first learn to appreciate preparing nutrition meals for yourself or your family?

I grew up in a home with average to slightly overweight parents. They both worked full time and my mom was in graduate school. My brother and I were expected to cook one meal a week at fairly young ages, 12 & 10. I quickly learned that sometimes meals fail, but it’s not the end of the world. In spite of two incomes we lived on a shoestring budget, so we had a huge garden that supplied much of our produce for the year via freezing. The expectation was we had to try everything, so I became acquainted with parsnips, aspargus, eggplant, and a variety of squashes. I also learned how delicious anything is when it is in season.

At 23 and married, we found friends who loved to cook. Instead of going out for dinner, we would go to each other’s houses, cook together, drink cocktails, and laugh. My husband wasn’t a very adventurous eater. Knowing now that a good meal at their house was a dish called Green Sheghettio (one can each: Hormel chili, green beans, spaghettios), I can understand. With the peer pressure of friends, we all tried new things and experimented in the kitchen. I began to devour cookbooks and think about how things would taste better/different. I started having more confidence in my own substitutions.

Nearing 35, I have a 2 1/2 year old son and 7 month old daughter. My favorite thing to do with my son is make dinner. It’s our thing. To watch him soak in all of the preparations. That his snitching from the ingredients is our secret. How he so carefully measures and pours. The delight on his face of his accomplishment as the family sits down to eat.

I’d love to say I’m raising an adventurous eater, but the reality is he is still a toddler. Prefering mac & cheese to just about anything. Hopefully he grows up a passionate cook and lover of vegetables.

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DeeDee July 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I grew up with a mother who was always on a diet. She tried every crazy diet imaginable. It was just the way it was. She had her food and we had our food. This made me aware of my own weight as I got older and even now, I guess. I never really did the crazy diet thing, but I have done my own unhealthy things to keep my weight down. Those days are over and now I am trying to just enjoy what I eat but in moderation.

It seems there is always something in your posts that suprises me because the same thing happened in my life, my Mom took my sister and I to McDonalds when things were crazy at home. She wanted things to be better for us and this was her way of doing that.

Thanks for sharing!

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Karen July 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I grew up in a house with a dad, who was obsessed with being thin, and an overweight mom. I had a very poor body image from a very early age because of my perception of what was accepted. We ate very well at home, but my parents never talked about eating healthy. I am working on losing weight after having a baby over a year ago ( I’m a size 10). My husband has always been overweight, but he has lost 40 lbs this year from just watching how much he eats and not overdoing it. I am trying to teach my girls to make good choices about food and we have talks at the dinner table about why it’s not good to under or overindulge. We still eat sweets occasionally, but I do limit the processed food from coming into my house. We eat every dinner around the table and I cook low fat as much as possible, using the same philosophy you have of adding flavor, not fat.i hope my girls won’t experience the poor self image I have suffered from for so many years. I hope they will make good choices when they are on their own about what they eat. As parents we can only give our children the map and the tools, but they have to get there themselves eventually.

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Jessica July 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm

My extended family growing up had a huge influence on my eating habits, and this is a cycle I am still trying to break. Both sides of my family are stress eaters and emotional eaters, which is a problem when anxiety and depression also run in your family. Growing up with divorced parents, my mom wasn’t much of a cook so I could count on lots of junk/snack food as “meals.” in fact, to this day, I have a hard time making well-balanced meals. You mean I’m not done with the chicken? I need to have side dishes? Or, what do you mean mashed potatoes and green beans aren’t a full meal?? Then my father is an excellent cook, but with no concern for nutrition. In middle school, my sister and I were the envy of the cateria whenever we got a “Dad lunch.” Can of pop, Doritos, Oreos, etc. Sadly, even knowing what this unhealthy lifestyle is doing to my family, they still keep at it. My father has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes for a few years now, and still eats all the sugar, fried foods, and carbs he wants. Oh, but he switched to diet soda..*sigh* His sister passed away last summer at the age of 48. Health concerns due to her morbid obesity of 300lbs+ played a role in her untimely death. All of this serves as a terrifying wake up call to my sister and I as we struggle with obesity in our 20′s. We both know that the change has got to happen to save our lives, but that it’s a very deep rooted psychological change and not a surface level, “here, have a salad,” type of fix. Baby steps..

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Erica July 26, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Both of my parents are overweight, and I’ve never been skinny in my life, but my brother is. He’s always been the skinny one in our family. My earliest memory of food is having my mom tell me I needed to watch what I was eating because she thought I was too chubby, and this was before age 5. My mom has always been a yo-yo dieter. She’ll grab onto the newest fad and for the next week and a half to two weeks that was the focus…until she got a craving. I grew up watching my mom binge on potato chips, donuts and candy because it “settled her stomach.” My dad travels alot for his job, easily traveling 75% of the time, so he wasn’t around to make much of an influence other than one of indulging. On Sundays after church we would stop at the gas station, get a couple bags of chips, a candy bar and soda each then go home to watch whichever sporting event was on tv.

It has taken me a long time to develop a healthy relationship with food, and some of those behaviors were so deeply rooted that I’m still working on changing them. I’ve learned that I can make healthy, satisfying meals without needing to go on a crazy diet or kill myself at the gym. I’ve learned how to have a treat without making it more than it is, and without beating myself up. It takes time, but I’m hopeful that I can be a positive influence for my parents, even if it is only one meal a week.

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Christina July 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Only going through therapy, did I finally start to make connections with my relationship with food and my past. We never really had true meal times. We never sat down as a family and ate together and when it did happen, everyone would just leave as they were finished. My mom struggled as an immigrant to make things that were “American”. She gave me canned chow mein, hot dogs, bologna, Ruffles, Twinkies. All these horrible processed foods, while she continued to eat a much healthier and balanced asian diet.

I don’t blame her for that, I probably would have wanted those processed foods b/c that is what my friends were eating. My mom stayed thin, while I started packing on the pounds. Same with my stepdad. I started to use food as comfort for various reasons and they never could understand. One bad circumstance led to another until after 39 years of being overweight, I’ve finally found a healthy balance.

Whether your parents are overweight or underweight or just the right weight, their relationship with food can really affect the lives of their children. Is food used as a reward, as comfort, as punishment. It’s all so complex. There are days that I just wish food could have just been something that was nourishment and a occasion to be together. Never a reward, never a way to comfort or numb. The hardest part is relearning and re-establishing our relationship with food.

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Amy July 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I was a chubby child, teenager, and young adult. During those younger years it was just mainly puppy fat, but as I grew older it became weight of a different kind, the weight you put on when you are depressed and eating to stuff down the emotions. My parents never commented. They defended me when I was a chubby teen and other relatives felt the need to comment, they defend me now when I am a healthy weight. There has never been a real focus on ‘dieting’ in my household, until I decided to lose weight (I am actually, ironically, a dietitian who works in weight loss research – go figure). My first attempts, despite my education, were sloppy and frantic and brought on mainly by fear and frustration with my body image. The weight just came back on. The second, and lasting, attempt came when I healed myself from the inside out. I made the changes in my life that were necessary to have a healthier relationship with myself, which then enabled me to love myself enough to check what I was putting in my mouth. It got a bit intense for a few years, and yes there have been times that I have taken myself too close to the edge, monitored myself a little too closely, restricted, and binged and not been kind to myself. Through it all I have had the support of my family. They keep me in check when I start to get a little out of control and restrict myself. They remind me to relax and have fun around my food. To take a deep breath, sit back at the table, and to have another peanut m&m.
My parents aren’t the skinniest people, they aren’t the fattest either. We didn’t have that many adventurous meals growing up; standard Aussie fare, meat and three veg, were the norm, or sometimes a homely Danish meal reminiscent of my Mum’s childhood – love was always heaped on the plate too. We also didn’t have a lot of money so takeaway was a rare treat. At the time it didn’t really phase me, and now I count it as a blessing that I grew up with so much home-cooked food. Now our diets are a little different, I am a vegetarian with wheat intolerance so I make all my own food, but my parents are always willing to try whatever I make and Dad loves his tacos with beans now.

I guess in the end, through fat and thin, through empty coin purses and more comfortable lives, at the end of the day it is the love that I feel when I sit at the kitchen table that is the most important nourishment my parents have given me. No recommended serving size necessary.

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Katie P August 2, 2012 at 8:07 am

What a beautiful sentiment “at the end of the day it is the love that I feel when I sit at the kitchen table that is the most important nourishment my parents have given me. No recommended serving size necessary.”
Your story is so very inspiring to me. I to have been chubby and later obese my whole young life. As an adult I have lost the weight through diet and exercise. Over the past 9 months the pounds are creeping back on though an I realize I need to fixing this form the inside out. I am eating to fill up something that is missing and to hide from emotions I don’t feel equip to handle.
Were that any tools you found helpful on dealing with the things so that you could take care of yourself inside and out?

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Anna July 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I lost all sense of portion control. I only knew I was full if I was bursting at the seams.

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Jessica July 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm

What was it like to grow up with an overweight parent?

The same as growing up with one at a “healthy” weight.

I wish for more discussion around the terms “overweight” and “healthy”, and how socially constructed both of these terms are.

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Jennifer July 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I wasn’t raised by overweight parents, but I spent a lot of time with one of my grandmother’s who was morbidly obese. I learned to binge eat from her. No food was off limits. She always seemed to be on a diet but would make or buy my sister whatever we asked for. French toast slathered in butter and dripping with syrup was topped off with a generous sprinkling of sugar. A loaf of french bread and stick of salami was polished off before we even got it home. Despite all this, I did not struggle with my weight as a child because the majority of the time my mother restricted my eating and by restricted, I mean she did not allow us to eat junk. We were well fed and nourished with three square meals a day and dinner always included a vegetable and salad. Sugary cereals, soda and ice cream were a rare treat.

Once I was out on my own, though, I went nuts. The binge eating trumped any kind of healthy habits my own parents tried to instill. I try not to blame my grandmother for my weight problem (I am 5’4 and 210) because she’s not here shoveling junk food into my mouth. No one is forcing me to eat but it is hard not to blame her – that’s where I learned the behavior from. Right now I am trying to not binge and to stay away from anything sugary or processed but it’s hard. It’s a constant struggle. I am having to completely overhaul all of my eating habits. My grandmother had seven heart attacks before she eventually died after open heart surgery. I thought once I’d lost her, that would be the wake up call I needed to show me that is the path I am on but I weigh 15 pounds more than I did then.

I was discussing this with a co-worker recently and she told me that I needed to take responsibility for being overweight and I do. I tried to explain to her though, just like the child of an alcoholic who becomes and alcoholic themselves – this is what I know. This is how I was shown to eat. I don’t know why I chose the binge style of eating over what my mother was trying to teach me. It’s a mystery to me and I don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out.

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Kelly July 26, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Those of you who were raised by an overweight parent, how do you think it affected your relationship with food as a child as well today?

How DIDN’T it affect my relationship with food? I was the “good” child out of my brother and I. When he was having his tantrums, I could be sat down with oreos, or bologna, or a hot dog, and “kept busy” while he was chased after. When my parents separated and subsequently divorced, my weight climbed with my mother’s.
I struggled to lose weight, as my mother did. But money was scarce, and we loved fast food and pasta. I remember eating cold pasta directly out of the fridge, and so quickly that it gave me hiccups, well into my late adolescent years.

My mom lost over 100 pounds 15+ years ago, and I began to loathe myself for not losing the 50 that I needed to lose. I didn’t understand why she got to be skinny, and I didn’t.

Food kept me company when I was lonely and felt abandoned through my parents’ divorce. I find now, that even as an adult, the emotion I most often “feed” is loneliness. I still love oreos.

Do you think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent?
I think that you can be a good parent as an overweight parent, if you place an emphasis on feeding your kids and paying some mind to the type of nutrition they have. That said, I hope that if I get to have children, I will not be an overweight parent.

For the cooks out there, when did you first learn to appreciate preparing nutrition meals for yourself or your family?
I started cooking nutritiously when I ran the Marathon in 08. That was also when I was at my lowest weight. Since then, I use less and less processed food, but still struggle. But I’m hoping to hit goal this January, as I turn 30! (44 lbs to go!)

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Alice July 27, 2012 at 2:33 am

You know, neither of my parents were overweight when I was a child. They were both average sized toslim. My mum was soft enough to be cosy, my dad athletic enough to be strong. Bodies were not a talking point in my house as a child. I once told my mum how much I loved her red and shiny nose and was shocked to find how much she loathed it. That was the first time I became body aware.

From around age 9, through what we call junior school, I thought of myself as fat. The girls at my school all compared their weights one day. They all weighed less than me, by about 14 pounds. I was horrified and from that point thought of myself as fat. I look back at pictures and I was so thin, thinner than many others. Who knows why I was heavier? But I never knew that you could do anything about being fat, so I just lived with the ‘knowledge’.

What really flipped the switch for me was when, around the age of 12, with my brother aged 10, we started getting hungrier, eating more, and my dad would tell us to stop eating. “Stop eating” as we reached for bread and butter 2 hours after dinner. “Stop eating” every time he saw us with food outside of meal times. “Exercise!” was his constant refrain. We were not fat. We were growing. But eating became something bad, something shameful, hunger something to fear. I felt like there was something wrong with me. I am 25, I still carry this with me. He still says these things to me. I was anorexic, I was bulimic, still have these tendencies, he still says these things to me. Sometimes I wonder if his words were and are abusive. They have certainly had a negative influence on my confidence, self-esteem, relationship with my body and food.

I think that many of our parents did not and do not consider how their relationships to their own and our own bodies and with food impact on their children. How fragile kids are, and how much we pick up and infer from their actions and words. I hope to bring my kids up to have a better relationship with food and their bodies than I do, but I know first I have to mend myself.

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johnny July 27, 2012 at 3:20 am

When I was growing up I remember great meals that came mostly from our garden. We ate meats and veg’s that we grew and worked hard for. There were no weight problems then. But now that food doesn’t have to be worked so hard for the pounds just stack on.

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ciely July 27, 2012 at 8:36 am

Same here, lots of garden veggies w/meat as a condiment.
Lots of casual movement with sports. Now semi lethargic, excercising by ritual not pleasure and wired to insist food have entertainment value.

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Grace July 27, 2012 at 4:10 am

ugh- My mom was fat when I was growing up. She was fat when she was growing up, too, and apparently her father was none too kind about it. So she had a firm belief that the world was no place for a fat, black girl, and tried constantly to help her plump child slim down. It didn’t help that my stepfather was a competitive runner and could eat anything and everything.

My house was a minefield of fad diets, diet food, snacks for my stepdad, and ’90s career mom processed foods. Now, both of us cook with vegetables and no butter, but then we were a hamburger helper, country crock, sugar cereal house. I remember my first diets (in elementary school), and my first binge (also in elementary school). Food was the great communicator in our house and extended family, so any weightloss was temporary at best. It’s still hard not to get pulled into my mom’s world of yo-yo dieting. Visits are a challenge for me to remain healthful in the face of her skipping breakfast, being wise about lunch, but wanting everything at dinner (with a resolution to not eat the next day).

College gave me my first sense of healthy eating and options. When I was in high school, my mom started branching out with her cooking – shake n bake was out, roasted pork chops was in. So that started me, and then college gave me the freedom to eat healthy. My weight is still a battle for me, as my reprogramming has taken a while.

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Beth July 27, 2012 at 4:37 am

Both of my parents were overweight growing up. My mom did diets constantly and my dad would throw a fit whenever she would try to sneak in low fat options.
Though my mom was conscious of being overweight, we still always had junk food in our house. It has been a struggle as an adult to force myself to steer away from processed and make things on my own.
Reading your blog and others has helped me appreciate the notion of “whole foods” even more.
I try to incorporate as many as possible in my own cooking and really try to limit buying items processed. This past year I have been trying really hard to finally get the excess weight off, but having no idea of portion control as a child, I yo-yo constantly. I’ve finally lost and maintained 10 lbs off, but am struggling to lose the next 10.

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The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh July 27, 2012 at 4:58 am

My mom was thin until she had me her senior year in high school. From that point on, she got heavier and they divorced when I was in 4th grade. I overheard her on the phone when she didn’t think I was around telling my aunt he said her weight was a big reason. She lost 50 lbs after the divorce but not in a healthy way. Eating just yogurt for meals or gross diet food. I can eat yogurt to this day because the smell of it turns my stomach. I think it’s hard to expect if you have a parent with a weight problem that you’re not a lot more likely to have a kid with a weight problem. Since she was just a kid herself when she had me, I don’t know that she ever really learned everything she needed to go out into the world. Then with the divorce it was working her butt off so my meals consisted of easy to fix microwave meals like pizza rolls and micro-fries.

I think being a healthy weight is part of being a *better* parent. I get it, conquering weight problems is hard but it’s a fact that kids mimic what they see. On the flip side, I have a friend who I think has an obsession to not gain her weight back so she exercises incessantly and I think that’s just as damaging for her little girl to see that as well. You need to strike a balance and lead by example.

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Megan July 27, 2012 at 5:05 am

I was raised with both of my parents being overweight. When I was younger I was always forced to finish every last bite of my food. We would all sit down to eat, but some days it was almost like torture knowing I would be forced to eat everything. (I feel bad to this day leaving things on my plate if I end up full.) Then my parents got divorced and we were always ordering out, never sat together as a family, so I have a skewed odd relationship with family dinners. Currently, I live with my boyfriend and his family and they always sit down for a home cooked meal and talk, it is odd for me never having that growing up. I also realized when shopping with my mom in my teenager years, when I was at a healthier weight, I never got any clothing less than a large, it was always are you sure you can fit into a medium, you should try a size large. At the time I didn’t think of it, but as I got older it was an odd thing to look back to.

When it comes to being a healthy weight to be a good parent, I think you should have healthy habits. However not all healthy habits make you the weight you are supposed to be. I think if as a parent you are overweight you should have confidence and be happy, confidence is key.

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becky July 27, 2012 at 5:49 am

having overweight parents and family that revolves everything around “what are we going to eat” definately effected me. this effect however has both positives and negatives. i felt loved in this jovial family but i picked on a coping mechanism that helped me reach 330lbs in jan of 2010. i realized that this just wasnt working and i didnt want to pass this on to my young daughter who was about 18months old at the time. thats when i made my decision to change my life, my coping mechanism, my lineage. im now down 70lbs not much but these last 2.5 yrs have been such a learning process and awakening. im dying to share it with my family and change their lives too….much resistance there.

to answer about the good parent…i dont think it makes you a bad parent but i think you are not living up to the potenial of being the best parent you can be. your child deserve a healthy role model, activity partner, and a parent that they get to have around for many many years.

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Carin July 27, 2012 at 6:06 am

As I grew up so did my parents waist lines. My mother was put on medications she says made her fat and she lost her mother when I was 9. My dad was always active al like a bear he’d gain weight in the winter and take it off in the summer through daily hikes. My mother was always too heavy to join in most of the hikes although she tried. My mother loves to cook…and for the most part what she cooks isn’t bad for you. My father is the baker. Growing up he was the donut man. He’d have to leave very early in the am to make the donuts. And afterwards he’d come home with 1 or 2 dozen donuts and we’d eat 2 or so each a night. Now I hate donuts lol. But because of him I love to bake but am able to make heathly versions. I have def body issues and fears of being fat…not that I’m uber skinny now. After 2 babies I’m def in the need to lose a few category. I have 2 beautiful little girls and make it a point to show them that I eat healthy and I exercise to stay strong. I never talk of weightloss or gain. It is very important to me that they have healthy body image and a good sense of heathy eating as well as whats a treat and not to over induldge.

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Janine July 27, 2012 at 6:14 am

My mom has always struggled with her weight, and my dad has never particularly watched what he’s eaten so…my relationship with food is that of an overindulgence. I’m still struggling to find my healthy balance.

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Kristine July 27, 2012 at 6:32 am

Both of my parents were thin as I was growing up, my mother especially. My grandparents, who helped raise my sister and I, were overweight. As were many of the female members of my mom’s family. Growing up with my mother was a lesson in poor eating habits. She was a young parent and a picky eater, so if she didn’t like it (as was the case with most vegetables) she simply didn’t ever have it in the house. We weren’t constantly snacking on junk food or only drinking soda…it was more an issue of balance. Vegetables and other more nutritious foods weren’t part of our diet. The difference was that unlike our mom, my sister and I didn’t have a metabolism that could ‘eat anything’ and we were overweight from a fairly early age. At about age 10 I started turning to food to handle the stress in my life. Unfortunately this is something I’ve continued to struggle with. In my grandparent’s house food was always in excess. And since my grandparents and aunt were overweight as well it seemed ‘normal.’ It wasn’t until college that I had a healthier understanding of my relationship with food, and understood just how unhealthy that relationship was. It is something that now, at age 25, I am constantly aware of and struggle with. Reading your blog has been incredible and more helpful than I could ever hope to express. Thank you for sharing your stories with the world.

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Julia @ cookandburn.com July 27, 2012 at 6:41 am

My parents weren’t overweight while I was growing up (my dad is now) but my dad is what I call an “extremist” and my mom would go along with whatever thing my dad was into at that time, such as dabbling in vegetarianism or grapefruit diet, etc. So, we would eat along with my dad.

My mother is Korean and she is one awesome cook. She can make anything that she sees and make it taste better than the original. If you were to ask my mom if something might be a bit “heavy” or too “rich”, she would just look at like you like you were stupid. That’s how you’re supposed to make it, silly! Anyway, I have spent the last 4 years reinventing recipes to make them healthier and budget-friendly. One thing that I truly appreciate about my mom, now, is how she cooked every day for a husband and 4 kids. I now do the same and it’s no easy feat.

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Karen July 27, 2012 at 7:25 am

My parents were divorced when I was young but when we visited my Dad he always had two heaping plates full of food. It was always homemade and “healthy” but the quantity was A LOT. Grandma always said that we could take as much as we wanted as long as we cleaned our plates. So there was no portion control.
When I got into Junior High I started playing sports, but nutrition was the last thing on my mind. It was not a topic in the household at all. And that didn’t change in highschool either, though I was swimming and playing waterpolo, so not really too big a worry then. We ate what we wanted to eat, mom would restrict us on cookies and snacks due to a combination of health and the price of snacks but never talked to us about nutrition or healthy eating. I started cooking healthier and finally looking into nutrion after I moved back home in my 4th year of college. I was without a scale for a year and was eating like I did in highscool (minus the sports). not a good thing. Came home and was like OMG!! I weigh how much????? That kick started my trying to diet and get back in shape for the past 6 years. (not too lucky to reach my goal yet, maybe this year??) Today i am still of the mind set of: I can eat what I want, how much I want as long as I work out daily. Not the best of plans but it works somedays. I am in love with food of all kinds. Love cooking and always looking for new things to try, no matter how unhealthy the recipe is.

I don’t think being healthy or a healthy weight directly corralates to how one parents but it can effect it. If one is overweight and not happy about it, that will show in how they act with their children. less active play, sad, etc.

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Colette July 27, 2012 at 8:09 am

My mom was overweight as long as I can remember, but always encouraged (and bribed) me to maintain a healthy weight. We even did weight watchers together when I was in college (I was successful, she was not). She had A LOT of health problems and all of her doctors told her losing weight would help them all, but she just couldn’t get the weight off. She wound up dying at age 56 and I’m pretty sure the extra lbs took a few years off of her life. I think she knew that too and that’s why she was always so concerned about my weight. I can see that now in hindsight. I’ve never been “overweight” but I’ve always had to try really hard to stay that way and the older I get the more I see the lbs creeping on. It’s scary for me because my mom was SKINNY when she was my age. She didn’t gain the weight until after she had children and then could never lose it. I am concerned because if it’s so hard for me to keep the weight off now, how the heck am I going to do it after kids? Will I wind up overweight, with lots of health problems and die at a young age like my mom? I worry about this all the time. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking maybe I need therapy about these issues. lol.

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Amelia July 27, 2012 at 8:14 am

I spent the majority of my childhood with a single mom. My dad, too, was an alcoholic. (I swear you and I live paralell lives!) Because mom was always working odd hours, dinner usually came from a box or a can. Whatever was quick and conveinent (i.e. processed) was the meal. We were kids and thought mac and cheese was awesome anyway.

Until my mom found my (very Greek) step dad, I had never had olive oil or feta cheese! I was 15! I had my first avocado at 21, because a roommate force fed me guacamole.

Anyway, I feel like once I moved out; I learned to cook and I learned to appreciate foods/nutrition. I don’t blame my mom for feeding us what she did. She was ignorant about certain things and overwhelmed by others. Now, I love that I can go to their house and whip up a simple fresh meal and they’re blown away!

Sometimes parents influence in ways we wish NOT to be and that’s okay!

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Diana July 27, 2012 at 8:29 am

My mother was slightly plump in high school and then gained thereafter-meaning that by the time I arrived she was overweight. And the diets-I think she tried them all-despite nutrisystem inflicting serious systemic damage leading to a heart mumur. She’s still at it-and now she looks great having lost 60lbs or so in the last 2years-but not sure it will stick since she did it by restricting to 500calories per day.

I have always been the chubby kid and I have a terrible body image, but rejecting all the dieting trends as I hit my late 20′s is helping to rebuild my relationship with real food in normal portions. Only eating foods my great grandmother would recognize for a month kicked off this new phase well but I still struggle with food (boredom eating) and excercise (the bad knees from years of being overweight are hard to overcome). Thanks for this inspiring reminder for self-reflection.

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Emily @ I'd Rather Walk July 27, 2012 at 9:47 am

I think it should be less about parents enstilling the need of a healthy WEIGHT, and more about them emphasizing the importance of healthy food/living for energy, strength, a robust immune system, and the overall treatment of your body. After all, we should be giving it the delicious and clean fuel that it deserves.

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Katie July 27, 2012 at 9:49 am

Both of my parents have struggled with their weight in the adult years, particularly my dad. While my mom is overweight, she at least has a love for fresh and in season foods–doesn’t mean she always cooks/prepares that, but she does love them.

My dad, on the other hand, nearly always eats pre-packaged foods, which to me isnt’ really food at all. Everything comes in plastic, a box, or a carton. My entire life he’s dieted using the fad diet of the moment from juicing to Atkins to meal replacement shakes to paleo diets. He used to try exercising periodically, but doesn’t favor even *trying* that anymore. In fact, he’s eaten himself to adult onset diabetes, and even that has not opened his eyes. In his mind there’s always some quick fix, some magic pill, some type of magic procedure or surgery that can fix his weight problem. Now, as an adult, I wonder why he doesn’t view the problem from the inside out? What is going on not only in his body, but also his mind and heart that leads him to have such an unhealthy relationship with food?

I am an only child. We rarely had family meals together. Most of my meals were eaten on a TV tray in front of a TV. From an early age I was a very picky eater, and my parents didn’t fight me on it. Food was never fun or exciting. We never tried new things (probably mostly because I was so finicky about what I’d eat). As early as 2nd or 3rd grade I can remember my dad urging me not to end up overweight like him. In high school I *felt* overweight, but I wasn’t. I definitely gained the freshman 15 in college and kept it on until just before I graduated. Since then my weight has yo-yoed between a healthy weight to about 20-25 pounds overweight. Thankfully, I’ve learned to love and appreciate real and wholesome food. In mine and my fiance’s kitchen, we keep whole, real food in the refrigerator and cook together often.

That doesn’t mean I don’t indulge, because I definitely do! Ice cream, salty chips, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate…I do have a hard time showing restraint, but I am thankful I’m creating a better relationship with food. I want to develop good habits now so that I can pass those to my future children. I want their relationship with food to be fun and adventurous. I don’t want them to fear food or fear what food can do with them like I did when I was younger! That is my goal for my and my family’s food future.

As for my parents, and mainly my dad, I hope they can begin to discover a new way to approach their relationship with food. They are my parents and I love them to pieces…and I want them to be around for a long, long time! Finding a balance of saying too much or saying the wrong thing or saying nothing at all to them is difficult, but I;m focusing on being supportive and just LOVING them in the meantime.

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Tonya July 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

I come from a long line of morbidly obese people. Food was love, it was rejection, it was punishment. In short, food was everything. I was overfed from a young age and never developed the ability to judge the difference between wanting and needing to eat. Even at a healthy weight now, I struggle with my relationship with food. I get great satisfaction over preparing meals for others, watching them enjoy those meals — even more joy than from when I eat them myself. It’s a daily struggle to not overfeed those I love in a selfish effort for my own emotional satisfaction.
My husband grew up in a different environment. His parents were always on diets. He as chastised for overindulging during times of restriction but encouraged to splurge at other times.
We both believe being at a healthy weight is critical to being good parents. We owe it to our daughter to be here as long as possible, and that means taking care of the bodies we have. Modeling good eating behaviors is more important to me than my husband but we work hard to be a team. In our house, food is not a battle ground. Our daughter is a toddler so we still have a lot of control over what she eats. We refuse to battle over food. We eat together as a family and she is served everything we have. We don’t force her to clean her plate or eat anything specific. We don’t eat much fast food, none of us drinks calories, and we don’t use food as rewards. We aren’t perfect but we’re doing the best we can.
I’ve always enjoyed preparing meals and I love to experiment in the kitchen. But as my daughter gains more interest in what I’m doing, I find cooking is even more fun. I love knowing that my family is eating nutritious meals that we prepare together.

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Karin July 27, 2012 at 11:41 am

My mother was always dieting. She was a size 16 when she got married (which would probably be about a 20 now), smoked constantly, and then became an alcoholic. My father was a big guy, who at 6’2″ could carry quite a bit, but his weight fluctuated by about 50 pounds for most of my life.

I was required to eat everything on my plate (or sit at the table until I did) so I lost the ‘full’ signals fairly early on. Then food became comforting as my mother’s alcoholism took over, and my father was usually at work or out of town. I remember going with friends to the grocery store in junior high and buying chips and cheese and cookies and candy, then going home and we would eat every last bit of it. Sneaking potato chips from the can, and pieces of my mom’s giant hershey bars from the cabinet. Being told it was a good thing I had a nice complexion, because I was always going to be the fat one. (My sister, almost 8 years younger than me, apparently wore my parents down, and was not required to eat when they wanted her to. To this day, she is slender.)

I have gone from bulimia and 112 pounds to binging and 178, and everywhere in between. I use food to stuff down my emotions, to self-sooth, to do all sorts of things it’s not supposed to do. My husband of 25 years is 6’2″ and weighs 145 dripping wet, like his entire family. Fortunately, more of his genes than mine made it into our kids, and my son has his build, and my daughter is just perfectly normal weight. I’ve worked very very hard over the years to make sure they know that you eat when you are hungry, you stop when you’re not, and that snacks are fine, but not a substitute for love or anything else. It appears to have worked, thank heavens.

My mother died 24 years ago, my father died last year. I am trying to truly change my relationship with food and exercise, and making LIFE changes rather than diets or short-term fixes. Hopefully this time I can really fix my mindset, because I know nothing else will work. I just found your blog the other day, and am in awe of the work you have done and the sense that you have – at 52 I’m just finally facing these realities.

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Lori July 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I had a “fat dad” and a “skinny mom”. They each affected my relationship with food in their own way. I don’t truly believe it had so much to do with their weight as it did with their attitudes toward food, or how they chose to educate (or not educate, as it were) my sister and I on making healthy choices as children. I did watch my dad struggle with dieting all of his life and I was on the receiving end of many a “well meaning”, but not quite kind, comments from my mom about what I should/should not be doing to lose weight. (I have been large from birth, something my mom had never dealt with)

I struggle with this question: “Do you think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent?”….My answer is yes, and no. No – because it makes me cringe to say someone isn’t a good parent if they aren’t a healthy weight, I don’t think that’s true at all. My dad was fat – but that didn’t mean he didn’t care about his children. Also, as a new mom, I am not a healthy weight (something I have struggled with my entire life), but I love my son more than words can express and don’t believe being overweight makes me a bad parent. However, I answer “yes” to that question because being a healthy weight gives you a much better chance of being there for your child for a much longer period of time. (I lost my dad in 2007 to colon cancer, likely due to his unhealthy lifestyle. I don’t want the same for me, or my son). I do believe that having a healthy ATTITUDE about weight, and trying to obtain/maintain a HEALTHY weight in a HEALTHY way is MUCH more important to being a parent then the number on the scale.

It’s amazing what we carry with us from our childhood, and having parents that had healthy attitudes about getting fit would have had a much stronger positive impact on me than what they weighed.

As for how I plan to make things different for my son (not quite 4 months old)? I am going to make his first foods so we can avoid the added sugars (and who knows what else) in the hopes that I am building a better foundation for him to thrive. I also think daily about what I can do to improve my own health and relationship with food so that when he is old enough to see patterns, that I am a good example for him, and not just someone telling him what he can and can’t eat (especially if I don’t have control over it myself).

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Alisa July 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm

My dad was always fairly thin, but my Mom was always on or off a diet (and I mean way on or way off, though I don’t think the number on the scale ever changed that drasticallly). She categorized food as “good” or “bad.” I was quite thin (she was usually concerned about my eating at all, not that I was getting too much), so she never criticized me. But I realized that once I went to college and and eventually moved out on my own, I had to reshape a healthy, adult relationship with food. I didn’t want to follow in my Mom’s diet footsteps. And I hope that if I ever have a kid, I would pass on a message of health, not dieting.

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Jeniece July 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

My mom struggled with bulimia, anorexia, drug use, etc throughout college. When I came along she was morbidly obese from messing with her metabolism and using food to replace other substances. I was a kid with health issues and numerous dr’s appointments a week meant burger King dinners on those days (big no-no). I started turning a critcal eye to myself after my mom lost 200 lbs (she’s gain back most it in the last 10 years). As a fat kid I felt left behind and bad about myself and started binging AND over exercising trying to cope with what I felt like was a lose of unity with my mom. My biggest trigger now is feeling lonely. I have a feeling that was the trick for my mom too.

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Eileen July 27, 2012 at 7:17 pm

My mom was overweight as long as I knew her – we called it “heavy” back then. But I was the youngest child out of 8, and the older sibs knew her at a more normal weight. She was an athlete as a child and teen (swimming, softball, field hockey), as was my dad (baseball, boxing, track). They grew up in the 20′s and 30′s – they’ve been gone for over 10 years now, having lived into their 80′s. We grew up on a dairy farm, and always had a huge garden. My mother canned and froze everything she could and we ate well all winter long. So I also grew up with an appreciation for fresh food, local food (how much more local can it get, with milk and beef from our own cows, as well as pork and chicken, and produce from our garden). Having said that, however, we were also big consumers of cheese and bread and pasta and pepperoni and salami and olives (my dad was Italian) and my mom was an excellent baker so we always had sweet treats and ice cream, etc. in the house. We simply loved food and most of my happy memories of family ritual and social occasions were centered on an array of great tasting, homemade foods. I recall my mom’s venture into Weight Watchers a few times where she measured and weighed everything for long enough to get back down to a size 14 or 16 – but she seemed to always settle around size 20 or 22. She was a modest dresser and never looked as big as that…she was very skilled at concealing her weight by being careful about how she dressed. But I definitely was influenced by her struggle with weight and her relationship with food. We never discussed it but I think it was a comfort mechanism for her. She was a teetotaler, having grown up with a dad who drank. There are many layers of family and other issues that no doubt contributed to her food relationship, too many to go into here. But I watched what I ate and was keenly aware of calories and often fasted during my high school years – this was the 70′s and we were all striving to fit into our “Calvin Kleins.” (Those of you over age 45 will relate!) In college, I would eat the requisite mac and cheese, but I would be sure to steam a bunch of broccoli and throw it in with the macaroni to ensure it was a more balanced meal. I would treat myself to cookies and ice cream, but always limited my portions and then tried to make up for it by just eating a salad the next day and running a couple of miles. Is that normal? I don’t know. But I don’t eat a thing without thinking about its caloric content and nutrition values. I’ve developed what I think is a healthy “everything in moderation” approach, and I’ve been lucky to maintain a healthy weight for my adult life. I’m at my heaviest now (145) and bemoan a mid-section that has settled into some modest muffin tops and a protruding belly if I don’t hold it in. I stay active though, as my biggest concern is to be able to keep walking, running, and hiking so that I am not suffering with arthritis and severely limiting my activity as my mom did the entire time I knew her. I consider myself a bit of a foodie, but not an obnoxious food snob. I love all kinds of different foods, new flavor combinations, ethnic restaurants, etc. My husband and I have exposed our sons to a wide variety of foods from an early age, and they’re pretty adventurous eaters…although my oldest son will go for the mac and cheese on the buffet every time! My hope is that they enjoy food, not just for the flavor, but for its ability to bring people together around a table, for socializing and sharing news, swapping stories, discussing important issues.

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Lucy July 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I have, in a way, blamed my parents for my eating issues. They’ve never been obese, and neither have I, but we’ve all been overweight. In my early years I grew up eating mostly healthy food–brown rice, vegetables, fish, etc,punctuated by the occasional ice cream sundae– but then later on when my younger brother refused to eat anything, they switched to more “kid-friendly” fare–eggo waffles, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, velveeta and chips, etc. At that point, I put on weight, and it’s been an up and down struggle ever since. They never helped me try to eat healthier or tried to change our family’s habits, and as a teenager, I stumbled through counting fat grams and calories on my own.

I’ve been realizing lately, though, that I can’t blame them anymore. I am an adult now. I make my own food choices. I know what’s healthy and what isn’t. I have full control over what and how much I eat. This realization that my food habits and patterns aren’t completely set from childhood is liberating, and I’ve enjoyed making healthy choices for myself.

I hope that one day, my future kids will grow up healthy and food-hang-up free.

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Rachael July 28, 2012 at 7:50 am

My grandmother was very obese, so my mother got into running, then jazzercise, workout videos, etc. as well as healthy balanced eating in the 80s. I’m glad she did, she was a great role model in that way. She has always had a tendency to judge obese women quite harshly though, despite my arguments that metabolism is partly a gift, not one that everyone gets the best of the genetic lottery. I think in some ways that judgement of weight led to my brief bout of anorexia for a couple years. Your approach to food and exercise and activity reminds me of hers. It was also the mindset that helped me abandon anorexia in favor of being more active and learning to love food so much that I professionally cooked to pay for college!
It must be difficult to parse your words as a parent, and I admire the women here who commit to raising their daughters to pay attention to their strengths and not critique their “flaws”. I hope I can do the same for a daughter some day, and help them understand that “flaws” are really just differences between humans, like the flavors of different cuisines. If we all looked alike, such a bland world it would be.

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Katie July 28, 2012 at 8:21 am

Neither of my parents have ever been overweight, so that wasn’t really an issue for me growing up. But my dad grew up in a home where food was a huge part of every day life. You didn’t leave the house without eating a big breakfast. You never missed a meal. And so my dad taught us the same thing. In addition to that, I learned that food was a reward. If I did well in a tennis tournament, my dad would take me out for a nice dinner and ice cream. If I behaved badly, that night I wouldn’t get dessert, etc. Unfortunately, food became more to me than something delicious that fuels my body. And this mindset led to weight gain and an inability to lose it easily.

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Amanda July 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm

My mama was never overweight. She used to tell me she was “hefty” as a teenager, but “hefty” to her was weighing 140 lbs at 5’3″.
I know. Ain’t that cute?
She was always a trim lady when I knew her…a trim lady with high hair. Ha! She used to cook for me and the younger of my two brothers (the only two left in the house by the time I was a kid) every single day. She was the cook and the healer of the family – like all good mamas. When she cooked for me, I was never overweight. The problem came when I hit my teens. When I was 13, I was already well into puberty. We moved to a new neighborhood, going from the country to the city, and mama had less time to cook. So I’d cook…and oddly enough, I gained weight. Lots and lots of weight…probably because I was cooking comfort food..and only comfort food. Food was my comfort given that we were in a bad neighborhood full of awful people, I was almost always alone, and my alcoholic dad had decided to become permanently non-existant to avoid child support payments.
I guess he did me a favor. Things would have been worse had he been around.
Now that I’m grown up, I still struggle with weight, especially during emotionally challengeing times. When my mother died 2.5 years ago, I gained almost 100lbs…pounds that I’m, thankfully, starting to lose to get back to my appropriate weight.
Now, I’m the cook for me and my brother. We live in the house our mother willed to us. We just found out a few months ago that my brother has had Type 1 diabetes for most of his life and it’s just gone undiagnosed until now. Now, I have to be the responsible cook for him and myself. I have to feed him so he can survive and thrive and I have to feed myself so I can whittle away the extra ‘me’. I’m always afraid I’ll hit a emotional speedbump and gain it all back. I’m always afraid I’ll forget that food, while wonderful, is fuel, and that it should be the right fuel. I hit moments when I stop and can’t figure how to pick up the ‘weightloss’ eating again. I have all kinds of moments. The point is, now that I’m the cook, I’m also the healer. Just like my mama, I heal with an apple as snack and by throwing away a bag of frozen french fries that have been squirreled away by a certain person in the back of the freezer. I heal by finding healthier ways to make things I like, but don’t eat because I know they’re nutritionally void and calorically decadent. I heal by making his and my favorite comfort foods just often enough to remember mama…because they’re her recipes and eating them is rememebering her a little better.
I hope that, with time, I will get used to being the cook and the healer. I hope I live up to my mother’s standards and expectations. Until then, I’ll just sit back and enjoy the journey.

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Liz July 29, 2012 at 8:17 am

I grew up with overweight parents, and like a lot of people, we dealt with issues through food. There was always food in our house, and my sister and I were left to our own devices a lot as kids. I remember being bored, a lot, and making truly terrible foods like ‘powdered sugar burritos’ and just eating piece after piece of white sandwich bread. Mealtimes were the only times that entire family was usually around, and we didn’t stop at one helping. There was never a thought to eating a second, or third or even 4th. My dad was big into ice cream, so I totally thought it was normal to eat half a gallon of ice cream in a sitting. I don’t think my parents didn’t love my sister or me because i know that they did. I loved the special dinners my dad would cook, or the times when we’d sit around the table and share our day. Those are some of my fondest memories. But, I knew nothing of nutrition, and when my parents would diet, I would get seriously confused. I know now what is healthy and what isn’t. I’ve trained MYSELF. But, back then? I’d rather eat a half a brick of cheese than eat an apple. It’s interesting what you take on as characteristics of a family. I wish I hadn’t grown up overweight, but I don’t ever wish I didn’t have the parents I had. I just wish I’d known better at an earlier age.

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blossomteacher July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm

This is me…I grew up with an over-weight mom, and I myself have gone from over-weight to morbidly obese (5’5″ and 320, at my high point…down to 304 in the last couple of weeks :D ) My grandmother showed love by feeding us…ice cream on the home made pie, chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy (all home made…God, I can taste it now). I am currently on phentermine, trying to use that as a tool to really internalize things like proper portions and how to listen to my body. I’ve always “known” in my head what to do…it was just the ability to do it. I now have 2 little girls, and I agonize every time I feed them something a little trashy…one is tall and slender, and I want her to stay that way without worrying about it. The baby still has her baby fat, but she eats like a 15 year old boy, and I know we have to get a handle on that without giving her food issues. I just so very much don’t want them to become “me” when they’re older. (Except the devastatingly hilarious part…that I wouldn’t mind ;)

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Jen July 29, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I love your blog theme (Oulipo). But I’ve often wondered if you planned to change it ? I know you are more concerned with the writing (which is GREAT!) but changing your layout could really increase your pageviews and appeal…for instance, your tabs (about, etc.) are all low on the side. IF they were more visible it’d be much easier to navigate….there were tabs I didn’t know about because they don’t show on my phone!

Just a thought. It’s hard to say as this theme is beautiful and ‘vintage’ but to each his own :)

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Cathy July 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I always struggled with my weight, starting around second grade. Food was a band-aid in my house. If I got a great report card, I got treated with a trip to Dairy Queen or Sonic. If I had a really horrible day, I got treated with a trip to Dairy Queen or Sonic. At 37, I now weigh less than I weighed even in junior high. I’m also the mother of a 3-1/2 year old boy. I will NOT reward or placate him with food. I hear of parents potty-training their little ones, offering suckers and candy when the kids potty on the toilet. I cringe. I don’t ever want my son to see food as something that can make him happy or fix things for him. Thank you for your blog. I’ve followed for a long time, but haven’t felt led to comment until now.

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Jaz July 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm

At 32 years old and very overweight, you would think I would have realized my parents’ relationship with food affected my relationship with food much sooner, but this is actually a very new discovery for me. Both of my parents have been heavy my entire life. My dad was raised in a large family where everything revolved around the dinner table and big meals. My mom was raised extremely poor and often went hungry. As a result, they’ve both used food to love. My dad has always continued the thinking of family around a large meal and my mom has worked to alway provide delicious meals for us in excess. I think she has always worried about us running out of food even though its never been an issue for us. So growing up, food was always the center of our world. The focus of every event, holiday and emotion. Today I find myself struggling to disconnect my life with food, to use it as nourishment and not a crutch. Without learning this, I worry I may never get my weight under control.

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Dawn Lerman July 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Hi,
I am Dawn, who wrote the Fat Dad piece in the Times. I am so glad you enjoyed my article. I loved this post ,and your story, and I am so proud of what you have accomplished. feel free to reach out to me personally.

dawn
Magnificentmmommies.com

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/author/dawn-lerman/

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Amanda July 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm

I love your blog! Which is why I’m so sad you’re already missing your 48 hour goal :(

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Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) July 30, 2012 at 7:17 am

I can relate, sort-of. I didn’t start out with an obese Dad, I started out with a perfectly healthy father. After my parents’ separation he fell into a depression where the weight just began to pile on. For a while, it seemed as though he’d be back on track, and even ran some 5k’s and whatnot, but it wasn’t to last.

I lost my father in 2007 due to some circumstances that I still don’t totally understand, but that I truly believe were complications from his acquired obesity. He was convinced simply cutting out salt would be enough to lose weight. Or, that if he had a salad for lunch (slathered with ranch), he could justify half a pizza for dinner. He said diets don’t work, that if he could exercise he’d lose the weight quickly, but by then his back and knees were unable to support his weight for long, making exercising impossible. The bottles we found when we cleaned out his apartment led me to believe he also had a drinking problem towards the end–I remember once he didn’t understand why using alcohol as a sleep aid was unhealthy.

Growing up, it affected me very differently. Thanks to a quick metabolism (apparently inherited through my mother), we never really had to worry about low fat or no fat or focusing entirely on health food. We ate homestyle favorites, beef stew, sloppy joes, homemade pizza, and we didn’t eat to excess. It wasn’t until later, seeing my father and how he handled stress, that I began to worry. Though my waist is still small and the scale doesn’t read a scary number, these genes are in me, perhaps they too can be activated in a time of depression. Seeing my father fall into a hole he could not climb out of makes me weary of using food as a coping mechanism, or making excuses if things get out of hand.

So, I guess my experience didn’t really instill bad habits, but it did make me very scared as to what can happen if you slip a bit too far.

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Destinie July 30, 2012 at 8:33 am

I think that because we didn’t eat or have healthy food growing up I learned to love the rich, crispy, over the top foods and never learned to enjoy natural sweetness and crunch of vegies and fruits. Food was used for everything. For every emotion there was a food. Bad day? Mom will make you some cheese sticks. Got straight A’s Dad will make a chocolate cake.
I think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent because you are setting a healthy example for you child. I wouldn’t trade my past for anything but as an adult looking back I hope to someday set a healthy example for my children.
I didnt learn to cook healthy until I lost weight. That’s when I learned how food can fuel my body but it takes the right kinds of food. This was and is very interesting to me. I do still struggle with poor choices but at least I am now able to identify them as such.

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Andie July 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

All,

I am having technical difficulties with the blog that are preventing me from publishing a new post. I will try to rectify the situation as soon as possible.

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Alexa @ Simple Eats July 30, 2012 at 11:20 am

I can completely relate to this. I grew up in a foodie family and love food so much myself that I started studying it in grad school. However, my heart breaks every time I think about my father growing older because he doesn’t seem to have enough willpower to lose any weight. I want to see him grow old, I want him to see me get married and I want him to watch me raise my own family. It’s such a difficult thing to see a loved one struggle.

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Rachel T. July 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm

When I was a teenager and finally confessed to my friends that I had an eating disorder, no one was surprised. It was a long time coming really, something most of my friends predicted even before it started. As an only child, I was definitely loved. However, neither of my parents particularly have a good relationship with their bodies, though neither is even overweight let alone obese. However, my father was “chubby” at some point, when I was young and then lost his job. Within that moment, something snapped in him that made him fixate on food and exercise, some rather extreme weight loss, and it’s been like that ever since. Sixteen years have passed and his issues have remained. He eats the exact same thing every day, is very restrictive, to the point now that when he eats off of the normal everyday meals, he gets sick because his body can’t handle it. My mother has had body issues for as long as I can remember, sure that she’s overweight and needs to diet. She bounces from fad diet to fad diet, developing these larger than life life-altering plans and giving up within a week or two. My mother was obsessed with the idea of my being overweight when I was a baby. It got so bad when I was in elementary school that my friend’s mother was packing two lunches because I wasn’t being given enough food, even though I was at school due to my parents work schedule from 7am until 6pm. I’m talking sprout sandwich, carrot sticks, and not much more for 11 hours… Two years later, when my mother found out about the extra lunches, I was grounded. I was eight years old. I was grounded for eating. So again, no surprise that this happened. I developed anorexia and then transitioned to bulimia and then to compulsive overreating. Even now, I struggle. I’m 250lbs and 5’5. So I can absolutely relate with being raised with an unhealthy relationship to food. My mother would secretly take me to Taco Bell on nights my father wasn’t home and would hide food in my closet… I’m still in the process of finding my own way, eating for my body and my health instead of in reaction to what they want or think. I’m still struggling to find movement and “exercise” that works for me, not what they want and what they think. It’s not easy; in fact, it’s really really hard. But I keep trying, every day, and I read blogs like yours to remember that I’m not alone in this. It helps to know I’m not the only person who has gone through something like this and who has struggled to find a good relationship with food and exercise. Thanks for posting, as always!

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Stephanie July 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm

First thank you for providing such an amazing blog, it fills my head with ideas of amazing food and my heart with amazing sentiment.

While I was blessed to grow up in a healthy household with a chef for a mother and a foodie for a dad I know many were not as lucky.

4 out of 6 of my college roommates actually experience the opposite of what you are speaking of. They grew up on households where food was treated as the enemy. Where there mothers put them on restricted diets from the age of 13. It was shocking to me that they were only allowed 1/2 of a sandwich for lunch and a light dinner. They all snuck food into the house at an early age, then as they entered adulthood dealt with eating disorders.

I know their parents, specifically their mothers, thought they had the best of intentions, just like someone loved with food, they loved with diets. It is truly as you speak the matter of balance. It was heartbreaking to watch them battle the scale before going home for fear of what would be said about the weight they put on.

I thank you for always putting into prospective the healthy relationship between food and life. Between healthy living and not treating butter as the devil. Each of those roomates are now mothers themselves. We talk a lot about how to teach their daughters about healthy living without instilling the same terrible relationship with food that they grew up with. I have of course directed them to this blog- so thank you again for posting

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Ana Hopkins July 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I emailed you about this before, but I’d love to see a week long food diary. Like, exactly what you ate everyday for a week. Love, love, love your blog and can’t wait to read your book!

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Lacey July 31, 2012 at 8:55 am

Growing up, my whole family was overweight. I have been overweight my entire life until recently (about 5 months ago). My parents, on the other hand, changed their lifestyle about 10 years ago through healthy eating and regular exercise (don’t get me wrong… we always, and i mean ALWAYS have ice cream in the house, but the box hangs around for longer than a few hours now). It took me an extra 8 years to follow suit. Of course I knew over eating caused weight gain, but I didn’t have much understand or desire to understand nutritional information. I my struggle with weight is related to the fact that I wasn’t raised to be conscious about health. I’m not saying children need to count calories or anything, but I am saying the impression of food from childhood is a hard one to reinvent. When I have children, I consider it a responsibility to teach them about health and wellness. Great post, Andie. Looking forward to reading your book!

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Dukebdc July 31, 2012 at 10:12 am

“I tried to explain to her though, just like the child of an alcoholic who becomes and alcoholic themselves – this is what I know. This is how I was shown to eat.”

This, from an earlier commenter, hits the nail on the head in my opinion. Just like so many other traits, we tend to revert to what we know and what we grew up with when times are uncertain, or when we just don’t know any better. Like my college boyfriend, who intellectually knew that his childhood abuse was not acceptable or “normal,” but retained close relationships with his abusers and worried about repeating the abuse with his own children because he had never seen appropriate discpline in action.

I am fortunate that my parents were not overweight while I was growing up, and that my mom was able to stay home and cook dinner just about every night. The food was simple–baked chicken, two veggies and maybe some rice was a typical meal. There was no negotiating over food when we were children–we ate what the adults ate. No substitutions or exceptions. Apparently when we were babies, she threw whatever she and my dad were eating into the blender for homemade baby food. Sweets and soda were limited, but not demonized or regularly denied, so they held little power over us. Even though I went crazy once I was on my own (boxes of Lucky Charms for dinner, etc), eventually I reverted back to the way my mom fed me as a kid, because that was what I knew.

As a counterpoint, my college roommate lost her father when she was a teenager. Her mom suddenly had to work long shifts as a nurse, so 4-5 nights a week my roommate was responsible for dinner (beginning at age 12). She once ticked off to me which night belonged to which fast food restaurant each week. That was her “normal.” And as a result, when she was stressed out in school or just too tired to cook, she tended to go out to eat fast food, because it was what she knew. And subconciously she didn’t want to disrespect her mother by acknowledging that fast food wasn’t always a healthy choice for her. Both of us have maintained healthy weights as adults, but I know that her childhood experiences make healthy living more of a challenge to her.

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Amanda July 31, 2012 at 10:52 am

My mother has always been bigger and though I wouldn’t consider her obese, her BMI measurement does. My dad is an avid athlete and can eat whatever he wants. He does a lot of the cooking and my mom will eat what he prepares, even if it isn’t the healthiest. I think that’s a large part of her problem.

I’ve put on a few pounds since my early twenties and some people might call me overweight, but I don’t think of myself in that way. I credit that entirely to my mother. She taught me to embrace what I have, to love what I’ve been given instead of lament and hate it. Hating your body and yourself is such a waste of a good person and I owe this way of thinking to my mother.

Now, at 25, I’ve begun a rigorous healthy lifestyle. Just because I want to. Not because I aspire to look a certain way. And if I see no change, or minimal change, it isn’t going to ruin my life. I just want to be healthy and happy and I know that’s what my mother would want.

All in all, having an overweight parent didn’t have adverse effects on me. But it all depends on the parent, how they look at their weight and how they raise you to perceive it. I was lucky. I had great parents who taught me to love the person underneath the skin.

I love your blog, Andie, you are an absolute inspiration to me. You are beautiful, because it’s you on the inside that carries your beauty!

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Erin August 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

My mom has always been obese. I remember being teased as a kid, the girl with the fat mom. It made me hyperconscious of my own weight growing up, even though I was rail thin. I never had an eating disorder, but in high school I was around 105-110 lbs and never wore short shorts because I thought my thighs were huge. Looking back at photos I realize how distorted my self-image was at that time. I had straight, thin thighs I would kill for as an adult. My dad was a runner and a bicyclist when I was growing up. He would always do pilates and crunches on our living room floor. It always seemed so odd to me that my dad could care so much about his health and my mother so little. Eventually I think it had a hand in their deteriorating marriage.

Now, my mother is still overweight. I worry about her a lot. I wish she would take better care of herself so that she can see me get married and maybe meet her grandchildren someday. My father is now remarried and I think that his dedication to fitness is the most selfless thing he does. He takes care of himself, running sometimes 10 miles at age 61. My father inspires me. I want to be 61 and running 10 miles a day, not overweight and sitting exhausted in front of the TV each night.

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Katie January 14, 2013 at 4:55 am

Erin, your story resonates with me profoundly. I too grew up with an obese mother and a health-conscious father. I too am thin, was skinny, even, as a child, and I too was (and am) intensely self-conscious about my weight and body. I sometimes feel like I am an overweight person inside a thin body, given the amount that I obsess over food and, since college, exercise. I read endless blogs about weight loss, watch The Biggest Loser and cry with a feeling of catharsis watching people lose weight, fixate on my body in a way that sometimes makes me feel crazy.

In college, I had a beautiful, healthy, thin roommate who developed a severe eating and exercise disorder that led her to end up in the hospital with a failing heart and then to various inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities for anorexia. While I lived with her, and saw her deteriorate, I began to basically eat for two in front of her, trying to silently encourage her to eat more than her single veggie patty with a dime-sized dollop of ketchup. I started eating in a way that I never had as a child, and then fearing that if I went to the gym for an hour a few days a week or cut back on the dining hall “brownie goo” for dessert that this meant that I also had an eating disorder.

Now, my former roommate is recovering, but always struggling with her disease. My obese mother, who also has to deal with crippling bipolar disorder, has basically given up on losing weight. I have tried everything in the book to motivate, encourage, guilt her into losing weight – for herself, for me, for her grandchildren – to no avail.

“Between obesity and anorexia” – the title of a blog post I wrote about a year ago with advice that I am still struggling to follow myself. With such extreme examples in my life, it’s hard to follow my dad’s path of “everything in moderation,” but I’m trying.

http://webegirls.com/fashionbeauty/goldilocks-between-obesity-and-anorexia-this-one%E2%80%99s-just-right

Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s always good to know other people are out there who feel similarly conflicted about their parents’ weight and attitudes toward food.

Thank you, Andie, for this.

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Brooke August 3, 2012 at 9:40 am

I just spent the last hour reading this post and all the responses to it. I sit here with tears streaming down my face because I always seem to forget that I’m not alone. Even reading your blog and knowing that you have (and do) suffer from similar struggles, I still have you removed from me. But reading comments from your other readers really makes it hit home that others are JUST LIKE ME.

Anyways, in response to this particular post,I did grow up in an overweight family. My mother was (is) always in between 30-50 lbs overweight whereas my father was (is) closer to 75 lbs overweight. My mother started working for Weight Watchers around the time I was 5 or 6. From that point on, there was no more “junk food” allowed in the house. But that meant that whenever we were out, my mom would find reasons for us to snack or have treats (road trips were my favorite because we spent the entire drive eating snacks and junk). Her day job was at the corporate office but she also worked several evenings at the centers. Whenever she worked nights, my dad and I would have to fend for ourselves for dinner. Almost every one of those dinners was spent at a fast food restaurant and dessert at the local ice cream shop. They knew us by name. My dad hid all the evidence from my mother. If we brought it home to eat, he would hide the trash in the bottom of the garbage can. This taught me that I should eat the tasty stuff that is bad for you while I can because I didn’t know when I might be able to enjoy it again. By the time I was 10, my mother had me following the weight watcher plan – back then they had meetings for kids (I do not know if they still do this) and I went every week. My mother used to tell me that I wouldn’t meet any boys if I didn’t lose weight. She wasn’t trying to be mean, she really believed this. But man, did she perform a number on me! By the time I was 14, I was yo-yoing in my weight loss. I would lose 30-40 lbs and over the next two years, I would gain it all back. I have spent the last 15 years trying to break this cycle. I still struggle with alot of the same issues. I now have two young children of my own, and I’m petrified of instilling any of these issues on them! I try and teach them to eat healthy by example, but that its also ok to have treats.

I love my parents and I don’t really blame them for my issues…sure they had a part in them but its not really their fault. My dad had this kickass metabolism most of his life and it wasn’t until he hit 30 that he started to gain weight. He didn’t know what to do with himself then and once my mother brought down the iron fist regarding food in the house, well…I wish there was someone that would have taught him better. As for my mom, I’m sure she has her own stories about HER own mother. I do know that my grandmother had my mother on water pills at a very young age…so I’m sure there are issues there.

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Molly August 5, 2012 at 8:13 am

Without a doubt, the example my parent’s set has made me who I am today. Naturally enough. But not in the way I would have thought. My house, as a child, was always filled with fun food and my mom made dinner every night…a wonderful cook she had us try it all. It was only in college did I realize what I had been putting in my body for that long. My dad was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and it was only then taht I realized how much of a toll our daily choices can take on us. That’s why I chose to write my thesis on childhood obesity and lunchroom reform. We need to inform kids NOW what is right and wrong, so that they can make their own choices instead of the media and the government doing it for them. Isn’t that how we shape the world? I have a deep rooted passion for this, and it’s my dad who got me there without ever having to say a word. I encourage you to check out the HBO series “Weight of the Nation”. It is captivating.

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Bailey @ Onederland or Bust! August 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

I think this hits home for a lot of people including myself. I need to bookmark this post so I can come back and read all the comments and article. Thank you!

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Shannon August 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I was for most of my years by a single mom who was usually overweight, swinging from workout fads that would last a few months to a lack of energy and motivation to really be bothered with exercise. As far as food, I grew up on fast food, microwaveable prepared meals, and boxed dishes. Rarely were meals homemade.

As an adult, I understand why this was this way. My mom was a busy, stressed out, likely depressed mom most of the time and we both comforted ourselves from this with food. Taco Bell, McDonalds, and pizza were regular fixtures, providing familiarity, ease, and convenience, while ice cream, donuts, and cookies provided false comfort. And, though I understand it now, I will not lie that sometimes it angers me. I spent years being really, really unhealthy and it worries me at times what impacts that has had on my body in the long run.

Growing up this way absolutely had an impact on my relationship with food well into the future. I was a prime example of an emotional eater – eating for emotional nourishment and not for physical nourishment and I rapidly went back and forth between living on donuts and pizza daily to trying whatever fad diet was popular for a few weeks in a belief I was undoing the damage (and following in my mom’s footsteps with that yo-yo mentality). Even now, as I have radically changed my eating habits and lifestyle, it has an impact. I am asked sometimes about my new way of eating by my family and it is often uncomfortable to talk about. There is sometimes what feels like an underlying judgement or resentment that I have changed things, which inevitably leads to guilt on my part.

The relationships between food and family are ridiculously complex, as well as fascinating. Thanks for asking these questions.

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Kim August 6, 2012 at 4:51 am

My daughter, 9, is the most beautiful girl in the world. She’s tall and thin and the absolute best. I am quite the opposite, being short and slightly round. And I’ve always struggled with my weight, even now. Part of that is the fact that I was never introduced to good, nourishing foods. I don’t remember taking fruits and veggies for lunch or indulging in a healthy after school snack. I don’t fault my mom for this in any way, since potato chips made me happy and you want to do anything in your power to make your children happy. I understand this because there are times that I do the same for my daughter. That Cosmic brownie makes her feel great, happy, sated. Why wouldn’t I want to give it to her?

Because it’s really, really bad for her, that’s why. We are struggling right now to find a balance between tasty and indulgent and healthy. At 9, it’s really the time to get her into good eating habits that she can carry with her through life. I began to struggle in high school, where I only wanted to eat cheese fries and drink soda. I don’t want the same for her but it is proving a significant challenge, especially because she is a picky eater.

There’s a line that, as a parent, I feel I’m faced with. And that’s making the better, healthy choice versus making my child happy. Then again, that opens another problem can full of worms. Why should food be what is making her happy? Ugh.

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Katy August 6, 2012 at 6:18 am

Both my parents gradually gained weight throughout my childhood. My mum was very slim until she had my sister when I was 4 and from then she’s gained and gained. She has intentions of losing weight but doesn’t do very well no matter how much I try to help her. My dad has his own ideas of weight loss, none of which work very well but he’s a know-it-all and won’t be told otherwise.

My parents had a bad relationship so to make me and my sister feel better (then later on, just me), my mum would buy us food. Chocolate, McDonalds, KFC, cakes, fizzy drinks etc. she thought she was doing the right thing. We also had free rein to the cupboards when we went to grandparents house and never had to ask before we ate anything. The problem was, my sister stayed slim all her life and I gained a lot weight. I don’t think I ever ate a piece of fruit of vegetable unless I had dinner at my nanas where we’d have veg with the main meal and fruit and ice cream for dessert.

I don’t blame anyone. It was the only way she knew to make me feel better but the only problem is that I now comfort eat because I know it makes me feel better, even just for a little bit. I lost all the weight on my own and I’m trying to teach my mum what I know but it’s the emotional attachment with food which is difficult. Im getting better though so hopefully I’ll have it under control soon.

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******** August 6, 2012 at 6:50 am

I grew up with an obese mom, who was on and off Dexatrim, Weight Watchers, South Beach, etc for most of my life. every meal in my house was punctuated with some kind of snack cake dessert, and vegetables were a rarity. I was always 10-20 lbs overweight, and at my heaviest was more than 30 lbs overweight as an adult. I ended up joining WW two years ago in an attempt to inspire my mother to rejoin – she is still struggling, whereas I have hit my goal and now maintain a healthy weight and exercise regimen. Every day it’s a struggle to unlearn the habits and behaviors I acquired living with her and correspondingly it’s a struggle not to blame her for this particular limitation when she was a fantastic mother in so any other ways. Still when I find myself anxious at my mother’s house (or really anywhere) it is my first instinct to reach for the fridge and stuff something rich and creamy into my mouth. It’s so helpful to hear from others with a similar experience – I’ve wondered if there were support groups for children of overeaters but it seems not – if anyone knows of one please share!

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Steph @ A Life without Ice Cream August 7, 2012 at 3:38 am

This was a topic very close to my heart as I started my healthy living journey. I’ll admit, there were times when I would get frustrated that I didn’t have better food options growing up.

Both of my parents are obese and have poor relationships with food. My dad is a binge eater who has lost weight a few times through restrictive diets but has not maintained and my mom eats very little fresh food.

As I’ve worked to change my own relationship with food my opinions about my parents’ relationship with food has turned more toward worry… as they age (both in their mid-late 60s) I see how diet and inactivity has affected their health. As much as I worry about them, it also fuels me to maintain my lifestyle not just to keep the weight off but for long term health.

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Chelsea August 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Those of you who were raised by an overweight parent, how do you think it affected your relationship with food as a child as well today?
While my father was overweight, I was constantly told I was too big, even when I was only slightly overweight. My family, while they meant well and love me, constantly commented in a negative way and helped to create a rebellious and emotional attachment to my food. I don’t blame them for it, but it’s still not easy trying to be healthy.

Do you think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent?
Yes. But I think it’s only a part of the whole shebang! One of the things I’m trying to do personally before having kids is to be healthy so that I can give my children the best chance possible and hopefully I can teach them the healthy way to think about food and not to create the emotional attachment I find myself doing. I also want my kids to be healthier than what I see. Kids are so attached to their devices I want my kids to learn more from experiencing. Not that these gadgets are essential now, but so is falling off a bike or hiking through the mountains and visiting national parks.

For the cooks out there, when did you first learn to appreciate preparing nutrition meals for yourself or your family?
Very recently. I’ve been struggling with weight for the longest, but only just now (recently) came to the awesome conclusion that food is not the enemy, it’s just not healthy to use it to control your emotions. I’ve also realized that cooking foods differently and with different flavors can make me love it or hate it. I’ve come to love foods I’ve hated for as long as I can remember and even have broken out of my comfort zone and realized I didn’t like it so much. It’s the same I’ve found with exercising! I love the new experiences and changing it up. Where I had the same bad choice items repeatedly and almost religiously, now I spice it up and get to try different flavors, it’s amazing!

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Jordan August 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Thank you for this post. I only just started reading because I found your mini lasagna recipe on pinterest and now I am loving you blog. I like how you combine recipes with stories about your life and how to eat healthier. I really believe that more people would eat healthier foods if they thought about why they eat what they eat. Blogging about why you love the food you love promotes more thought on the subject of food and how it makes people feel.

As for me, my whole family has a love hate relationship with food. Like other posters, I come from a Southern family that fries everything, puts butter on everything, and eats mainly for comfort. I also come from a poor background and we had very little fresh food in the house because my parents had to buy whatever they could get with coupons or WIC. So mostly boxed and canned items. A lot of Hamburger Helper and soup. I remember having to make one can Campbell’s chicken noodle stretch to feed four people. It was mostly saltine crackers in a bowl with a small amount of liquid. My husband comes from the same sort of background. One of his stories is that he used to boil water with a bouillon cube in it and eat that as soup. That was lunch or dinner for him sometimes. I do remember though that no matter how poor we were, we ALWAYS had at least 5 or 6 different kinds of Little Debbie snacks and 3 or 4 different kinds of soda in the house at all times. Growing up we rarely drank water. We also always had chips and dip. Always.

I definitely suffered from disordered eating. I was anorexic for about 8 years of my life and I still struggle with that. I now have a good relationship with food and dieting and exercise.

My mom is an emotional eater and she used to eat for comfort and control, I did the same thing. In order to feel in control I limited my eating. She has a very unhealthy relationship with food to this day and it has affected me greatly. She has weird issues with food and trying new things. She thinks all dishes should be made the exact same every time with no change, and she only knows a few recipes so she eats the same unhealthy thing over and over. Her diet is stuck in her childhood, when she was happiest. She only likes foods her mother makes and she only likes the way she cooks. If she eats anything that anybody else made she will have something to complain about. She also doesn’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen so nearly everything she eats is pre-made is some form. She won’t take the time if it will take longer than 10 minutes. She says me and my husband eat weird things and hates having dinners with us so much that if she comes to visit she brings her own food with her. I make things like chicken with pasta and sauteed vegetables, or pork chops with rice and mexican corn, or stuffed peppers, that kind of thing. I like to do twice as many vegetables as I have of protein, and very little starches and extra fats. Her cooking is very starch and fat heavy with little to no protein or vegetable content.

The way my husband and I eat now is definitely a reaction to our past. Growing up neither of us really liked how we ate, but we didn’t have much of a choice. When we got married and we started our own lives we talked about how we wanted to change and what steps we needed to take. It took time and at first we had no idea what we were doing, or how to begin to cook healthy meals and plan a well rounded diet. It took a lot of reading and trips to the grocery store to figure it out. We still have our junk food but we know it has its place. We have a balance now that we didn’t have before. We also have a daughter and we have taken it upon ourselves to make sure that she never has to struggle with food the way that we did, and so we are trying to be better examples for her sake. I don’t think that weight has much to do with it, because what really matters is health. If you are eating healthy and exercising regularly, your weight will take care of itself. I don’t think too much about what I weigh, but I do think a lot about whether or not I feel good about myself. I feel best about myself when I am eating healthy food and I think that my daughter will see that through observation and realize the same truths that I have.

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Colima August 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I was raised by a single mom who was not overweight. We just didn’t have much money. My mom also did not have a car or driver’s license until I was in high school so we were very active since we had to walk or ride a bike to get anywhere. I’m not sure where I picked it up but I always thought I was fat, when I wasn’t. In our house food was plentiful around payday. We never went without but had some interesting combinations before payday, you know? I have just recently realized that my thought that I was fat led me to actually being fat. Once I was on my own I could afford to buy the “good” food all the time. I still haven’t gotten a handle on myself. I say I must have body dysmorphia because I am fat but in my head I don’t realize it – until I see a picture!

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Martha@ Simple Nourished Living September 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I happened upon your blog tonight, while doing some research on lightened up chicken parmesan recipes (yours looks delish) and was drawn in. Congrats on you book deal and wonderful inspiring writing.

My dad never had a weight problem, but was a workaholic who suffered with severe depression during the second half of his life. My mom gained 70 pounds while pregnant with me and never lost it. I was overweight my the time I was 10 and struggled for years with yo-yo dieting and body image.

Food was a huge focus of our life. Looking back, I realize we ate all the time. When we weren’t eating we were planning what to eat next or cooking. From my mom I learned to eat until I was stuffed and to use food to comfort most anything that ailed me.

I began the yo-yo diet thing when I was 13 and have spent the better part of my life working to develop a healthy balanced relationship with food. At 49, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on it and work to support others as a Weight Watchers leader and yoga teacher. The years of working to figure it out were well worth the investment.

I too am a big fan of Geneen Roth.

Look forward to visiting again soon.

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The Brides' Maid September 17, 2012 at 9:40 am

I grew up in a family where the relationship with food was catastrophic! My mother was a successful business woman in the beauty industry who dieted like crazy until she was laid off and then threw caution to the wind. She ate whatever she wanted from then on. My Father adores my mother and just follows. My sister, who are terrified of turning out like my parents, battle eating disorders on a daily basis and I? Well, I’m caught somewhere in between.
It’s not pretty. In fact, I hate it.
I am trying my hardest not to pass it along to my children.

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Kanitahlananh June 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I grew up with overweight parents. When they were little they lived in vietnam and were underweight with BMI as low as 14 due to malnourishment, lack of money, poverty etc. When they migrated to the U.S. things got really bad. They didn’t own a penny. They worked and went through heavy labor. People were racist calling us Chinese even though we weren’t. These bullies pushed my parents into bad eating habits until they eventually became overweight. My father suffers from heart attacks and obesity. Both of my parents are diagnosed with high cholestrial. As a child I was 10-15 lbs overweight. Middle School came around and I was made fun of for being chubby, for killing the “skinny asians” stereotype. I was always bitter about that and I went through a phase were I started shedding weight the unhealthy way, stepping on the scale at least 3 times a day. I controlled my meals, decided not to eat breakfast or dinner. I didn’t want to live the same life my parents did. I was inspired by shows like weight watchers. I was ashamed of myself, but eventually picked up on healthy eating through health classes. I tried to help my parents but they always cut me off. I wanted to help them. I suffered through depression in my early teens from being neglected and bullied. Fortunately I never did drugs or anything.

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