Putting My Mom on a Diet: 1 Year Later

by Andie Mitchell on June 1, 2014

mom

Guys and dolls: remember Mom? The one who birthed me, raised me with an unfailing sweet tooth, dressed me in stirrup pants and mock turtlenecks until 6th grade, and continues to ladle guilt upon me like only a good Irish Catholic mother can? Yes, that’s the one. Mom.

Well, you might also remember that, last June, I put her on a diet. If you can believe it, she asked me to.

This was where we started:

mombefore

“If we put it on the blog, I’ll be held accountable. And I just know that other women like me out there will be able to relate,” she told me then.

For part of that time, I lived with her, helping to make all of her meals — prepping, packing lunch, bagging nuts and raisins for snacks, encouraging her — and then, in November, I moved to New York City. We were, as you’d imagine, heartsick. How many phone calls can two women have in a day without co-workers beginning to get that bored look in their eyes when they tell you “Your daughter’s on the phone…again…?” Two, actually. Found that out rather quickly.

It’s been one year now. Where is she?

mom now

When we started this thing, I was hopeful. I know Mom well enough to help her find a way of incorporating the foods she loved into a healthier lifestyle. I know a fair bit about nutrition and weight loss. But I’m also the type that doesn’t like to see others uncomfortable. I’d put myself more in line with an enabler than anything resembling a drill sergeant. I feared I might coddle her, might not be the best at telling her how to choose just one dessert at a buffet because, can we live a little?!

mom

Mom, for her part, has been incredible. Last summer, it began with a plan: what to eat, when, how much. Some hand-holding. And then, slowly, the plan fell away. She started picking her own meals, scooping her own portions, navigating parties and holidays. But the good habits had stayed with her. She stuck with her favorite breakfast on weekday mornings: peanut butter on a whole grain english muffin with a banana. She still snacked on nuts and raisins. And then, when Easter came, she worked Cadbury Creme Eggs and jelly beans into her day, her week. All the while, losing, maintaining. She never counted calories in any legitimate way, since she never really took to that, but relied more on intuition. Cut back here, save room there.

I never meant for her to stay on the “plan” long-term — that was never the goal. It was to give her a framework for what a serving looks like, what a healthy day looks like, how many vegetables she should aim for. Now, when I go home, I find her doing that naturally. I see her making fruit salads, eating whole grain cereals, choosing sweet potatoes, and generally cutting back on the amount of sugar she eats. But I also see her finding balance: having Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate in the winter — something she loves, or a cupcake from a new bakery…you get the idea.

What I realized in this process was that Mom didn’t need someone to be hard on her, someone to be strict with her — what I feared I couldn’t be to begin with. She needed someone to be kind, just to be there and to believe in her the whole way through. When she’d call me and tell me, “I just want to eat all the desserts today: cookies, cake, pastries, even the ones I don’t like — like Oreos,” she didn’t need me to tell her, “No no no, stay on plan! You’re in charge of creating the body you have.” She needed the gentler, “I get it. I’m right there with you some days. For me it’s doughnuts, and it feels like I need at least a dozen. But it’s just a tough day, probably emotionally, that’s leading you to feel like you need to eat all the things. What’s going on?” And we’d talk it through. When she told me that she’d had a weekend eating bender and that she wasn’t sure how to get back on track, I got that, too. We all do.

The journey to weight loss is one that’s physical, emotional, mental, and deeply personal. It can be lonely and isolating. Frustrating and hopeless. If we can find people around us that understand where we are, who treat us with compassion and without judgment, we’re stronger. We can let ourselves be guided sometimes, we can be carried, we can ask for help, or just reach out so that we know we’re not all alone out here.

When I simply offered an ear, an anecdote like that time I ate three cookies when I was sure I was just going to have one, or advice on what helped me get back on track, or what keeps me motivated, I found out that that’s all my job really was: friend. And my job was easy.

Today, Mom weighs 168 pounds. She has lost 42 pounds from 210 where she started last June, and she’s radiantly content. She’s confident. I’m proud of her in the way that you’re proud of someone for going after something they really want, not just because they got it. I see that she’s striving, and it makes me want to strive — for anything I want. I feel hopeful and inspired, but not because of the dedication, not because of the discipline — because of the balance she’s struck, because of the way she’s made her journey so uniquely her own. She’s figured out a healthy way to eat that keeps her happy and sane, and in doing so, she feels comfortable and confident in her own skin.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

mom and paul

**UPDATE: A check-in from Mom, herself:

“Hi everyone,

So sorry for the lag in talking to you! No good excuses.  Andrea has been after me for months to post something and I am guilty as charged.  I’m happy to say that I did finally get under 170 pounds, but it was not easy and now I weigh 167-168 on a good day (without a candy fit) and I have even weighed in at 165 at one time.  Unfortunately, I have been having a very (and I stress VERY) hard time getting off the candy wagon.  It all started at Easter time when I had to make up 29 Easter baskets — lot of candy, lots of chewing.  I love the candy they sell at Easter and I ate it as fast as I could.  Then of course I head to my sister Maureen’s (the one who thinks that everyone should have their own dessert when you go to her house) and she had about 15 desserts and insisted that I take many of them home. The only saving grace I could muster up was to head to the GAP and try on some new pants.  If that doesn’t bring you right back to reality, nothing will.   I am also not getting much exercise so I sometimes feel like the fat rolls aren’t distributing as they might if I’d moved more.

After Andrea left, Paul and I attempted to make all our own meals again, and shop healthy.  Well I loved having Andrea cook for me and I let her do it without paying too much attention to her cut backs with butter and oils and portions sizes.  I was buying those expensive 100-calorie snack packs at one time, thinking I could just eat 3 or 4 of those a day, but Andrea put the kibosh on those and told me to smarten up.  She also suggested Paul do the shopping as he’s not much of a sweet eater.  What a crank she is!

On a good note, I like being a bit thinner, it keeps a lot of my arthritis in check and I sleep better and generally feel better.  I am constantly aware of what I eat and do really for the most part try to be sensible.  It is always going to be a struggle but I am not willing to throw in the towel yet.

The summer is almost here and I would have liked to be more fit, but what can I expect after having a long spring full of on-sale Easter candy?  Here’s to always being able to start over!

I hope that you are all doing well and in good health.  I wish you all only the best and thank you for all of your support of Andrea and myself, and most importantly each other.

Love Always,

Maryellen”

**If you want to read the whole series: I’m putting my mom on a diet, here is the plan I designed for her, and here are her weekly updates: week 1week 2week 3week 4week 5week 6week 7week 8week 9week 10week 11week 12week 13week 14week 15week 16week 17week 18, week 19, 1 month eating on her own.

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