TALKING TO MY MOM ABOUT DIETS
By: Lauren Anderson
“I lost 30 pounds!” My mom said excitedly. We had just sat down to lunch and I asked what was new. She was clearly proud, and excited about her progress. I was sorry I wasn’t able to return her enthusiasm. Because I’m usually someone you can count on for enthusiastic support. At least that’s what I aim for.
But I just had nothing for her. I had this weird, visceral, uncomfortable reaction instead. It’s like I could feel my butt clench together. My lips tighten. I felt ready for the worst. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen… but you know when a body senses danger and you go into Flight, Freeze, or Fight mode? Well, I was braced for a fight.
I think she was expecting some sort of response like, “Good job!” or “You look amazing!” or maybe even some weird kind of covetous nodding of my head.
Instead, my response was a measured, “Oh. Is that what you were trying to do?” Trying desperately to keep my voice light and non-judgmental.
And she looked at me oddly, as if to imply “DUH.”
I continued. “Because if that’s what you intended to do, I’m happy that you completed a goal that you set for yourself.”
She could tell I was choosing my words VERY carefully. I was trying to respond in a way that I wish people would’ve responded to me after I lost 50 pounds when I first joined Solcana.
I was pleased with myself because of all the hard work I was putting in. But a lot of people only commented on how good I looked. Specifically, how much BETTER I looked. Not all people, thankfully. But I was surprised at all of the unwelcome commenting/judgement on my body without my permission or consent, because it was just so F-ed up ya know?
It was a rough and rude awakening.
As if to say in no uncertain terms, “The smaller you are– the more attractive you are, woman. Regardless of any other factors like health and nutrition. And DONT EVER FORGET THAT.”
Nobody mentioned a g-damn thing about the fact that I was more physically fit and toned and eating more nutritionally dense foods than I ever had before. And that rush of minerals and endorphins probably makes my skin glow like crazy. And maybe exercising more often is contributing to my overall happiness, and sense of mastery at learning a new skill. Which in turn, upped my body self-possession and overall confidence, which is widely regarded as the sexiest and most attractive feature of all!
Because I GUARANTEE those factors were what people were noticing in my smile more than losing any literal weight on the scale. I guar-an-friggin-tee it.
And here’s the real rub… sure, when I started working out I dropped 50 pounds. But then I quickly gained back about 25 pounds of pure muscle. And THAT is when I was getting the most “compliments”.
Ain’t that a bitch?
So here I am, out to lunch with a woman I love more than anybody else on the planet. The person who literally gave me life and brought me into the world. She just wants to have an light lunch and talk about a diet that she’s on. This conversation is supposed to be easy and innocuous. And instead I felt… I don’t know… betrayed?
Because I was like, “What do you want from me Mom? Do you want me to be proud of you? Do you want me to somehow still celebrate the same problematic habits that I observed from you and implemented into my own life– only to have to painfully unlearn years later?
Do you want me me to be excited that you are ONCE AGAIN denying yourself gratification/nutrition/joy, in an attempt to whittle your body down to some arbitrary number on the scale? When NONE of that matters in the long run?”
I didn’t say any of that of course. I just stayed silent.
Because I literally now think diet culture is toxic and awful, and I refuse to ever engage in such barbarism ever again. I want to live my life in abundance NOT deficit. I want to use my big brain and my precious time for something more rewarding than counting calories.
And if I ever choose to cut weight again at some point in my life, you can bet it will be for a reason like making a world land-speed record, or to be able to fit in a tiny crevasse of a jewel mine. Not because society thinks women should be small.
So I just sat there. Trying so hard to keep my mouth shut, because she knows my stance on diets and diet culture. I know she knows, because we have had to do A LOT of growing together while I’ve been on my journey. It started out with a lot of militant boundaries and teaching my family and loved ones how we could safely engage in conversation.
And honestly, that was met with some backlash, because it forced each and every one of my family members to re-examine their own relationship to food and exercise and weight and and and…
But over the years, I think we all managed to grow FOR THE BETTER. I am able to relax and trust that my family will never comment on my body without me opening up the conversation first. I’ve noticed in the household, we’ve all started to use kinder more loving language when it comes to what we eat and what our bodies look like. Which is GREAT!
* * *
So you know, she knew I had opinions.
My mom observed the silence and decided to pivot. She said, “Well it’s just something I wanted to do for myself.”
And I was like, “Of course. If that is what makes you happy, than I support you. But you know how I feel about diets. You know I’m #neverdietagain.”
She sighs. “Yes. We ALL know how you feel about diets.”
I retort, “I’m sorry. But I just ache at the idea that you are using your powerful brain on calorie counting and not some great philosophy. You have so much to offer the world. I don’t want you to be distracted by this stuff. Cause the truth is, you know it’s all arbitrary right?”
My mom pushes back. “Of course. But what’s wrong with wanting to be normal on the BMI?”
I think I saw red at this point. “Because WTF is normal Mom?!?!?!”
The fact that the BMI is still in use at ANY medical facility is beyond me. It takes almost nothing of the individuals body into actual account. Not muscle mass, or anything! It’s not even accurate like the percentiles they give new parents. I launch into my whole deal about how stupid I think that is.
I think we’re done, but she goes back in for it.
“Besides I want to be able to shop when I want, and where I want. I want it to be easy.”
I’m trying to swallow words so hard, but they come up anyway. I said, “Don’t you think the fact that it’s hard to find clothes sometimes is society failing you? Don’t you think that it’s society failing the nation by saying ‘these random sizes are what is normal and available’ but anything else is other?!”
I continue, “You would never accept the same stores denying access to someone in a wheelchair, aka a body outside the norm. Then why are you so willing to still shop there when it denies accessibility to its product by not offering clothes for so many body types, including your own?! Don’t you see Mom?! Your body is NOT WRONG. It’s society that needs to change!”
I can see my mom hearing me and even being a little swayed. I think she knows I have a point. But instead of being like, “You’re right. Let’s get dessert.” she interrupts me.
And this is big because she NEVER interrupts.
“Lauren, leave me alone! I’m not doing this for society or for some man. I’m sorry but I’m not trying to change the world right now, I’m just doing this so I feel better in my body. I don’t want to deal with all of that stuff. I just want to feel better in my body, okay?”
And with that she shut it down. Instead of pushing I relent, “And you feel better in your body when you are not carrying as much weight?”
She gives a definitive. “YES.”
And I soften. I still don’t agree, because of what I’ve learned. But I’ve fought enough battles with my own body to know when someone is done.
“Then I support you.” but I pause and I sneak in, “ But don’t make me pull out the Naomi Wolf quote.”
For those of you following along with this blog, you are probably VERY familiar with that quote by now. I’ve blogged about it specifically twice. I keep a screen shot of a graphic on my phone so I can read it whenever I need to be boosted by her choice words.
For those of you unfamiliar, allow me to quote it here again for posterity. The quote goes like this:
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession with beauty. [It is] an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
Mom knows the quote too. She answers me with an exhausted, “No. You don’t need to pull out the quote. I hear you. But can you please hear me out too?”
* * *
Here is where I feel like crying suddenly. I forgot that this isn’t “the man” or society or anything that I’m debating with. It’s a woman, my mother, just like me on her own journey. And she is starting somewhere and is going somewhere different than me.
And that’s okay.
Because honestly, I have been so focused on my own fitness path, I think I’m just now realizing that I am falling incredibly short on patience with my mom on her journey. Especially because she is my mom. Because even though we are both adults, there is still the sense that she should already know the answers to this stuff.
And she may! And what works for her, may not for me. And this goes for everybody! Because I believe that health and fitness and beauty are as individual as we are. And if I’m being “impeccable with my word” than I need to learn to make room for that individuality. Even if every fiber of my being disagrees.
Because her relationship to her body is her own. And it is her right and prerogative to use her body in a way she deems fit. And I expect the same allowance in return.
So instead of sending her the Naomi Wolf quote, I looked up our former president’s words instead and reflected.
Like Barack Obama once said, “We all have to be open to the differences and possibilities of other people’s truths.”
Even if that truth still includes Dieting.
And maybe especially if that truth includes my Mom.