Home BeautyBody Image What Did Your Mother Teach You About Living Healthily?

What Did Your Mother Teach You About Living Healthily?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Let me tell you—fitness isn’t something I learned about at home. I had friends who were super-active, athletes, all-out grinding types (some of them even read and comment here on the blog, still in awe of how I’ve changed over the years!), but that was never my thing. In fact, my best friend in college, Ashley, invited me as her guest to her gym, where she tried to train me, and I got to see her in action.

I remember her wearing boxing gloves, and telling me to swing at her hands as hard and as fast as I could for sixty seconds. So, I did.

I thought of every argument, every fight, every time she got on my nerves, every time she made my head hurt, every time she turned left when I said turn right, and it still only got me through 30 seconds. So, I had to think of every thing everyone had ever done in the history of ever-dom to get me through sixty whole seconds of speed-swinging on this girl. And, afterwards, I wanted to die.

But that was when I first truly learned about fitness and pushing myself to be better, not just weight loss or maintaining my girlish figure.

When I think back, all of my conversations about my body were about losing weight. All advice to “work out” was about losing weight, me being “too fat,” or whatever. It was only mildly demoralizing, and made me that much more reluctant to work out. I didn’t want to be under surveillance. I didn’t want to be told that I wasn’t doing it right or I wasn’t going hard enough. I also didn’t want my body under scrutiny as a means of determining how effective my workouts were. I’d sooner go into hiding permanently than be up for discussion permanently. That’s why, when I was first hitting the gym, I was going at 11 at night to a 24-hour facility.

(Ironically, as a weight loss blogger, my body is definitely under scrutiny, now. I’m far more able to handle that than I was before, but that’s for different reasons.)

All of this made me think about my daughter, and what she’s learning from me in watching me like a hawk the way most kids do their parents. Am I modeling a healthy way to build your plate? Am I a good steward of my junk food intake? Do I moderate sufficiently? Or do I teach her an obsessive fixation with calories and mirrors?

Sometimes, when our parents have complicated relationships with their own bodies and aren’t aware of how harmful their own body image is, that’s the only thing they have to pass on to their children. For girls, that’s especially complex. It breeds disordered eating patterns, obsessive fixations on the perceived attractiveness of their bodies, and teaches them early on where the value actually lies. It’s rarely their brains.

This made me think about some of the comments that’ve been left here with regards to how other #bgg2wlarmy members describe the way their mothers influenced their ideas of healthy living and their bodies. I went searching through the comment archives on the blog, and my results took a turn towards the dark side:

Yes my mother tried to get to be fit in high school but I use to watch her eat processed foods and devour cookies, cakes, brownies and ice cream. My mother did not motivate me in a good way because she used alot of name calling to get me to exercise. The only thing i learned from her was binge eating and dieting basically she is a yoyo dieter. This was a confusing message for me because I was never taught about emotional eating in high school. I use to come home from high school and overeat on junk food. In high school being a size 8 with a size f boobs people would call me fat. Then my gym teacher use to talk about how out of shape I was because I failed all of my fitness assessment test. People around never did any workouts. Every time i would try to be healthy ie. clean eating and yoga or work out people would say I was insecure because I wanted to lose weigh or eat healthier diet. . Now i want it for self and gotten help for coping with stress. After the age of 21, I started working on myself.

…or…

My mother was NEVER overweight until after she had her third baby. I, on the other hand, living with my mom, sisters and extended family, started getting chubby in 3rd grade. I don’t think my mom really knew how to handle it and put the blame on me, as this mother did. I remember my pediatrician grabbing a handful of fat from my side and saying something along the lines of, “you’re fat!” And I was not even 10 yet. I may not have even been 8. I remember going school shopping and my mom picking out what basically looked like the pants from an old lady’s leisure suit and me crying because it was ugly and her telling me that if I would lose weight then I could get better looking clothes. I WAS 10 at that point. Mind you, I lived in a house that was always stocked with snacks (as Mike Epps put it in Next Friday, all the new snacks, all the 2000 snacks!).

These things hurt to my core and made me resent my mother. But, I just don’t think she knew what else to do in the situation. My mom was not abusive or neglectful. I truly believe she wanted the best for me and NEVER wanted anyone ELSE to say trrrible things to/about me because of my weight (she almost fought an Aunt of mine because she said something incredulous about me).

I am doing thing so that my baby will never have to go through what I went through as a child. That also means not making her feel her worth is in her body BUT making sure she knows that what you put INTO your body will either make you healthy and strong or sick and weak. And she’s two, so she loves showing off her muscles!

…or even…

My mother, God bless her, gave me a complex around food, dieting and my body. She was borderline eating disordered, got scary thin… and then put me on SlimFast when I was 8 years old. She had the complex and projected it onto me, and I developed an eating disorder as a result. I still remember how much she hurt me during my wedding dress fittings saying “I’d though you would have lost more weight by now.” loud enough for the entire bridal salon to hear. And I was working out like a fiend and calorie restricting to the point I was fainting from time to time. She thought she was being helpful. I had to kick her out of the dress process after that. It wasn’t about being healthy, it was about getting skinny.

My mother is over 60 and is just now starting to re-think her dialogue about her body (and consequently, mine). She still focuses on weight loss, and I counter with the fact that her plant based diet and regular exercise is helping her to avoid all those age related conditions other people her age experience. That any excess weight being shed is her body getting into proper balance. She ponders this and agrees with me… she’s learning. And I’m teaching.

So mothers, be very careful how you approach your daughters about their bodies. They’re already getting enough messages from society that they exist only to be “beautiful” and if they’re not, then they’re not worthy. Its up to you to affirm them and give them a strong sense of self.

That last paragraph is so important. The food landscape has changed enough that we do have to watch things like our blood pressure and blood sugar levels, keep an eye out for rapid weight changes (in a pharmaceutical-heavy climate, weight loss and gain are possible symptoms), and our fatigue levels… but we can do it without all the trauma, right? We can do it without triggering resentment and disordered behaviors in our babies, right? If my friends could do it, why couldn’t my family?

And, though I specifically mentioned mothers, I know they’re not the only ones that influence this kind of thing. (Mothers were on my mind because I was thinking of my relationship with my daughter and I.) So, I’m asking. What did you learn from your families about healthy living? Was it helpful or harmful? What would you change? What do you teach your babies now?

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2 comments

Vera September 27, 2017 - 9:08 PM

Hi Erika! Love your blog 🙂

I’m not sure if this is exactly what you have in mind, but: I’ve also been thinking about this basic issue – how, I guess, early socialisation/acculturation, esp. for girls, impacts longterm attitudes to fitness – a lot recently, and I’ve had a general thought that is linked to my fitness journey and my mother, who struggles/has basically always struggled with her weight in a variety of unhealthy ways (secret binge-eating, both pretending and actually not eating for long periods, deeply critical attitudes to herself and other people in relation to weight, heaps of other stuff). Lately I’ve noticed that she doesn’t, or seems not to, believe that calorie/macro tracking etc. are really predictive; or that procedures to lose weight healthily or legitimate, in spite of robust anecdotal and scientific support.

One upshot, for me, is that I think that it might be really important for everyone, but for various reasons (established underrepresentation etc.) esp. girls, to be given an early understanding of science – not so much the substantive content of science (that too though!), but more what it is as a truth-oriented process and why the results that come from that process can have real force; and basic stuff like how to do research and read a paper and understand a bit about statistics even (or at least why statistical analysis of populations can generate really predictive algorithms that can totally apply to individuals). It really took me basically 4 years of university education, after my initial upbringing that emphasised the most woo-woo aspects of “feminine intuition” and “traditional knowledges” (not dismissing either in principle), to understand why being deliberately unhealthy and promoting a similar attitude in others is deeply incompatible with e.g. valuing nationalised healthcare, or being committed to truth in research, or being a good neighbour, or even being an appealing representative of a discipline or viewpoint.

Just my 2 cents! In any case, really happy to see content from you, and looking forward to more.

jaded September 30, 2017 - 12:19 AM

I was a chubby kid. And as I got older, my mom didn’t say much but she has always been hypercritical about the appearance of people in the public eye or walking around. She complains when people have flat butts, when people she thinks are too big wear crop tops – but she is ok with people of any size who,look “put together.”. She complains about cleavage, and as a busty girl who developed early she made sure I was very covered and still is critical of cleavage today.

I feel like dad was the worst. He made comments like “you could be a model if you had a smaller stomach!”

Meahwhile, I definitely didn’t get the right behavior modeled. My parents drink soda or koolaid daily. Even now as they are retired. My dad would “joke” about being a junk food junkie. Processed snacks were available in wide variety as I was a kid and sugary snacks were an every day occurance after every meal. My parents still have processed snacks – Hostess’ greatest hits.

We did have to eat our veggies before dessert. But now I dread spending too long at my parent’s place, because there aren’t enough veggies available. There is a lot of fruit, lots of junk food and lots of sugary beverages. And mom is always making a special cake or biscuits for breakfast and all of the other things that aren’t great to have for 3 meals a day.

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