Recovery is tough, and moms can make it harder. Here is how to navigate that.
So you are trying to recover from your eating disorder, or your “disordered eating” or “kind of weird relationship with food and my body aha” (as I often said). You have followed all the body-positive people on Instagram who show their stomachs out and deleted all the flat tummy girls from your timeline. You have started changing the way your brain talks about food–not as good or bad but just as food, allow yourself to eat whatever you want whenever you want. You have gotten into intutive eating, maybe started a podcast on it. Deleted My Fitness Pal on your phone. It’s rocky, but you are doing ok.
And then you talk to your mom. She says something about getting you a bigger size in Costco jeans, or to cut that piece of birthday cake smaller for her, or that she really shouldn't be eating pizza at her size. Everything tumbles down. That barrier that you have spent so much time and energy working on creating disappears.
Or at least that's how it was for me, and for a lot of the other young women in my life. The hard truth is that in order to create a healthy relationship with food and your body, you are going to have to have some hard conversations with your mom. And it won’t be easy.
The other truth of the matter is this: if you have a not-great relationship with food, your mom who grew up in the ’80s does not either.
Here’s a guide to navigating those conversations:
First, an example of what to say (when something comes up)
“Hey, I have had/have a hard relationship with food. I need us to stop talking about weight. I get anxious when we talk about weight, yours or mine, but I want to spend time with you”.
Here are some things to note:
Emphasize that you actively love and want a good relationship with her (if you do) and that is conditional on a cease in body talk.
Obviously doing this is a privilege. But you deserve boundaries. The organization Eating Disorder Hope states that “When mothers and daughters find it important that their relationship lack boundaries (i.e., are enmeshed), daughters are more likely to engage in restrictive eating behaviors”.
Aim for body neutrality over body positivity.
You don’t need your mom to be in love with your body or hers. The goal isn’t to be obsessed with your looks, it’s to completely rid of weight and talk about bodies from your vocabulary.
When your mom mentions fatness or weight, ask her what she really means.
For example, one time I was talking with my mom about how she used to play soccer in her 20’s. She said:
“I’m too fat for that now”.
So I said:
What do you mean?
“Well I haven’t played soccer in 20 years and my knees are bad now”.
Aha! Now, you mention that while that is true, it had nothing to do with weight. Say something like:
“I want to hear you talk about your life and stories, but I need you to be more conscious about your words, don’t blame every flaw in the body on fatness”.
Take control of your own health.
Reiterate that your mother is not your doctor. If she is a doctor, she’s not yours. And that when she talks about weight and food, she carries with that conversation more shame than she would if she asked if you got enough sleep, or ate enough fiber, or the millions of other things that affect health besides weight.
Be consistent with your boundaries.
Keep them up. It’s hard work but your health is important.
At the end of the day, you chose to go on this journey of recovery and self-acceptance for a reason. Your recovery is of the utmost importance. Success is possible, I’ve been working on it myself. But, if that makes a more distant relationship with your mom, you are not alone.