Today my mom would have turned seventy-one years old. On her birthday, I want to share more about this wonderful person; moreover, part of my journey with food and body. During one of my coaching certification trainings, the theory was presented that how we view our bodies and our image thereof, starts with our same-sex parent relationship, especially with females. The psychology behind the concept is complex and layered, with lots of depth that allows for each unique relationship. I encourage you to think about your own food and body biography and the role your same-sex parent played. You may find pain points that deserve to be understood, forgiven, and released. Lastly, I will address the Health At Every Size and Body Positivity Movements and why I think we have swung to the other extreme. We have an opportunity and great need to seek balance and healing as a collective. Even with this topic, we are sadly divided.
I have wanted to write about my mom for so long, however, I have found it difficult, starting on many occasions only to find myself stuck. It is as if my words cannot do her justice or accurately describe what an incredible soul she was, especially because I harshly, secretly, unfairly judged my mom as a young girl and teenager. When I moved out of her home, I found a shift in such thoughts. Yet, my shame stayed with me. In therapy for my eating disorder years later, I had to work on releasing that shame. I am incredibly grateful for that therapeutic work!
When my parents divorced, I was four, and my mom moved us immediately to Houston, Texas. It was a struggle, and money was always tight growing up. My mom often worked multiple jobs and long hours to provide for us. My brother and I became latch-key kids of the 80s, living in rough neighborhoods that were scary by day and night. Entering elementary school, we used my grandparent’s address, who lived about twenty minutes away so we could go to a better school. Although I appreciated my mom’s efforts and love, her decision put me in an environment where I constantly felt inferior, making me want to excel at school to prove myself, which thankfully that came easy for me. But unlike my friends, my clothes and shoes were hand-me-downs, I didn’t have a cute lunch box with brand-named goodies, and the other moms all seemed different than mine. They were, for example, actively involved at the school and did things like hosting classroom birthday parties. In addition, in my mind, they were thin and pretty.
In fourth grade, I told my mom I wished I could have a birthday party, yet I knew it wasn’t possible, because if she missed work we would lose the income we needed. She then asked me what I would like if I were to have a party. I told her chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles for everybody in my class. She then made thirty-two chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles the day before my birthday! My mom loved to cook and bake but mostly enjoyed the pleasure others experienced from her food. This was her love language. While I was so excited about my cupcakes, I started to wish I had never told my mom I wanted this, for I didn’t want her bringing them to my class. I felt ashamed of my mom’s appearance, for she lived in a larger body. I wondered things like how she can be okay with herself; why doesn’t she try to change; if she looked different, somehow that would change our lives for the better. Yes, as a child, I had all these thoughts! I was relieved when my mom told me the following day, on my birthday, that I would need to take the cupcakes myself, because she couldn’t take off work. With this relief also came the first time I recall feeling guilty and even sad that I thought like this about my mom. She loved me, killed herself to provide for our little family and made me cupcakes. “I must be an awful person” was now a new thought on top of the others. There would be many more of these situations to come.
I never heard my mom say one negative thing about how her body looked, ever, so it isn’t even fair to say that for her entire life weight was a struggle for her – because she didn’t struggle with it. She loved food and seemed comfortable in her own skin. There are, however, some horrible stories of others treating her poorly, starting with doctors that hurt her, but she quickly forgave them. That was my mom! She saw the best in everyone, even when they didn’t deserve it. If she smiled at you, your world instantly brightened up. And, even though we were considered poor for most of my childhood and sometimes didn’t have much at all, my mom would still cook enough to feed lots of kids when she could; a master at making something out of nothing. Her specialty was tuna casserole. It was honestly legendary. Although I wanted to be like the kids I went to school with, I found great comfort in the apartment with kids flocking to my home to eat. This made my mom so happy.
Other family members and she would tell me I was “the little one” and take after my dad. Throughout middle school and most of high school, I found solace in that idea and never tried to control food or my body. In the later part of my junior year of high school, that shifted, as my boyfriend at the time commented, “You better be careful, or you will end up like your mom. I love your mom, but…..” Trigger!! There would be several more triggers over the next couple of years before launching me into Anorexia and Bulimia. Still, the day after he made that comment, I remember driving to the store and buying Slim Fast. Shake for breakfast, shake for lunch, reasonable dinner… “I can do that. I just need to be careful.”
These are some of the stories and roots that shaped my early relationship with body and food. I was afraid of gaining weight and being like my mom, but I hoped I would have her heart. I knew my mom felt loved by me when I cleaned my plate, especially when I went back for a little more. However, I would question if that was okay. Scarcity and abundance totally co-existed! Plus, I haven’t even touched on how food accompanied every single emotion in our home.
Once I graduated high school and moved into my own place, my mom and I started to get closer than ever. I guess I finally realized how exceptional she was when we were no longer under the same roof. That can happen with moms and daughters. I remember even feeling badly for my mom, because she would have been so great for a daughter who really “needed her.” I did, but I didn’t. From an early age, my precocious nature with a strong drive for independence always made me somewhat push away. Before my mom passed just over nine years ago, in her typical selfless fashion, I remember her telling me, “You taught me how to let go, because you needed to swim on your own. I am thankful for that gift.” (what a perfect picture I found for this blog to accompany this sweet statement)
My mom said many other things that run through my mind frequently to this day. Here are just some of her best adages that stay with me always.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“You can’t understand unless you have walked in their shoes.”
“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it all.”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
One specific to me that she made into a song, “Don’t take yourself so serious!”
There are some conflicting opinions in my family about mom’s health and her passing, so I want to be delicate as I write this next part. However, this is important. I mentioned earlier that my mom was sometimes mistreated, especially by doctors, because of her size. For that reason, she stayed away from doctors as much as possible. In her mid-50s, while gardening, she was bitten by a brown recluse spider in several places. If you aren’t aware of this relatively small brown spider, it is venomous and takes no prisoners. This spider sent my mom to the hospital, and not that long after, she was found to have MRSA, an infection that isn’t responsive to most antibiotics and can be deadly. The information then started to get a little muddy, for my mom wasn’t the best at sharing how she was struggling or in pain. She was a much better caregiver than a care-receiver. All I knew was that she had all sorts of problems.
I remember one day, years after that spider situation, so clearly. It was hard for my mom to get around, so she stayed in her bed a lot. We tended to huddle up in her room when visiting. Her spirits were still high, but I will never forget seeing the reality of what was happening at the sight of her nightstand. Pills!! So many prescription medications, from a variety of doctors – easily twenty bottles. That little table couldn’t hold anymore. In dismay, I asked, “Mom, what is all of this?” Her answer was, “Well, they all do something, and some are for side effects of some of the others.” Gosh, I remember those sentences. I then asked her what was wrong and begged her to tell me. She started to rattle off a list. I only remember some, because I began almost to blank out as I couldn’t believe it: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Type-2 Diabetes, Sleep Apnea, High Cholesterol, Diverticulitis, Lupus, and she kept going. I just cried and gave her a big hug.
Then something interesting happened. My stepdad, who loved my mom greatly and is a good man, came into the room with a big box of donuts. He asked what was happening, and my mom said she had just told me why she must take so much medication. He said, “Yeah, can you believe all this came from that spider?” My mom said, while almost going into a daze as she opened the box of donuts and began to eat, “Yep, just one spider while gardening.” I didn’t say it aloud, but I thought, “Can that really be true?” I then asked to go to her next doctor’s appointment with her.
This specific doctor was a very caring man with excellent bedside manners. At one point during the appointment, he asked in a tender way how she was doing on her food plan, because losing some weight could help in many ways, starting with all the joint pain. She quickly said fine and changed the subject. However, I did not believe the “fine,” for I had witnessed her overly indulging in donuts in a daze just weeks earlier. I was in the early stages of my own recovery, and this was so heartbreaking. Did my mom struggle with food, too, and I never really realized it?? I caught that doctor in the hallway on our way out. My mom and stepdad didn’t know. I asked him, “Did all this really come from that spider?” He probably should not have legally said anything to me, but he did, “I doubt that. The spider seemed to be the catalyst bringing everything to light, but your mom’s weight is the source.” I have literally never mentioned this moment before now; I kept it to myself and just decided to love her….nothing else.
She passed away at just 61 years old. Of course, it was very sad, but she was no longer in pain. A little over a year later, I felt a calling like nothing I had ever felt – to help people heal their relationship with food and body! I was now strong in my own recovery, and as I had this revelation, not knowing how in the world I was going to help others, a ladybug landed on me. My mom would always point out ladybugs, so I took this as affirmation. And so, my journey of becoming a Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach began. Now, six years into the work and four certifications later, I know my mom would be proud of me.
Because of what I witnessed my mom experience living in a larger body and losing her too soon, there are parts of the eating disorder recovery community and specific trendy movements which I’m afraid I can’t agree with entirely. I have spoken to many people, including other professionals, who feel the same way, yet we all seem scared to say anything; all afraid of being accused of things that are not true. For example, being “fatphobic” or “part of the problem” or for those recovered like me, you may even be questioned on your own journey. Please just hear me out before attacking. The Health At Every Size and the Body Positivity movements both have meaningful and well-intended missions. However, how the messages are spreading is becoming a new extreme with all sorts of motives and narratives, seemingly marked with aggression and even anger by some. I think we must be cautious and use great discernment.
Yes, yes, yes – with a few momisms.
- Each person can and should pursue health and well-being at any size.
- No two people will find health and well-being the same exact way.
- You cannot tell if someone is healthy or not solely by their weight. There is science to back this up. –“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
- Genetics and age are at the forefront in determining someone’s natural healthy set point.
- The mistreatment of those in larger bodies is flat-out wrong and accurately deemed bullying. -“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it all.”
- I wish everyone would STOP commenting on other people’s bodies. It makes me cringe and mostly hurts my heart. You don’t know why someone’s weight is what it is. I got the most compliments when I was sickest with my eating disorder. -“You can’t understand unless you have walked in their shoes.”
- What is attractive to one person could be different for someone else, and there is nothing wrong with either. -“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
- Body positivity and the celebration of diversity is so awesome! Body positivity can mean loving how you look, but I must add on to this. It can also mean not hating yourself and living in a state of neutrality -simply appreciating all your body does for you. Body positivity also means taking care of your body in a way that fits best for you.
No, no, no
- We cannot try to pretend that living in a body larger than someone’s natural set point is healthy. At some point, there will be consequences, just like someone who is underweight. Fact: some people need to gain weight to reach better health, and some need to lose weight. It is also a fact that our obesity rates in America and eating disorders statistics are both terrifyingly increasing year by year. Now, focusing on weight as a goal is very ineffective and even counterproductive, yet it does remain as one measurement amongst many to help determine health in the present and future.
- Images are powerful. Most will now recognize the dangers of celebrating very thin models and ultra-photoshopped pictures on social media. I also believe the same is true for glorifying very large bodies. All are extremes that can be damaging.
- Depicting food freedom as just eating whatever, while highlighting foods like donuts, is wrong. Freedom means the ability to choose what is best for you. When it comes to food, that means a healthy marriage between your body’s nutritional needs and what you like. It also means embracing the pleasure of eating while staying connected with your body to feel and be your best self. It is all about balance. So, yes, enjoy a donut, but also love-up on veggies and protein too!
What do we do? How do we heal as a collective? I think it all starts with matters of the soul. I bet you didn’t expect for me to take this turn here at the end. Healing our relationship with food and body is an inside job. Your body and weight will follow as planned for you by our Creator when you tend to your soul first. This is precisely what I had to tackle during my recovery and part of what I now help others do too.
- I had to challenge my thoughts.
- I had to feel my feelings and learn how to express them.
- I had to heal past hurts.
- I had to learn new ways to cope with life’s struggles.
- I had to understand how to use my temperament and traits for good.
- I had to forgive myself.
- I had to release shame.
- I had to line up my values with my priorities.
- I had to explore and grow my relationship with God.
- I had to embrace taking care of my body and accept imperfections.
- And I had to learn to “not take myself so serious,” which is always a work in progress, so I often hear my mom singing to me!
Until I see your smile again, Happy Earthy Birthday, Mom!!!! Keep sending ladybugs!
Vickie Sue (Magruder) Rentz 10/24/1951 – 10/7/2013
With Love & Light,