Mumsnet Logo
My feed

to access all these features


To worry about family attitudes to food and body image and want to come up with strategies to deal with it??

27 replies

pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 06:27

We're currently TTC. DH's relationship with food worries me a bit, and my mother's and MIL's attitudes to food and body are bonkers. There is a family history of body issues and anorexia on both sides, and I'm not liking the way things are looking with our nieces (aged 7 & 1) and nephews (aged 3 & 6), regarding their attitudes to food. I worry about what influence our mothers, and DH's upbringing/current headspace, will have on any kids we have.

Our sisters (i.e. nephews' and nieces' mothers) are fairly standard products of a particular upbringing, seeing self-worth in self-denial and weight loss. My sister is clearly currently anorexic (and no-one in the family will admit it or talk about it other than to say I'm fat and jealous of my sister's physique) and is bringing up her daughter to talk about fat people being stupid and lazy. My niece has a completely warped boday image and is only 7. DH's sister was anorexic for most of her teens, and though she is in a better place mentally now, she still is bringing up her kids to talk about "deserving" normal dinner "because they've done enough exercise today"; and people who are beautiful are invariably extremely thin and athletic.

Both DM and DMIL think "fat" people are "stupid and lazy" and "lack self-control". Both of them define "fat" as something like a BMI of >18. Both of them have brought up their kids to see self-control, self-denial and good physique as important.

DH can see that all of the above is unhealthy, but he also talks about "deserving food because he's done enough exercise". In his case it's utterly ridiculous. He's 39, and his BMI is currently probably about 18. He runs mountain marathons at elite level. He doesn't eat that much (I try to sneak in extra calories wherever I can), works really hard and gets a buzz out of denying himself sleep and then (on about 4 hours' sleep) going and exercising really hard - a 30km run up and down a couple of 700m high mountains is a typical Sunday morning for him. He used to be an elite-level lightweight rower, i.e. he weighed less than 70kg while being 205cm tall and exercising hard, for most of his teens and early 20s. His parents thought rowing for his country was a great thing for his development. In some ways yes, but in many ways, no, it's extremely damaging physically and mentally.

In the middle of all this I sit here like some lardy* Cassandra, gloomily wondering how to limit access of grandmothers and aunts to any kids I have, until they're old enough to get self-worth from healthier things than excessive self-denial around food.

*In comparison to all of them. My BMI is a very healthy 22 and has been for decades. I like food.

OP posts:

HeteronormativeHaybales · 21/08/2015 07:27

That would concern me too. I had a brush with anorexia as a teen without any of that sort of loaded background (other seriously dysfunctional things going on. mind you) and it really is not good.

Your dh will be the key factor here. If necessary you can limit contact with other family members. But first and foremost I would talk, talk, talk to your dh. He needs to know in all bluntness what you are worried about and that it will not be on to pass on his issues to any children you have. Has he ever sought professional help for his issues? I think now would be a very good time to do so.

Without wanting to reveal details, I am slightly fucked up in another way and dh is very clear to our kids on the unnormality of aspects of that behaviour when it comes out (although I rein it in as much as humanly possible and am really to most intents and purposes sorted out). Sometimes this annoys me but it is the right approach. The very worst thing for children is exposure to deeply dysfunctional or problematic behaviours from adults while all around are pretending that those behaviours are entirely normal in the name of the sacrosanct united parental front. As it is, my dc understand that there are things I struggle a bit with but it is a struggle and not something they have to adopt or identify with.

Good luck TTC :)


pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 07:40

Thanks for your perspective HHB Smile. Your and your DH's approach sounds sensible (though I also get that you might find it annoying when your DH does it).

I think one can talk to kids about other people having unhealthy relationships with food and that it's all very complex and relates to socialization and women's roles as decorative ornaments in a previous generation (not mentioning my trophy wife sister with her husband who encourages her and my niece in their skewed body image).

However, those sorts of conversations will come too late, when the kid has already internalized subliminal messages like "your mother is fat and lazy and has no control, but grandma is great because she knows when to say no to temptation, and knows who deserves their dinner or not". I had certainly internalized that message very young - I "knew" that my grandmother "was selfish and had no self control" because she ate what she liked. Now I look back and realize my grandmother was much healthier and had much more of a sense of self-determination than my mother or sister does.

So more thought is needed and your approach sounds like a good way to follow. Thanks.

OP posts:

CoteDAzur · 21/08/2015 07:45

Sorry but LOL @ "lardy Cassandra" Grin

22 is a course a perfectly normal BMI and it sounds like you have reason for concern here. Still, when you have children, you will be the primary influence and will easily be able to shape their attitude to food and body image.


CoteDAzur · 21/08/2015 07:51

Btw DD (10) has just started asking questions like "How much would I need to weigh to be fat?", "Will it make me fat to eat this?" etc and I have been saying "You can eat anything you like" (she has no access to junk food) and "Children grow fast and burn a lot of energy. It is only when you are my age that you need to be careful about food, exercise, and metabolism".

The question comes up because we are on holiday with my mum & aunt, both of whom are quite impressively overweight and suffer from related health problems.


pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 07:52

CodeDAzur Grin

In some ways I'm actually worried about what to say in front of kids, and worried that by being worried I'll transmit discomfort around eating to the kids. Also worried about how I'd react to grandmas and aunts making loony comments. I do obviously have plenty of time to come up with what to say - just need to work out what that would be... and get DH more on board than he currently is. I think he's in the grey area of being better educated, healthier and fitter than his doctor by a long way, so most GPs aren't going to refer him for counselling about body issues, they're going to think "he's sensible and healthy, his wife's being a worrier and maybe should do more exercise for her own anxiety issues"

OP posts:

lastqueenofscotland · 21/08/2015 08:07

My mother was always the fat kid at school and then lost a lot of weight in her early 20s. However her massive fear of her kids being the fat kids even as adults is and was unbearable. I went round for dinner and had seconds and she was making all sorts of comments (I'm not remotely overweight or even close to it).

however I do also do an enourmous amount of exercise (like your DH I imagine-lots if long distance running) and have done a huge amount of sport since I was at school, I'm totally addicted and find it very compulsive. Beware the lastqueen who wants to go running but can't!! I have however made firm friends who I met in my early teens from this that I still see and speak to today. Id not push your child into a sport but I'd also not panic if thy find one they love and want to peruse it all the time. If they are the next Paula Radcliffe great, or if they are the next person who just wants to jog round parkrun in 30mins once a month that's equally great too. (Obviously there are other options than running... Or so I'm told).


Loki17 · 21/08/2015 08:08

I have a history of ed. My method of ensuring dd has a healthy relationship with food started with weaning. By which I mean, I weaned on a variety of foods in the hope that she would like the taste of a wide range of foods and textures. As she got older, I served balanced meals. I didn't obsess about it. She either ate her veggies or she didn't, but they were always served. She has never been forced to clear her plate and can stop eating when full. No foods are referred to as 'bad' and she has something 'unhealthy' as a treat every day because I want her to know and understand that these foods are a treat, but not restrict them to the point that she will gorge on them when she gets older. I never talk about myself negatively in front of her. She is active for fun too, not because she has to earn her dinner. My dd is 4 and her diet is healthy and normal. She is skinny but I never call her that. If others do I correct them to say 'healthy'. I do the same if people poke her belly in a playful way and say 'ooh look at that fat belly'. It is surprising how many people say that even though she is a skinny thing. However, she does eat well and people always comment on that too.
Your main struggles will be with your extended family. Set your stall out from the start. Do not tolerate body bashing at all, even when your baby is little. My niece was a lovely, chunky baby with chubby cheeks and legs. (She is now a skinny 4 year old) She was born on the 95th centile. My own dd was born on the 75th then dropped down to the the 25th because we had problems with feeding and colic. You would be amazed at how many people made comments and comparisons between the two babies; as though my niece was overweight even at 12 weeks old! People would say things like 'she's big isn't she' to my SIL or 'she's much heavier than loki ' s dd, isn't she?'. My SIL had the best retort though, she would just ignore the question and reply 'she is perfect'. My dd was always ill, where as my niece never was. As my niece grew she developed into a lovely, healthy toddler, but it took my dd a lot longer to climb back up the centiles. She's now at the 50th, my niece is at the 60th, which just goes to show how ridiculous peoples comments were! Good luck with ttc!


SevenSeconds · 21/08/2015 08:14

It does sound like you have cause for concern, but don't despair. I agree with Cote that you are the primary influence on your children.

I have some worries about my mother's attitude to food, but so far my DC (eldest is 9) have a healthy attitude to food.

I agree with coming up with some phrases in advance in response to family member comments. My main concern with my mum is around her link between emotions and food, so when she comes out with some nonsense I turn to my DC and say "it's very simple, eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full". Maybe you could also think of a couple of 'curvy and attractive' friends and celebrities, and keep them up your sleeve so that when they make comments about so-and-so being beautiful you could be ready with additional examples.

I don't (yet) talk to my DC about relationships with food, I just try to model a very relaxed take-it-or-leave-it approach to food, avoiding use of words like 'reward' and 'deserve' and 'ooh I really shouldn't' and even 'treat' (although that one does seem to crop up however hard you try) and focus on 'healthy' and 'good for your body'. I tell my DD what lovely strong legs she has and give them lots of opportunity to be active. Like Cote I allow my DC to eat pretty much what they like (except for snacks when there is a meal in less than an hour), but I don't keep much rubbish in the house.

I don't know much about anorexia though (my family tends in the other direction!). Would it be worth approaching an organisation specialising in anorexia and asking for some pre-emptive tips?


Hamishandthefoxes · 21/08/2015 08:18

We have a similar issue the other way in that both mum and mil are obese, mum extremely.

The children are given healthy food with me and dh. If they don't want it there is milk, toast and fruit - nothing else in the house. They don't have to clear their plates, and are encouraged to listen to what dd calls her off switch to decide when they're full.

We also talk about how granny's relationship with food is messed up and how (only child of toxic mother who controlled with food).

At the moment (7&5) they're both healthy weights but I'm conscious we'll need to keep an eye on it from ed both ways.


pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 08:23

lastqueen Smile I bloody love running too, but have been injured so often in the last few years that I basically can't handle the 30km ones any more. I completely get the love of sort and finding many good things in it - but I worry about the obsessiveness and body image aspects. And about the fact DH shuts down when I try to discuss it with him.

Loki and Sevenseconds thanks, those sound sensible strategies. And yes i might approach an ED organization about pre-emptive tips - and particularly around DH's refusal to discuss his own issues.

OP posts:

pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 08:24

Hamish that's sad about their granny, but souds like you're doing well with the kids. I would say similar things about grannies being messed up around food.

OP posts:

LittleLionMansMummy · 21/08/2015 08:48

Wow op there are some serious issues with your lot! You're right to be concerned about those seriously unhealthy attitudes and relationships with food. Take heart that you will be the primary influence on your dc in all ways, including food. When you have your dc there is a lot of good advice on how not to not make food become a problem - from fussy eating to eating disorders! Most of it is common sense and will be instinctive to someone like you who has a perfectly normal relationship with food. You may need to think about how you will 'manage' your dm and mil taking care of your dc though as it's likely to give you the rage. All my folks on both sides love food, but I still got narked when mil stated "no wonder he has chubby wrists!" about my 9 month old ds just because I let him have some raisins while we were waiting to be served lunch at a pub/ restaurant! Ds has always been on the 50th centile for weight - loves his food, loves trying new food, but will always know when he's had enough. Totally self regulating, as are most children - providing the adults don't mess things up! Good luck ttc.Smile


Tootsiepops · 21/08/2015 09:50

This thread has been enormously helpful. I've struggled with disordered eating my whole life as a result of my Mum's ed. I'm 27 weeks pregnant with a girl, and I am so scared that she ends up with similar food related issues.


pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 09:57

Absolutely great to teach kids to know when they're hungry and to stop when they've had enough. Also not to restrict things.

I've only stopped eating "free" food outside the home to excess recently - I used to eat far, far too much when adults/family weren't around because everything was so restricted at home. I can still remember the desperation of making sure I got "enough" free donuts when tutoring at university - "enough" being about 10!

OP posts:

pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 09:59

Tootsiepops, best of luck. Have you had help in the form of CBT or anything?

OP posts:

Pidapie · 21/08/2015 10:06

I battled anorexia for 7 years and still have eating problems (going the opposite way now), 11 years after I started actually eating. I think their attitude does sound very worrying, you're definitely not being unreasonable. I think a good, long chat is due with your partner. I can't see what you could do about the rest of the family unfortunately :(


suzannefollowmyvan · 21/08/2015 10:32

?I can relate to getting a buzz from running although 30 mountain k is a way bigger fix than I would need.

But sleep deprivationShock
I'm quite health obsessed and I would be very concerned about the health impact of not getting enough sleep, also the stress to my heart of very prolonged very intense exercise.
I purposely keep running under 2 hours and I run pretty slowly to keep my heart rate down

It sounds like he is getting ?a buzz from self denial, from being 'superhuman'?


suzannefollowmyvan · 21/08/2015 10:45

Then again if he's good enough to run at an elite level I guess his identity is strongly tied up with being superhuman?


pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 12:39

suzanne - I get a buzz from running too. But for me it's 5km up/down a 300m-high hill, or a super-slow time chatting to a friend at Parkrun, or if I'm feeling full of energy, 20km up and down one 700m-high mountain - not 30km up/down/up/down two 700m mountains in the mud and snow on 4 hours' sleep!

He is certainly getting a buzz from being superhuman, and unfortunately, has clearly been brought up to do so. Mummy praising you aged 18 because you get 99.8% in end of school exams and make the national lightweight rowing squad - and therefore you are studying your guts out while also exercising harder than almost anyone else in any sport anywhere while having to maintain a BMI of 15 by living on lettuce and longing looks at the fridge- is just bloody insane. But Mummy doesn't see it that way - even if his younger sister openly says that she wa trying to emulate DH's success in MIL's eyes, by developing full-blown anorexia. Sad

OP posts:

EyeoftheStorm · 21/08/2015 13:22

I come at the this from a slightly different angle in that my family don't have any eating issues and I would like to replicate that in my family. When I look back at my childhood, these are the things that stand out.

No one talked about dieting or size - we ate until we were full, didn't have to clear our plates, had access to snacks if we wanted.

I have never heard either of my parents comment on their own or anybody else's size. It was of no interest to them.

I agree that you will have a lot of say in what your DCs eat and you will be able to come between them and the attitudes of wider family, but I do think you need to get your DH more on board with what you're trying to do. My dad thought we were great whatever our size, whatever our marks etc and we knew it.

My DH's family tend towards perfectionism and high achievement in every area. It used to strike me as weird that one of the first things his DM would say to him when we saw her - we lived overseas so not regularly - was you've lost weight or you've put on weight. He knows what his family are like, but it is insidious. I've had to tell him not to comment on TV people's appearances in front of our DCs.


suzannefollowmyvan · 21/08/2015 15:26

when you are competing at an elite level I guess there is a lot of pressure to keep body weight as low as possible because everything has to be optimised and lighter = faster

he probably knows everything there is to know about running physiology and the various health trade offs, and therefore has an answer for anything you say?
Im not sure what to say, I've no insight into sport at that kind of level, I'm in the Eddie the eagle Edwards league, no talent but I keep trying anywayBlush

Might he ease off from the competitive side soon Pombear ?

maybe start thinking about being as healthy as possible in the long term and the benefits of a slightly higher BMI?


TalkinPeace · 21/08/2015 17:20

Does your husband cook?
Does he enjoy good food loaded with micronutrients well presented?

Just that if you could find the foodie in him then you might have a chance of making food times with your own family be more fun : they will still be slightly obsessively nutrition based - I doubt he'll ever be able to unprogramme that bit - but at least they will be healthy portions.

I have a cousin whose three children are distinctly underweight, and the only approach that seems to be working is getting her and them to focus on nutrition enough to be an all round athlete (rather than any particular sport to a high level)


Tootsiepops · 21/08/2015 18:13

PomBear - it's come up in counselling for something else, but I've not had specific help. I did wonder if CBT might be worth a try.

EyeoftheStorm - that was a useful insight, and very much what I want to achieve with my daughter. I want food to be an absolute non-issue God knows it's made me miserable enough


pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 21:43

Eyeofthestorm - that sounds very sensible.

Suzanne - I don't think he consciously restricts food like he used to have to when he was a severely underweight (medically classifiable as "starvation") "lightweight" rower. But it's pretty hard-wired into him to ignore hunger, tiredness, illness, any sign of weakness and just get on with being awesome and cheerful Sad

TalkinPeace - I'm trying to teach him to cook. He's not really a foodie at all and stubbornly won't put effort into it - still "doesn't know how to cook meat", only makes pizza or ham and egg on bagels, and when i ask him to do things apparently can't do anything at a speed that's even faintly functional, or clean up after himself adequately, or follow any instructions properly, aged 39. FFS he's got a PhD and is an Associate Professor at a university. It's not like cooking is that difficult for lesser mortals... Hmm

Unfortunately this anti-foodie thing is all tied up in MIL's issues as well - their dad likes to eat out with his super-rich banker-lawyer-politician colleagues, their mum thinks that's profligate and self-indulgent (well, at the level FIL likes to do it, it certainly is profligate); but she also has all the hangups of women of her generation being not-quite-made-it-2nd-wave-feminists who came from ultra-traditional backgrounds, so she thinks "life is too short" to do your own cooking or to care about providing nutritious meals, so she ostentatiously doesn't eat properly because "she has better things to do".

Which is of course utter rubbish, eating properly is one of the best things you can do. ARGH.

Don't get me started on my own family. They're more about spending hours on gourmet cooking where the men get served 90% of what's been cooked and my mother and sister "aren't hungry" "ate lunch late" "had some food earlier" etc. and then comment nastily about how much any female is eating - including my 7yo niece.Sad

OP posts:

pomBearPooPouffe · 21/08/2015 21:52

Tootsiepops - CBT might be of use if you're worried about this. A CBT practitioner who has experience of eating disorders might also help with developing directed strategies and protocols to follow when you're worrying underneath. Flowers

OP posts:
Please create an account

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Sign up to continue reading

Mumsnet's better when you're logged in. You can customise your experience and access way more features like messaging, watch and hide threads, voting and much more.

Already signed up?