When Your Mother Has An Eating Disorder
My mom has always been very aware of her weight, how many calories she consumes, how much she exercises each day, and the tiniest fluctuations in her clothing size. Even when she’s been injured and instructed not to exercise, she’s still snuck in power walks. When I was a child and we’d go on road trips, if we stopped the car just for ten minutes so everyone could grab a bite to eat and pee, we’d find my mom jogging around the parking lot. I do not believe my mom has an eating disorder, but I do believe that she is somewhat obsessive about her body and her physical appearance. We’ve certainly never bonded over ordering large pizzas and downing tubs of ice cream together. We bond during water aerobics classes and while chopping veggies for green juice. But I have had friends with mothers with eating disorders, and I understand some of their feelings. Here is what it’s like having a mother with an eating disorder.
You feel like you can’t speak up
Your mom is still your mom—the authority, the elder, and the one with the wisdom. As such, you can’t really try to tell her what to do, or suggest she’s making mistakes. In fact, you feel rude doing that. You don’t want her to, on top of the body issues she’s dealing with, feel humiliated by her daughter.
Her friends come to you
Her friends come to you, either hinting at or downright pointing out your mother’s problem. They want to know if you’ve noticed, if you’ve said anything, if you’re going to do anything about it…you feel like they’re blaming you for it in a way. They have no idea how hard it is for you to speak to your mother about this. If anything, her peers should speak to her about it.
You can’t let her get in your head
You have to be very mentally strong when it comes to your own body image and body love. You have to work hard not to let your mom’s comments about how many calories there are in your milkshake get to your head. But, again, you want to be respectful so you can’t tell her to shut up or stop it.
Mother-daughter weekends are tough
Mother-daughter weekends are complicated. Your mother might be very strict about her eating and exercise schedule, along with what she will allow herself to eat. Vacation with your mother isn’t spontaneous, indulgent, or any of the other things vacation should be.
You worry about her health
Eating disorders are very dangerous at any age, but they’re particularly so in older women. Since your mom is getting up there in years, her bone and heart health are even more fragile, and an eating disorder can put these at more of a risk.
You feel sad it’s lasted this long
You feel very sad that your mom has spent so many years with this issue. If you’re a woman, then you likely had some disordered eating tendencies in your teen or college years (that’s very common) but they went away. Even those few years were exhausting. You can’t believe your mom has lived like this for forty, fifty, sixty years…
She doesn’t want certain foods in the house
When you visit your mom, you won’t find anything you want in her kitchen. On top of that, she gets agitated if you stock her fridge and pantry with foods you want—she doesn’t want the temptation around. So she gets angry with you, and you have to pretend it’s not all stemming from her issues.
There’s an emotional distance
When your parent is lying so deeply to themselves about their condition, and obviously to everyone else, you just can’t help but feel an emotional distance. There is this giant thing that nobody is talking about, so all other topics feel strained, too.
You get angry at whoever hurt her
Maybe her mother said things that caused this, or her ex-husband. Maybe even your father caused this. But you are very angry with the person who said or did something to cause this.
You want her to be stronger than this
Sometimes you get irritated, and just want to grab your mom, shake her and say, “You’re better than this! This is stupid, teenage behavior!” You want your mom to be this mentally and emotionally strong individual who would never have something like an eating disorder.
You feel bad for judging her
You feel very guilty for judging your mother. That’s not fair. That’s judgmental. It’s not like she wants to be like this. And you don’t feel like a very good feminist for getting angry with your mother for being affected by ideas society has pushed onto her.
You want to make it go away
You just wish you could make it go away. Sometimes, it feels so simple—she should just eat more. She should workout less. Doesn’t she see she’s gorgeous? But you have to remind yourself that this problem stems deeper than just food choices and workout regiments. This is an emotional issue.
You feel very grateful you didn’t get it
You feel like you dodged a bullet by not getting an eating disorder—or at least for having kicked the one you had when you were younger. It’s amazing that having a mother with one didn’t cause you to have a life-long one, too.
You can’t make her feel fragile
You have to be careful not to make her feel fragile. You know that it’s important to her to at least believe that her daughter thinks she is strong and stable.
You’re suspicious of/frustrated with her partners
If your mother is single and she starts dating someone, you can’t help but be suspicious of this person. Don’t they see she is sick? Do they condone her sickness?