growing up fat

Last week, researchers at the University of Minnesota concluded that parents shouldn’t encourage their fat children to diet. Read the article and the comments (but beware Sanity Watchers points!). There are a lot of interesting issues raised (things that Fat Acceptance has been preaching for years) but what the article made me think about was my own childhood.

I come from a great family. My parents are stilled married after 40 years. My only sister and I are close. My grandparents have been an important part of my life, and my aunts and uncles and cousins (and the occasional great-aunt and second-cousin and whatnot) are nearby and beloved.

We’re a family of fat women, for the most part. Both my grandmothers were fat. My mother and all of her sisters were fat at various points of their lives. One of my father’s sisters is fat; the others are not. My sister is not fat. My female cousins are.

All these women have lived with their fat in different ways. Some haven’t dieted; most have. One had weight-loss surgery. One has tried all the crazy diets and drugs. One died recently, having not been to a doctor in years. My mother, who was very fat as a teenager, stopped eating refined sugar as a young adult, practiced a form of intuitive eating, and has been slim ever since.

I have been fat all my life. At least, I have felt fat all my life – I’ve been meaning to dig up some photos and see if it’s actually true. By the time I was in high school, I was definitely fat. Fat enough that it was next to impossible to find women’s clothes that fit me. I wore men’s jeans and a lot of this stuff. (But then again, I wonder: Even then, was I as fat as I think I was? My prom dress was a size 14 – a stretchy 14, and I was positively stuffed into it, but a 14 nonetheless).

At some point, in junior or senior high, my mother started helping me try to lose weight. She never pressured me. She never made me feel bad about myself. She told me that she had been fat as a teenager, that it had been horribly painful, and that she didn’t want me to suffer what she had suffered. One time, she promised to buy me a jean jacket I had been coveting (somewhat like this – yeah, I was a dork) if I lost a certain amount of weight. Often, we’d plan out a diet together – never very restrictive, just fresh and healthy. It seemed good. I never felt ashamed; I felt like she was helping me do something I knew I should do anyway.

But now I wonder. Fat genes obviously run rampant in my family. Fat neuroses, too. I don’t know if I got mine from my mother or from the rest of the women in my life or from the world at large. And I don’t want to acknowledge the questions – the wishful thinking – that are niggling around in the back of my head: What if my mother hadn’t wanted me to diet? Would I be smaller now?

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16 responses to “growing up fat

  1. You gotta wonder. I felt fat all of my life too, though like you, I am not sure I actually was fat when I was younger. I think I just developed VERY early (I had to get a bra in 3rd grade!) so I was just kind of bigger than everyone else. Unfortunately, my family were hyper-fat haters on my mother’s side of the family. Fat meant you were a terrible, terrible person, yet food was love. We were all happiest when we were eating. I was constantly put on diets, even went to fat camp instead of a great art camp. Imagine constantly hearing in a Jamaican accent ” O Lahd, ya SOOO FAT!” ALL of the time. That was my mom and mother’s side of the family. I had an uncle promise me a Versace dress if I could get thin. This same uncle used to push me into Blimpie if we were walking by one because “that’s where I belonged”. Now mind you, all of this time I was about a size 12. But I was made to believe that is was the most horrible thing in the world to be, and to feel very ashamed of my body because it had developed early, like it was somehow my fault. I got horribly sick as a teen and because of treatment, I lost a massive amount of weight. My mother stopped with the nagging because she almost lost me. But the rest of the family thought it was fabulous. “Well at least you’re thin now” was all anyone would say.
    I am SURE I wouldn’t have the weight issues I have had if they had been more accepting of who I was/am

  2. I am pretty convinced that if I hadn’t been brutally abused by peers and my family for being a chubby kid……I mean, my parents had me on food restriction. There was nothing ‘unhealthy’ in the house, EVER–they would hide their sweets, and (as a latchkey kid) I’d come home and positively pillage. I did that from the time I was 11 to maybe 15? At the very least. I was told all the time that I had such a pretty face, can’t I just lose weight? I bet if I’d been able to just grow up in an accepting atmosphere, my fatness wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did. Luckily, FA and HAES doesn’t have me particularly stressin’ about the What-Ifs. :)

    (Although I do wonder if my parents would EVER understand that they only propelled my fatness.)

  3. mizbig,

    What a heartbreaking story. I’m speechless. :(

  4. Maybe, maybe not .. I am one for the genetics. I am adopted (as a baby), and my mom was told obesity is in my family. She thought I would never get fat because I would be growing up with a different family.

    Well, I was put on my first diet at age 10, gained and lost weight on other diets, pressured, mean things said to me out of “love”, bribed and was even told at 17 I would get more driving privileges when I lost weight.

    There is nothing I could do/can do to make up for being fat. Good grades in school, good person, smart, giving, funny .. a good girl all around…none of this matters because I’m still fat.

  5. The women in my family are all varying degrees of fat, and me and my cousin (also roughly the same age) have grown up fat; although I was fatter than her as a kid, now its the other way around, if that really matters.
    I remember being around 9 stone aged 9, and my Aunts telling me that if I could stay at that weight, people would be jealous of me when I was older… an odd thing to say as most 9 year olds have no idea of weight maintenance or why being 9 stones should matter…. butstill.
    My Mum oftens says “how fat would you have got if i didn’t restrict your food?” as my food was restricted and yes I still ended up fat. Maybe it is a genetic disposition, or a combination of genes and learned behaviour around food. I got to over 21 stones in 2001 and am now 15st 13lb and I’ve kept off this weightloss for 7 years (so I guess this means I go against most regain statistics) but yeah I’m still fat. However, I’m more forgiving of myself than my mother is and see no shame in enjoying and sharing my naked/clothed body with people I want to. But I still have fat days. I often think that that phemomenon is part of the female state, rather than the fat female statealone, as I have size 8 friends who still have fat days and are more scared of their naked flesh than I.

  6. I was never that big growing up – I have a large frame, so I never looked like a “little girl” but looking back, I was definitely not overweight at all. I developed early, so when other girls in my grade were wearing teeny babydoll tees at 11 and 12 years old, I was in frumpy XL tshirts, because I didn’t know how to dress my body. My mom didn’t have a clue, because she’s teeny (I have my dad’s genes), but when I would lament how I wanted to wear “cool” clothes too, she would just say that I didn’t have the body to wear those… which I reinterpreted to mean that I was abnormal, or fat. She would encourage me to lose weight, which of course, only gave me a complex, and I went through all of high school wearing frumpy, oversized clothes and thinking I was enormous (for the record, I was 5’5″, 150 lbs, and wore between an 8-12). Of course, I was a completely developed woman, comparing myself to barely pubescent girls, but no one bothered to point that out to me. And, as we all know, 15 years of obsessing about your weight isn’t good for anyone, and I eventually did gain a lot of weight. (Partially, I think, to spite my mother, but that’s another issue for another session.) However, for the first time in my life (at around 215 lbs) I just DON’T CARE. I dress my body at the size it is so that I feel pretty, and I’m getting pretty darn good (though not perfect) at tuning my mother out.

    ANYWAY long story short, I’m fairly certain that if my mom hadn’t tried to regulate my eating at such a vulnerable time in my life, my body would have adjusted itself and I’d have learned to eat just the amount I needed.

  7. I was underweight as a toddler. My Mom used to say “look what that doctor did” joking and laughing.

    The women in my family are fat, on both my maternal and fraternal sides.

    I’m the youngest of five, four girls. One of my sisters is just now in her near 40’s learning to live as fat. Cant dodge genetics.

    My mother never once encouraged me to diet. Cant say I’ve EVER been on one in my life. My Mom sympothized with me when I told her how horrid PE class was. Went to the school when the teasing had me suicidal.

    I dont think your Mom did you a disservice. I think she did what any parent wants to do. Keep you from feeling a pain they’ve known.

    Now I’m a Mom of two boys. I’m so glad they take after their tall thin father. Not because I think being thin makes them healthy. I dont want to see the pain I’ve known pretty much my whole life in their eyes.

  8. Wow. All these stories are heartbreaking. I hope parents out there are reading them!

  9. Up until I was 5 or 6 I was an average sized kid. Then I became chubby. What happened? Who knows. I was eating the same foods as my eight siblings who were slim. My parents weren’t fat. My aunts and uncles were average weight. Maybe I was the lucky recipient of a latent fat gene.

    Yes, there were diets and diet pills. They didn’t help. Yes, there was teasing from the younger siblings but brothers and sisters know what buttons to push. But my parents, though they were concerned (hence the diets and pills), were not abusive. The worst part of growing up, besides being the only fat kid in school and being teased, was clothing. Couldn’t wear hand me downs and chubby clothing was expensive. I thank the stars I learned to sew in high school.

    The only time I was able to lose a significant amount of weight was back in the late 70s on the original Atkins. But as soon as I went back to eating carbs the weight was regained and then some.

    Now I and my siblings are all over 50 and they all gained weight as adults. I don’t know why but, though I have problems with my legs, I do not have diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol or heart disease. Some of my siblings with adult weight gain are battling these diseases.

  10. Interesting article. Some of the comments make valid points. There was no soda or fast food when I was a child. We couldn’t afford it. But I was still a fat kid. There were few in my town.
    Fast food and soda are so much a part of the modern diet these days. And children don’t play outdoors anymore. When I was a kid there were no video games or computers (jeez, I’m starting to sound like an old geezer). We kids were sent out in the morning to play in the summer and we rarely returned home til dinner time.

  11. I ask myself the same question–would I be thinner if I had never dieted?–and I think I would. I think most people would, since I fully believe dieting makes you fatter in the end. Of course there would be exceptions, but for the most part I

    I don’t understand why dieting is really on the table for parents of fat kids. If your kid is eating emotionally or compulsively on a regular basis, or had other disordered eating habits, then you would try to get them some help for the eating part of the equation, not the fact that they were fat. And if they were fat but eating the same healthy diet as everyone else in the family, and getting some enjoyable activity in, then why would you think dieting would help? It’s easy for me to say since I don’t have kids, but I don’t really get it.

  12. Whoops, didn’t finish that sentence. “…for the most part I agree that people would be on average thinner if they never dieted.” Not that I really care if people are thinner, but I do care that people be spared the pain and potential health risks of dieting.

  13. I’m confused! If your mother didn’t want you to diet you may be slimer now? Why? You did not mention rebelling against it or wanting to in your later life. Do you diet in any sense of the word now? I am about to start dienting for the first time in my life!

  14. No, Heidi, I don’t diet now. That’s a key piece of what this blog is about – accepting my body as it is, doing what I need to do to keep it healthy (which does not include losing weight; for me, it does include sleeping eight hours a night, working our four or more times a week, spending enough time alone that I can recharge to face the next day, and eating unprocessed foods).

    To clear up your confusion you should read the article. It’s reporting on some recent research that suggests that fat kids whose parents try to help them lose weight (or force them to lose weight) end up heavier than fat kids whose parents do not try to get them to lose weight. So, yeah, I wondered whether my mother’s (well-intentioned) attempts to help me lose weight have wound up making me heavier today.

  15. A few years ago I was looking through a box of old photos. I found that the pictures of me show a sad chubby girl. NOT a FAT girl. These were the times where I felt the most fat and got comments from family and peers that I needed to lose weight. The same bribery technique was used on me that was used on a lot of women on this post. I’ll give you $5 for every pound you loose is one that I remember vividly, because I wanted the money, but don’t remember getting any. I am sure that my parents and family were well intentioned, but do feel that if they just left me alone that I may have grown out of it. Then again maybe not. My father battled obesity and depression all his life. I don’t know how much is nature and how much is nuture, but if I didn’t have a complex thrown at me during my developmental years, I don’t know if I would be as fat as I am today.

  16. Standing 5ft tall, I weighed almost 200 pounds my senior year of high-school. Being “off the chart obese,” as my pediatrician said at the time was very unhealthy. I wasn’t stupid, I had been going to a nutritionist since I was thirteen and could tell you every nutritional information…calories etc on most food labels. I could never wear the fashionable clothes however contrary to what most people have said, I was never teased. At least never to my face and the only person who ever made me feel like I wasn’t perfect was my mother, she argued that my weight made her look like a bad mother. I will not cry about genetics but I genuinely love food. I think about it all the time. I wake up and wonder what my first bite will be and then lunch…dinner etc. It’s a disturbing obsession I learned young and could never understand why my skinny friends ate as much as they did and never gained a thing. The most important thing I learned being a heavy child is people are attracted to pretty things and if I wasn’t my personality had to be. I was always the nice, polite, sweet, funny, and smart girl who knew other fat people had it rough if they were mean. No one likes means, selfish, fat or ugly people! My obsession with food turned into a love-hate relationship. I lost 75 pounds in two years by running 80 minutes a day. I was doing it the healthy way gradually until I started hearing people tell me how great I looked and how proud they were of me. People started treating me differently, guys were calling. I was excited but at the same time I was miserable. I was still the same person inside, nothing was different and at that moment I hated my self and the way I let others dictate my life especially my mother who told me to stop eating. After a while I had hit a plateau, I stopped running because I found out that I needed energy to run and if I cut my calories down to less than 800 a day I could lose wight and not have to exercise. I maintained my weight for a while…until now. I am 21 years old now and have gained twenty pounds, I am 140 pounds now and step on the scale everyday. I guess what I am trying to say is regardless of the weight I am I don’t think I will ever be satisfied. I wasn’t happy at 120 and I wasn’t happy at 200 pds. If i could give mothers any advice it would be to encourage your kids to be active. Never restrict their eating to the point where they view food as something “bad” or something you should feel ashamed eating…this only led to guilty eating with my fat friends at the dollar menu at McDonald s. As a child I was encouraged to finish my plate…then suddenly deprived. It was as if something that had been readily available was taken away. A lot of times I still feel the urge to gorge myself i n fear that it wont be there tomorrow. I hate knowing what to eat and when to eat and how much to eat yet losing the self discipline and forgetting all the rules. Its easy for the skinny people to say ohhh everything in moderation…alright I’m just venting now…but I just wish my mother had accepted me and not punished me for making her look like a bad mother. It made me so upset to see her encouraging my anorexic behavior that at times I wanted to just die…(exaggeration, but close) just to make her feel like she created a food demon inside of me! At what point do you say…my child understands how to lead a healthy lifestyle and then step back and let them make their own decisions? If she had done this I may not have this unhealthy relationship with food.

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