In My Mom's House, We Were Always On A Diet

How I survived growing up in a fatphobic household.

Fatphobic Household vitapix | Canva

I grew up in a middle-class family on a pretty tree-lined street. I had what I needed to survive: a roof over my head, clothing, and three meals a day. By all accounts, I was privileged. But I lacked sympathy, encouragement, and unconditional love.

Ours was a fatphobic household — one created by my mother’s fear of getting and staying fat. Her fatphobia, often directed at me, was reinforced by my brother and unconsciously supported by my father.


Convinced I’d grow up fat even though I wasn’t a fat baby or a chubby kid — somehow, my family just knew

RELATED: America’s Real Weight Problem Is The Burden We Place On Fat People

Families often come together at the dinner table and share the highs and lows of their day. For me, my parents and my brother analyzed, criticized, and commented on my behavior, especially when it was related to food.

“Stop eating butter,” my father said as he added some to his bread.

“Chew each bite 100 times,” my mother said.

“You’re not allowed to eat mashed potatoes,” my brother couldn’t resist adding in.


Criticism can be helpful, but it made me feel bullied when everybody thought they needed to give me some constructive “for my own good” advice.

My family expected me to be fat. I internalized those expectations and made my family’s fears a reality. Their constant peremptory fat-shaming worked, and I ended up having disordered eating and weight issues for my entire life.

I begged to take a tap-dancing class, but my mother felt tennis was better because it burned more calories. I hated tennis, so I’d cut class and shoplift candy at the grocery store instead. I’d find a hidden spot on the way home and secretly gorge myself on it. Nothing tastes as good as illicit sugar.


RELATED: What It's Like To Have A Messed Up Relationship With Food

Growing up, there was never any food in our house — not because we couldn’t afford to buy any but because my mother was always watching her weight. She didn’t want any temptations, so this meant we were all on a diet. My mother forced carrots on anybody who said they were hungry, and it was between meals. Years later, I learned she hated carrots and never ate them.

Forbidden at my house were any sugary, salty, and fatty snacks, so I’d go to my best friend Donna’s to satisfy my hunger. Her house was stocked full of all the fattening, bad-for-you foods. I was polite enough to know I couldn’t pig out, but secretly, I wanted to eat everything in sight.

In my mother’s mind, no one had body autonomy, and she freely commented on the weight losses and gains of all our neighbors, friends, and celebrities.


“Look at how fat Pat is. She’ll never get remarried if she continues to balloon up that way. No one wants a fat woman for a wife.”

My parents sent me to sleepaway summer school the summer before 9th grade. The semester started with a three-day backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I decided to stop eating sugar, dairy, meat, and grains. I’m not sure why I decided to change everything at once, but it was a plan designed to fail. My body rebelled against my mostly air diet and got sick on the trail. This didn’t make me popular with the other backpackers, who took turns carrying my backpack.

Although I didn’t go to fat camp for another couple of years, my mother thought I should use that summer to lose weight. “Take advantage of the natural resources like the river — get a tan, get some lard off, and come back looking healthy,” my mother wrote. I don’t remember losing weight that summer or creating healthy habits, but I got the backpackers to forgive me.

Sometimes, after school, I watched my mom try on her clothes and told her how beautiful she looked. When something didn’t fit, my mother would get angry and further restrict our calories. My father and I would be punished if her weight fluctuated in the wrong direction.


RELATED: The Girl With The Eating Disorder Isn't Always The One Who Looks 'Scary Skinny'

While my mom was always on high alert with what I put into my mouth, my brother got free rein to eat whatever he wanted because he was a boy. Oh, how he loved to point this out and rub it into my face. “Oh, this cheeseburger is delicious. I could eat ten and not gain an ounce, but you’re probably getting fat just by looking at it,” he said.

My mother wanted me to lose weight. She thought I lacked discipline and shouldn’t need a diet aid like appetite suppressants, diet foods, or support groups. She said diet products “had chemicals in them.” I couldn’t see how something that satisfied my cravings and helped me to make better choices could be bad.

Back in the 1970s, there was a diet drink called “Pepsi Light.” It was cola mixed with lemon and filled with massive amounts of saccharine. When I tasted it for the first time, I thought it had been sent down from the gods. It was only one calorie, and it was delicious. I didn’t care how unhealthy it was. It was only ONE CALORIE! Knowing my mother would never approve of diet soda, I kept a stash hidden in my closet. When my mom found my Pepsi Light, she went all Mommy Dearest on me and poured every drop of this precious nectar down the drain. They stopped making Pepsi Light soon after, and I never found a diet soda that came close, which is probably a good thing.


My mother's primary job was controlling me and my body. If I lost five pounds, she’d buy me new school clothes, or she’d give me extra spending money if I got my hair cut short. These bribes were motivated by how my mother wanted me to look — not so good that I was better looking than she was, but slender enough that I wasn’t an embarrassment to her.

Sad woman measuring herself Avirut S / Shutterstock

When I was under my mother’s roof, I felt as if I had no control over what I put in my body, so when I could eat what I wanted, I took full advantage of it. My ravenous appetite for candy, cookies, and junk food went wild when I got to college. I’ve never been good at depriving myself.


For years, my mother commented about my weight, hair, or how I was dressed. Eventually, I stood up to her, and she stopped. But the truth is, it took her dying for me to stop hearing her in my head before I ordered at a restaurant or went grocery shopping.

I refuse to be weighed when I have a doctor’s appointment unless it’s a pre-op appointment or anything where knowing my weight is necessary. I have my doctor’s approval because being weighed, especially in front of others, causes extreme anxiety for me. I’m not on a diet and generally eat what I want. I try to limit portion size and eat vegetables at every meal. I exercise daily, cut down on sugar, and drink a ton of water.

On the morning of a recent doctor’s appointment, I weighed myself for the first time in a long time. I was surprised and pleased to see that I’ve lost weight. I’m getting healthier by caring for myself without feeling constantly judged, bullied, or belittled. It’s a great feeling knowing whether the scale rises or falls, it’s my choice.

RELATED: Recovering From An Eating Disorder In A Society That Praises Weight Loss


Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.