image credit: Joni Edelman
“Gemma never eats anything.”
“Gemma eats like a bird.”
“Gemma is too picky to eat that.”
These were the sorts of things I heard about my eating habits growing up. My mother labeled me as a "bad eater" when I was younger. I was picky, and didn't have much of an appetite. I never tried new things. Even as I grew older and started to branch out and try different foods, my mother continued to project this label onto me.
She would make comments about how I would starve going to sleepaway camp or how she didn’t know how I would survive at my grandparent’s house where the attitude toward food was “you get what you get” or go hungry. Sometimes I look back at those years and marvel that I never suffered any disorders over the constant obsession with my eating habits. It never phased me much, but it did define me.
Because my children are so tiny to begin with, the stress over their eating habits started early. I envied my friends with their roly-poly babes while I struggled with milk supply. I made homemade baby food that was rejected...
I never really questioned that I was picky or a bad eater, because it was all I had ever known. It became a part of my identity, and I wonder now how much of my eating habits were nature and how much had to do with nurture.
I wonder because I think I'm making the same mistakes with my daughter. She hardly eats. She's very picky. I feel like food is a constant struggle between us. I also feel like it's all my fault.
All of my children have been very small on the growth chart, and it has always stirred up a feeling of inadequacy within me. I wonder now if perhaps my mother felt the same way, when people would comment on how skinny I was. It is so much easier to say “she doesn’t eat anything” than to let the judgment hit you and say nothing.
Because my children are so tiny to begin with, the stress over their eating habits started early. I envied my friends with their roly-poly babes while I struggled with milk supply. I made homemade baby food that was rejected and I would sit there and cry while holding the spoon in front of my baby’s mouth. "Just eat," I would implore them, but they would have none of it.
My boys eventually came around to trying new things, but my daughter still struggles. And I am certain this is at least in part because of my obsession with her eating habits.
There have been many meals where I have begged her to eat her food, using both bribes and threats. I find myself labeling certain foods "bad," in hopes of getting her to eat something else. I fear what started as a desire to give her a balanced diet has turned into the reason she rejects food outright.
I constantly catch myself talking to other people about all the things my daughter will and will not eat. I catch myself labeling her as “extremely picky” and tailoring meals and snacks to what I have decided is her base diet. I’m setting up an unhealthy attitude toward food for her, and even though she is only three, it feels so hard to change these habits.
But change is exactly what I need to do. I have to change the way I approach food with my daughter, because I don’t want her to be a “bad eater” like me.
I am trying to allow her to make her own choices and relinquish my control — trusting that she will grow and thrive without my hovering and criticism. I want her to decide for herself what she will and will not eat, or what she does and does not like. I don’t want to project my own feelings about foods that are “good” or “bad.” I want to resist the urge to praise her every time she chooses to snack on almonds or admonish her for wanting too many sweets.
Slowly but surely, I know I can change the way I talk about food, both with myself and with her. I know I have to if I'm going to change this cycle — and I’m damn determined to do just that.