“I won’t let you have a toxic relationship with food”

All my life I have dealt with body image issues but I was glad that you took to your dad and had a slim frame. But then just a day before I saw you sitting with your dadu and I realised you had gained weight. Your cheeks looked puffed and your little baby tummy was protruding from your tee. I realised how lockdown had put an end to your park time and even your dance classes and I wasn’t doing anything to ensure you expend energy everyday. But it did hit me hard and I tried to brush aside the feeling.

Today I was struggling with too many deadlines and in the middle of that rush I saw that despite several reminders you had not begun your holiday homework. It suddenly made me so mad that I yelled at you and in that flaring temper I said, “All you want to do these days is hog on food all day and watch iPad.” I didn’t realise it when I said it but when we both cooled down, you came to me and said, “Mumma, I felt really hurt when you said I keep eating all day.” That’s when it struck me. I was repeating a toxic cycle.

When I was young, I enjoyed food a lot. I was a slow eater too, who relished every bite she took. But then I started to pile on weight and one day my mom told me that I eat so slow that people around me must be thinking I eat a lot. It was just another statement but it hurt me. On another occasion I was told that I don’t know where to stop when it came to food. These well meaning advice hurt me so much and thus began my toxic relationship with food. I am by no means blaming my parents, because they didn’t know any better how to deal with it. My dad would himself wake up early every morning and pull me out of bed for morning walks and stretches. My mom tried curtailing my diet in her own way but I turned to food every time I felt happy, sad, anxious, angry or even bored. So much so, that when I was in 12th standard, I weighed a whopping 75 kilos.

Then the realisation dawned that I was going to enter college and I decided to shed it all with a rigorous diet and brisk walk. I managed to shed the excess kilos, but in every weak moment in my life I turned to food (and I still do).

This all happened because as a child I was made to feel that I should not eat too much and then strangely it became my guilty pleasure. I remember eating three ice cream cones once just because I was angry. I once gobbled up 6 poori with 3 bowls of aloo because I was feeling anxious. And I do all of this when no one is watching – because that’s how my mind conditioned itself to escape food related criticism. And today I did the same to my little girl.

I took her to the bedroom before bedtime, hugged her and apologized for making the worst statement ever. I explained to her how it was okay to eat as much as she wanted, because her body needs nourishment but it was equally important to expend the extra calories we intake to ensure that the body stays active and happy. She looked into my eyes, like she could spot an old ache. And she saw it right.

But this is a note to self – never to let my daughter feel that she ate too much – it just becomes a vicious cycle.