Inheriting Dad’s Diet Culture: Breaking Your Families Diet Culture by Faraday Gamble
I was diagnosed with an eating disorder at the age of 17, Anorexia Nervosa to be specific, and with this diagnosis came a lot of hard questions. In the countless therapy sessions that followed, my therapists and I desperately tried to pinpoint what had triggered this in an attempt to combat it.
To this day, I still don’t have a definitive, singular cause of my Anorexia, but I am 99% sure it had very little to do with the models on the runway or the airbrushed images in magazines.
Growing up in the 2000s, the notion of ‘heroin chic’ was everywhere, celebrities were ridiculed on front pages for daring to have an inch of healthy fat and you couldn’t watch tv without seeing an advert for a diet pill or slimming world. Thankfully, this rhetoric has been widely challenged and criticised now.
Sportswear brands have plus-sized mannequins, shows like ‘Supersized vs Superskinny’ no longer air, and magazines now delve sympathetically into stars eating disorders as opposed to the" five ways to get bikini body ready". Diet Culture is on its deathbed... or so it seems.
Diet culture also exists on a micro level, a mini society within each family unit. On the five-hour journey home for Christmas, I see multiple billboards promoting body positivity and diversity, but that doesn’t stop my mother passive-aggressively suggesting that I don’t have a second helping at dinner, showing off her painfully small lunches and bragging about how she now fits into my old clothes. My younger brother will still raise an eyebrow at my late-night piles of cheese and crackers and my dad will still insist I have portioned myself too large a bowl of crisps in the evening.
The food culture I (and many other people) need help to tackle is the one that exists within our homes and families.
Just like some families don’t have shoes on in the house, call to sing happy birthday at 5 am on the morning of your birthday and open one present on Christmas Eve, each family has its own rules and ideas around food that seem untouched by the wider culture of diets and health within society. Eating disorder specialist Cliona Bryne, calls this “body image culture” and stresses the detrimental effect this can have on young people, which they may often carry through life or manage to escape when they move out.
Whilst it is easy to turn the blame to parents and overbearing aunts who seem to be on a different diet at every family event they attend, we must understand that the body image and food culture your family is engrained in, was hereditary. These notions around portions, health and the villainy of carbs can be traced back through parents and grandparents, just like ginger hair or colour blindness, it's pretty much a part of their gene pool.
My father's control of portions and insistence on eating apples or carrot sticks as a snack over crisps or a biscuit can be traced back to a family that didn’t have the money to waste on food beyond essentials. Paired with my mother's obsessive stride for a smaller body that she learnt from my maternal grandmother who hated her body due to unexpected weight gain, these clashing cultures transformed into a very toxic food environment which provided the matches for my eating disorder.
But despite my developing positive body image and relationship with food, the hours of therapy I attempted to involve my parents in and the changing societal view of food, the ideas of nutrition and dieting still hang around my childhood home and pounce on me the second I turn up for a visit. So how do we attempt to escape this?
The short answer is to try to remove yourself from it. Attempt practicing different ideas and habits surrounding food, move away and spread your personal ideas around body image to the people who will listen.
The long, somewhat impossible, answer is to set boundaries and try to educate those at the centre of this environment. Be prepared to receive pushbacks or flat-out disregard, these notions of diet and health are heavily engrained and possibly rooted in something much deeper, like issues of control.
Ultimately, the goal is to break out the mould. If the people around you still continue to obsess over calorie counts or declare that bread is the devil, have the courage to disagree, even if it is only in your head that you say so. That's what I'm doing.
You can read more of Faraday's work on https://gamblegittings.wordpress.com and follow her social media @gamblegittings