'My mum put me on a diet when I was 10. Here’s everything I wish she knew.'

"Do you really need seconds?"

"Should you be eating that?"

"You need to watch your weight. You’re getting chubby."

"I feel so fat."

I grew up in a diet family, and hearing these phrases was normal for me. There was diet jelly in our fridge, a secret hidden chocolate stash, and only ever skim milk. 

It felt like my mum was constantly on a diet, weighing herself and doing extra exercise to 'make up' for eating more than she’d planned. I'd overheard my dad's comments about the female news reporter's outfits, her makeup, and whether he thought she was getting 'too big' to be on TV. 

So it isn't surprising that I was just five years old, standing in a ballet class wearing a tight pink leotard, when I first believed there was something wrong with my body. 

While the other girls had straight up and down bodies, I had thighs that touched. 

Watch: The truth about my Orthorexia. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

By age 10, I'd been told, "You’d be pretty if you lost weight" so many times I believed it. 


Eager to help me lose the 'baby weight' — and because she genuinely thought she was doing the best thing for me — my mum took me to a nutritionist, who put me on my first diet.

And so, I guess that’s how it became normal for me to get served zucchini noodles (well before it was trendy) in place of pasta while my 'growing' brothers got to eat bowls of real spaghetti. Was I not growing too? Or did little girls just not get to eat carbs? 

As a 13-year-old, attending group weight loss meetings (and those awfully public weigh-ins) with my mum became just another extracurricular activity, as normal as going to jazz dancing and Saturday netball games.

You bet I was dedicated to dieting, wanting to please my parents, to finally be the right weight.

Image: Supplied.


But by the time I turned 21, it was clear that my dedication to dieting was backfiring. I'd become a compulsive binge eater, hiding in the pantry to eat all the 'red' or forbidden foods I could, shoving in spoonfuls of peanut butter before someone came home and found me. I'd lie in bed at night and promise myself I'd be 'good' tomorrow, but each diet attempt led to me gaining back even more weight.

Catching up with my mum would mean comments on my weight gain. So I limited catch-ups to phone calls. 

Thankfully, a decade after my mum first put me on a diet, I finally reached a breaking point. I was now the heaviest I’d ever been. I hated my body. And I was so ashamed.

It finally dawned on me. What if there was absolutely nothing wrong with my willpower? What if the way I had been taught to think about food was making healthy eating so much harder than it needed to be? 

I'd been raised with diet culture, alongside my Furby and Tamagotchi. And instead of helping me reach the promised land of being thin, yet curvy in just the right places (this fantasy land doesn’t exist, btw), it led me to self-loathing and extreme weight gain. 


I spent the next ten years giving myself the relationship with food I'd always deserved. I went from being out of control around food to feeling normal around food — something everyone deserves. 

Now, I am a mother… one who has gone on to become a leading expert nutritionist and dietitian. And so. Here’s everything I wish my mum knew. (And if you grew up hearing "Careful you don’t get fat, thick thighs run in our family!" just like I did, then this is what I want your mum to know, too. Maybe share this article with her, yeah?) 

Dear Mum, 

Firstly, I’m so sorry that you were put on a diet. 

For generations, we have been passing down disordered eating from mother to daughter like a crappy, chipped tea set that no one wants. 

Baby boomers. Your generation got hit the hardest by diet culture. Growing up, your role models were Jane Fonda, Princess Diana, and Jerry Hall! Women who we now know had untreated, undiagnosed eating disorders, and who were praised for their impossible slim physiques.

So please know this: There was never anything wrong with your body. 

I wish someone had told you that growing up. And I wish they’d repeated it every single time you felt like your body wasn't good enough, simply because your arms weren't perfectly slim or toned and your stomach was soft instead of flat. 


The term 'body neutrality' did NOT exist back in your day. There were exactly ZERO conversations about accepting your body in your sports classes. At no point was it made clear to you that health is not a "certain size", and that it is possible to be healthy without starving yourself. 

You didn't deserve that. 

I know you only wanted the best for me.

You were ultimately trying to protect me. Because sadly, we live in a world that thinks the most impressive thing a woman can be is thin. It’s seriously twisted. Weight stigma is no joke. The evidence shows us that it impacts whether we as women get adequate health care, whether we get the job or if we earn what we are worth. 

While the method was wrong, I can appreciate that you wanted to give me the best chance of success. 

You are just a girl growing up as well. Making mistakes like we all do. 

I used to feel so angry at you for putting me on a diet. But realising that you were put in the same situation as me, and told your worth was tied to your weight, transformed that anger into empathy.  

In case you didn’t know, nutrition education has come a longgggg way since the 90s and early 2000s. We now know this. 

You can't shame anyone into being healthy

When you tell a child that a food is unhealthy, it doesn’t stop them from eating that food. It just makes them feel awful about themselves while eating that food. 


The outdated method of creating forbidden food lists doesn’t teach you how to take care of your body. It simply trains you to be an emotional eater who feels guilty for eating anything other than a carrot or a globby chia seed.

In case you’re feeling scared… it’s never too late to stop dieting

No matter how many years, or decades you’ve been obsessed with the scales. You can adopt a new blueprint when it comes to health, that will benefit you, me, and your grandkids. 

But if giving up diets makes you feel scared of gaining weight, know this: Dieting leads to weight gain, not weight loss. 

The biggest predictor of weight gain isn't genetics, which brand of yoghurt you buy or even how often you exercise. The biggest predictor of weight gain over time is dieting. What if all these years of dieting have actually made it impossible for you to find your happy weight? What if diets are the problem, not the solution? 

There is another way to be healthy, without obsessing over everything you eat. Because ultimately… at your funeral, no one will stand up and say "We loved her because she was thin."

You can't live your fullest life on an empty stomach — or be the best version of yourself when every thought keeps coming back to what you ate for afternoon tea. It's time to rid yourself of diets. Do it for yourself. Do it for me. Do it for your grandchildren. We'll be here to support you. 


And finally, to all those little girls, who were once put on diets — and are now grown-up with children of your own — I want YOU to know this.

We can be the first generation to teach our kids a new way of thinking about food. You can give your kids a better blueprint for living a healthy life than you were given. So that they become the kind of people who eat when hungry, and stop when they are full. 

The best way to do this? Work on your relationship with food — and yourself. Do what it takes to become an adult who does healthy things because you like your body, instead of dieting because you hate your body.

After all, it’s impossible to be what you cannot see. So then… show your kids a woman who is at peace with herself. Show them a woman who cares more about how her body feels, than what other people think about it. And in doing so, you will give them a blueprint for living healthily — without dieting. 


Lyndi Cohen is one of Australia’s leading dietitians, known as the Nude Nutritionist. She is a best-selling author, host of the No Wellness Wankery podcast, and mentor for those with binge and emotional eating. Lyndi challenges diet culture, and our warped beauty standards and provides practical strategies to help people overcome their disordered eating. You can follow Lyndi on Instagram here @nude_nutritionist.

Feature image: Supplied.

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