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"Mummy, why don't you eat dinner with us any more?"

I remember the exact moment my relationship with food was f-ed up.

I was 12 and one of my favourite relatives was due at our house for dinner that night. I was so excited to see her that I ran up to her as soon as she arrived, not even waiting until she has made it all the way up our driveway, before I gave her a big hug and a kiss.

She stepped away from me with a furrowed brow, looked me up and down and with a look of repulsion on her face said, “You’ve put on weight. You all have.”

At least in my 12-year-old brain she looked repulsed, or disgusted, or even just disappointed. She was always so happy to see me, so affectionate and complimentary.

I was devastated.

The saddest part about the whole thing was that I didn’t even question her reaction. I believed her. I had put on weight and as a result, I was disgusting.

Weight = being disgusting.

I’ve had a fractured relationship with food ever since.

Jo hates Lindt
Sorry, not sorry. This tasted like mud. But I like all other Lindt products, in moderation of course (and occasionally NOT in moderation). Image: Provided

It’s so important to me that my daughter develops a healthy relationship with food and with her body. It’s the most important thing to me, the gift I want to leave her with.

I’ve suffered so much over the years as my body has grown and changed. I’ve gone up in weight and down in weight countless times and in my family, it never goes unnoticed.

Putting on weight is always commented on, as is losing weight. I find both as hurtful as the other and prefer it when people don’t comment on weight – gain or loss – at all.

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As I gained and lost during my teenage years and in my twenties, it was always commented on. The negative message kept on getting reinforced. Putting on weight made me less worthy (of love, of attention, of life) and losing weight made me more worthy (of attention, of praise, of love).

Fast forward two decades later and I am now in therapy to deal with all of my issues. Starting therapy was the gift I gave myself for turning 40. I was tired of carrying around all of the ghosts of the past.

I wanted to be free of them. It’s been such an amazing experience. I’ve made a lot of progress on a variety of issues. This year my goal is to tackle my relationship with food and with my body.

I’ve been working on seeing food as just food, only eating when I am hungry and not eating my feelings. I have always used food to cope, to punish, to relieve boredom, to reward myself, any reason except hunger. It has taken some practice to only eat when I am hungry but I have to say, food tastes better.

It’s not about getting skinny. It’s not about losing weight. It’s about making peace with food, and with my body.

That’s why it was so devastating to me when just last week my daughter Caterina, 6, said to me, “Mum, why don’t you ever eat dinner with us anymore?”

I felt like I’d been hit.

When we were asked to confess the last time we felt like terrible mothers my first thought was, “I have to pick just one?” Article continues after this video.

Have I just f-ed up my daughter’s relationship with food? The one thing I so desperately didn’t want to do to her.

I didn’t think she’d notice my absence from the dinner table every now and then. It wasn’t that I never ate dinner with them anymore, it’s just that some days I had eaten earlier or wasn’t hungry yet.

I could have sat down and tried to explain to her what I was doing. That I was eating plenty, but choosing to stop eating earlier in the day because I only wanted to eat when I was hungry, but also to try and address the chronic heartburn I suffer from if I eat big meals late at night.

But she wouldn’t have understood. She’s too little. For her it’s black and white.

Mummy isn’t eating dinner with us…I don’t want to think about what sort of message that has been sending to her.

One of my golden rules of parenting has always been to not only sit down and eat with my children, but to eat the same foods I am serving them. If they get fish fingers, I eat them too. If I am having steamed salmon, they have it to.

Desperate to mitigate any damage I had done to my daughter, I lied. I told her that I’d been feeling sick for the past few days but I was all better now. Then I sat down and ate dinner with her.

My boys hadn’t noticed. They are oblivious about these things, thank goodness.

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Obviously lying to my daughter wasn’t ideal. The way forward is to ensure I am hungry at dinner time. Problem solved.

Mum and Caterina selfie
Mummy isn’t eating dinner with us…I don’t want to think about what sort of message that sent to her. Image: Provided

It was a good reminder that I do need to tread carefully when it comes to my children and possible body image issues. It’s not just girls who suffer from them, but boys as well. I have one son who is underweight and not happy about it, and one son who is overweight and couldn’t care less.

“As long as you are healthy and happy, that’s all that matters.”

“Don’t worry about the things you cannot change.”

“Don’t listen to what other people say about you. Only listen to the people who care about you.”

But as all parents know, it’s not just what you say to your children that influences them, it’s also what you do. They notice everything.

I’m healing from my past but it’s not just about me. It’s about them too. Ultimately, I’m trying to be the best version of myself possible because of my daughter. Dr. Phil always says that it’s the same-sex parent that is the single biggest influence on a child’s life. He also says that we aren’t the only influence on our children so we’d better be the best influence.

Trying here. I’m really and truly trying.

**The treatment referred to in this article is specific to the author and her unique health challenges and is being medically supervised. If you or someone you know suffers from disordered eating, please contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.

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