Straight Talk Advice

May 18, 2011

Mom shames overweight daughters

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My sister and I are overweight. Every Saturday, our mom makes us strip naked and weighs us. We find it humiliating and embarrassing to stand there naked and be weighed like pieces of meat. If we haven’t lost weight, we get punished with extra chores or reduced privileges. We diet and exercise and sometimes lose a little but always gain it back — which makes her furious. She’s never had a weight problem so she doesn’t understand how hard it is. Our parents are divorced and our dad says she badgered him about his weight, too, which was partly why he left. We’ve told her how humiliating this is, but she says if we don’t like it, we can just get down to normal weight. Please help. — Sacramento

Peter 24, Monterey, Calif. Ask me a question

Your mom is being cruel. It’s good to be accountable — but only to yourself. I entered high school weighing 230 pounds. By graduation, I was 50 pounds lighter. Today I’m 70 pounds lighter. I didn’t diet and I didn’t do sports. I simply changed for good what and how much I ate. No more McDonalds, loads more fruits and vegetables. I also began walking to school each day (a mile each way). Going home was uphill. I suggest changing your diet wholesale and checking Google maps for a good walking route.

Catherine 24, Amherst, Mass. Ask me a question

This borders on harassment. Parents should be inspiring kids with exercise programs, new ways to eat, or support groups. Shaming is hard on anyone, especially teens who get a daily onslaught at school. I have struggled personally with body image and shame. The word “fat” has been terrifying, not only because I might not be attractive or lovable, but because of the health risks. I am the healthiest eater my friends know. I also exercise regularly and have an active job at a garden. Yet, I’m still overweight. When I lose weight, people find it okay to make “fat” jokes or say how “great” I look — as if this wasn’t shaming, too. The fat acceptance movement has helped me reclaim my body as my own business.

Justin 22, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

They can’t print what I’d like to tell your mom. A nutrition class taught me that being overweight is more learned than hereditary. Instead of “dieting” you need to relearn all your eating habits. Also, how much exercise are you getting? I need to hit the gym five days a week. Having a training buddy is essential so I’ll show up.

Nicole 21, Grass Valley, Calif. Ask me a question

Your mother has no right to make you get naked. Just refuse. If you — for yourself — want to lose weight, exercise EVERY day and eat smaller portions. I also recommend checking your thyroid.

Hannah 17, Safford, Ariz. Ask me a question

This verges on abuse. If it continues, inform a school counselor. Regarding diets, never include laxatives, vomiting or starvation. Starvation diets slow metabolism and make it harder to lose weight. Instead eat healthfully and exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Try something fun like dance.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

Your mom needs a doctor.

DEAR SACRAMENTO: This isn’t “verging” on abuse, it IS abuse. Absolutely refuse to undress. Don’t even let her weigh you. Shaming is not only cruel, it doesn’t work. I recommend rejecting your mother’s approach and starting your own. Step one in change-work is loving your flawed self (enter the fat-acceptance movement). Step two is “be the change.” The panel is correct: diets don’t work, wholesale relearning your eating habits does. Regular, strenuous, way-of-life exercise, such as Peter’s walking routine, is key. Allow six months to see results. Thyroids are commonly under-functioning today. Get yours checked. Also check out Overeaters Anonymous (www.oa.org), an excellent “non band-aid” (and free) support group.

Editor’s Note. As a hypnotherapist, I have helped many people quit smoking. The principles are the same for any change. Step one is always finding that place deep within, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment, where the heart is opened in love and compassion for the “smoking” self (or in this case, the “fat” self). It sounds counter-intuitive, but this step of loving and having compassion for the flawed part of oneself is essential for change. Smokers almost universally hate their “smoking” self, just as overweight people have been conditioned to hate their “fat” self. The fat acceptance movement is helping overweight people love themselves as they are and I’m all in favor since I know this is the first step toward lasting change. The person can then lose weight out of self-love, versus self-loathing — which is the only approach that works in a lasting and sustainable way. I like it when parents help inspire their kids to be healthy, but it needs to be done from a foundation of love for the whole individual. We are more than bodies. You have to win over the mind and heart for a change to be successful. —Lauren

  1. By Michelle, age , from Lodi, CA on 05/18/2011

    My mom also monitors my weight, but she does it in a positive way.  I needed to lose weight but was having a hard time and decided that it would be an incentive if I had someone to encourage me and monitor my progress, so I asked my mom.  I just weigh myself once a week because I learned that doing it daily was not a good measure of progress due to daily ups and downs which could be upsetting.  Weekly is a much better way to check your progress.  My mom is there when I weigh myself Saturday morning.  And yes, I weigh myself in the nude in case anyone’s wondering and could care less about my mom seeing me.  If I’ve lost she congratulates and encourages me and gives me some kind of small reward.  If I’ve gained or broken even she still stays positive since she knows I’m trying and encourages me to do better next time.  Slowly but surely, my weight is going down and they say that it’s more likely to stay off if you do it gradually.  My mom’s support and encouragement really helps.  I think you should have a serious talk with your mom and see if you can work it out so that she helps you lose weight in positive way, instead of a negative way as she appears to be doing.  Being nude when you get weighed shouldn’t be a big deal if it’s just your mom and sister who see you if she stops putting you down.  But if it really bothers you, see if you can do it in your underwear which hardly weighs anything and should make any real difference which would be a reasonable compromise.

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  2. By Linda, age , from Roseville, CA on 05/18/2011

    My stepmom does almost exactly the same thing to my stepsister and it does much more harm than good.  I share a room with her on weekend visitations and we’ve become good friends.  At first I would leave the room when her mom came in to weigh her because I didn’t want to witness this and thought it would be less humiliating but she told me that she’d rather have me stay because it helped to have someone supportive there and she was much more comfortable being naked in front of me than her mom since I was supportive and didn’t put her down like her mom does.  I tried to tell my dad that he should try to do something but he said that he didn’t think it was his place since she’s her daughter not his.  He said it would be different if my mom had done this when they were together and would have put a stop to it.

    Anyway, this caused her to starve herself and then binge out by stuffing herself with fattening foods when she couldn’t take the starvation anymore.  The result was that she actually gained weight.  But that just made her mom more angry and she’s putting even more pressure on her.  I wish I could help her, but I don’t know what I can do.

    Linda

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  3. By N.C., age , from Roseville, CA on 05/20/2011

    My sister and I were both overweight and while our mom didn’t go this far, she also tried to “shame” us into losing weight.  It didn’t work and just made us feel worse about ourselves and made us want to overeat more.  We decided that we would do her one better by supporting each other and have a friendly competition as well as eating healthy and exercising.  We have a scale in our room and first thing every Saturday, we strip down and weigh each other.  Since we share a room, we see each other nude every day anyway so this is no big deal and no problem for us as sisters.  Whoever has lost the least weight (or gained more on the rare times that has happened) is the one responsible for cleaning our room for the week and has to make the other’s bed as well as her own.  You would be surprised how much incentive this can be and making it into kind of a game is actually kind of fun.  It works much better than being shamed and humiliated.  And we both are consistently losing weight.  While we still have a ways to go, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I would suggest that you and your sister try something like this and if your mom sees that it’s working, maybe she will stop seeing the need to shame and humiliate you like this.

    N.C.

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  4. By Tammy, age , from Carmichael, CA on 05/20/2011

    I agree that what Sacramento’s mom is doing is very cruel and humiliating and is also counterproductive.  I can say from experience that it is positive, not negative, reinforcement from friends and family that helps you lose weight.  My sister and I aren’t shy about our mom seeing us nude and she comes in our room all the time when we’re undressed and even naked and it doesn’t bother us since she’s our mom.  However, I would still be very embarrassed if she did what Sacramento’s mom is doing.  Her mom is just going to make her and her sister hate her, it’s not going to help them.

    Tammy

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