Eating Mom's cooking may be the way to her heart


Do you always overeat at your mother's house?

Does your mother prod you to lose weight, then tempt you with all your old favorite goodies?

I've discussed this common phenomenon with friends, clients and weight control specialists, and it appears to be more a matter of umbilical connection than outright sabotage.

No matter how you fight it, to a certain extent, anatomy is destiny. Like it or not, the female body is designed to nourish other human beings.

Mother is nutrition for at least nine months, and if breast-feeding, the sole source of food for more months. Mother is food, and food is life.

Even after a baby is weaned, mother remains the major food preparer in all but the most liberated families. Through meal planning, grocery shopping and food preparation and service, mother remains, in both a real and symbolic sense, the family mammary gland forever.

Many women, especially those who are now middle-aged or older, have drawn most of life's meaning from nurturing and nourishing their families.

The infant and young-child years are great for "feeding mothers," because the kids are hungry most of the time, and it's easy to measure mother's value.

But kids get cranky and irritable about food, and use food rejection as a way to establish independence. This can leave moms feeling inadequate and frustrated, fearing the kids will be sick and malnourished, and signaling failure at life's most important job.

Then the glorious teen years arrive. Although this period has little else to recommend it, the ensuing feeding frenzy affirms a mother's importance. At a time when the fight for independence threatens to empty the nest, massive hunger confirms the child's continuing dependence and mother's central role in sustaining life.

Eventually, food needs are filled by college cafeterias, new brides or pure self-reliance. Self-feeding coincides with growing responsibility in other areas as well. The child is now the adult. The place where the buck stops. The stress-ee instead of the stress-or.

But one thing is abundantly clear. No one ever outgrows the need for mothering. Sometimes you just have to go home and be pampered. And mothers rarely outgrow the need for affirmation.

And so a collusion ensues: Mom cooks and you eat.

Maybe it's time to talk it over. Settle on a middle ground -- maybe just one of your favorites at a time and in much smaller portions.

After all, you just can't go on eating like a teen-ager. But your mother needs to know you care. Be sure to say "I love you, even if I can't eat as much as I used to."

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

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