It wasn’t until Tabitha had dinner at a friend’s house as a teenager that she realized there was something odd about how her family handled food. At her friend’s, there was food with a variety of healthy and even some unhealthy snacks. Her mother didn’t have a lock on the “special food” so no one could have access. Their mealtime was engaging and fun with everyone participating in the conversation. There were no snide remarks about eating too much or being forced to eat seconds. It was an enjoyable experience.
But it wasn’t until years later, when Tabitha realized that her mother was narcissistic. Still, she didn’t make the connection between narcissism and food until she had her own family meals. And then, it struck her: her mother’s narcissism translated into an unhealthy obsession with food. This explained so much about Tabitha’s own anxious journey with food. The unhealthy food rules she grew up with were an extension of her mother’s controlling and manipulative behavior. Here’s how.
- Food management. Tabitha’s mom disliked fish so she refused to serve it eventhough everyone else in the family loved it. Her mom’s food likes and dislikes dominated the menu, if she didn’t like something then it wasn’t to be served at all.
- Food supremacy. Perhaps the oddest realization was that Tabitha’s mom expected that she would always be served the best and/or largest portion of food. Whether she cooked the food or not, her mom demanded the first pick.
- Food as power. One morning Tabitha’s dad surprised the family by making a large pancake breakfast. Tabitha’s mom took one look at the meal with disgust on her face and started making herself eggs. When confronted, she said she didn’t like being told what to eat.
- Food as entitlement. Even when Tabitha’s family was a guest at someone else’s house, her mom would find something wrong with the food being served. She doesn’t like cheese and therefore can’t eat the meal. She would then expect an additional meal to be especially prepared for her.
- Food as control. During family meals, Tabitha’s mom would scold her for eating too much and make fun of her for asking for seconds. But when company came over, her mom would demand that everyone have seconds or else she won’t believe that they liked her food.
- Food and appearance. To make matters worse, Tabitha’s mom would look at what she was eating and make a comment like, “You’re not going to eat that are you? You know how easily you gain weight.” She did this even when Tabitha was struggling with anorexia.
- Food arrogance. Growing up, Tabitha’s dad did a lot of the family cooking. One several occasions after he prepared the meal and it was ready to be served, her mom would take a phone call and hold up when the family ate. One night, they sat at the table for over an hour staring at the food waiting for her.
- Food as a stage. Tabitha could not remember a family meal time that was not dominated by her mother talking about herself and her work. There were no questions about Tabitha’s day and if she chimed in, her mother would give her the death stare and then ignore her.
- Food snobbery. There were only a handful of restaurants that Tabitha’s mom would agree to go. Looking back, Tabitha realized that these establishments treated her like she was a queen, giving her the best place to sit in the restaurant. This explained her tolerance for the average food quality that came at a high price.
- Food expectations. Tabitha’s mom would openly complain if the food was not to her liking whether at home, at a friend’s house, or in public. Worse yet, she would then make fun of what she called “food ignorance” for their lack of adequate preparation. Ironically, her mom was not a good cook.
- Food as attention. When her mom did cook, she demanded excessive amounts of appreciation during the meal and afterwards. If she didn’t get enough gratitude, then she would passively-aggressively say, “You didn’t like my cooking?”
- Food superiority. For a couple of years, Tabitha’s mom became a vegetarian. During that time, no meal was allowed in the house and everyone was expected to eat the way she did. When they ordered meat from a restaurant, she would talk about how they were supporting the killing of animals.
- Food as punishment. When Tabitha was little, her mom used to punish her by saying that she was not allowed to eat dinner. If she was still angry in the morning, her mom would make her go to school without breakfast. There were many days when Tabitha would go without any food.
- Food as a possession. After a night out with friends, Tabitha brought home some of her leftover dinner. It was from an expensive restaurant that she spent weeks saving up her money, so she could go. The next morning, she discovered that her mom ate her food. When confronted, her mom’s attitude was what’s yours is mine. However, what was her mom’s was only her mom’s.
It’s not hard to see how Tabitha came to view food as a weapon of control from her mom. She used food to manipulate others, demand attention, dominate her family, and justify her selfishness. Now as a mom herself, Tabitha made a concerted effort not to repeat any of the unhealthy patterns of food preparation and consumption.