Life & Culture

I’m told to eat, but not get fat! Help me please

While my mum likes to feed me, she also expects me to stay super slim, as she is, to fit into size 10 jeans (size 8 preferably).


Q I’m 22. My family life has always revolved around food. It goes beyond Friday-night dinners and Shabbat lunches; all meals are a big thing in my house — especially since my mum is such an excellent cook. She takes genuine offence when I eat out. But while my mum likes to feed me, she also expects me to stay super slim, as she is, to fit into size 10 jeans (size 8 preferably). If I diet and stay away from the kugel, she asks whether I don’t like her cooking. I feel guilty if I don’t eat her food. But, also, I feel guilty when my jeans don’t fit! How do I explain this to her? Are most Jewish mothers like this?

A In Judaism, as in most cultures, food is central to the family and the home. You ask whether most Jewish mothers are like yours? The Jewish mother as a pushy “feeder” is a stereotype, a caricature. Watch a Scorsese film and you’ll see the stereotypical Italian mother portrayed in much the same way, except she feeds her offspring pasta rather than lokshen pudding. Food is love. Sometimes, however, food can be about control and, whether intentionally or not, it sounds that your mother is using her cooking as a way to control you. She’s also imposing her own — perhaps unrealistic — expectations of how you should look, and you’re coming up short (or rather, fat). You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. This isn’t a healthy situation.

You are 22. Perhaps what’s happening is a sign that it is time for you to move out and live independently, so you can make your own decisions about what to cook/eat and be whatever size you feel comfortable with. Is there any possibility of this? Could you afford to share a flat with some friends, or find somewhere to lodge? If it’s not possible then you might need to sit down with your mother and discuss how you feel things should change. Why not tell her exactly what you’ve told me here? You could even show her your letter.

You say she’s an excellent cook, so why not massage her ego by telling her this — but that sometimes you’d like to choose what you eat, whether that’s by eating out or just having something simple that you cook for yourself. Ask her not to comment on your figure. Could you encourage her to cook healthier food? Or perhaps you could cook together. Why not show her some recipes you’d like to try and ask her to teach you how to make them? Make her feel needed. That way she feels in control but she isn’t controlling you.

Q My uncle has never been good with money and he has started asking my father for cash. Recently, I found out that my dad — who has always been immensely generous with the whole family — had lent his brother £40,000 to renovate his flat. I fear that is the last that he’ll see of the money — and he is struggling financially himself at the moment. I am considering going to my uncle and asking him to give back most of the money. Is that the best approach?

A “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet — as usual, getting human behaviour spot on. “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” This wise advice (given by Polonius to his son Laertes) generally applies to family as well as friends. Mixing finances with close relationships can lead to a whole world of trouble, causing resentment and rifts that sometimes cannot be healed.

What, if anything, you do about this depends somewhat on the nature of the relationships you have with both your father and uncle, and whether you know the whole story. Your concern may well be genuine but steam on in there and your uncle could wonder if you have an ulterior motive, like trying to protect your future inheritance. It’s possible he isn’t aware that your father isn’t comfortable financially; perhaps your father is too proud to admit it. Has the money already been invested, making it too late to retrieve? Are you aware if the flat is going to be sold? Will your father then get a share of the profits? Or is your uncle planning to pay your father back in some other way? As for your father, remember that he is an adult. He might not appreciate being told what he can and can’t do with his money. It’s possible he believes that he owes his brother for something — something in the past you’re not aware of — or just feels duty-bound to help.

So I say: be cautious. Perhaps you could have a quiet word with your father, gently expressing your concern about his generosity and finding out what the full situation is before you decide whether to talk to your uncle. If you conclude you do still need to say something, take a tactful approach. Demanding that he repays the money will only make him defensive. Be friendly rather than accusatory.

Contact Hilary via email, anonymously or not, at Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QE

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