I am physically disabled. I have cerebral palsy and am an amputee. I am a wheelchair user, and I cannot transfer so I have to rely on aides, family and sometimes friends to lift me. I have been a foodie for as long as I can remember.
I always know when my parents want to talk to me about my weight. I call it “the talk.” It always starts the same way. They say, “We noticed you’re eating a lot of junk lately.” It most often ends with me agreeing to go on a diet. Not because I want to, but just to save myself from having everything I eat or drink monitored and judged.
The two major times I dieted, I hated it. In 2007, after I graduated high school, I managed to lose 19 pounds and in 2016, I followed the same plan, just a revamped version, and gained weight! I honestly understand why my parents encouraged healthier eating patterns. They had good intentions and were concerned. But, in the end, it really hurt and gave me a bad relationship with food that honestly, I still have to this day. I will give a couple of examples:
When I go out to eat sometimes with my friends and I order something that is not the healthiest, I can hear my parents’ voices saying, “You don’t need that.” Someone will be making my plate of food and I will hear one of my parents say, “She doesn’t need that much” or “You don’t need to finish it all.” But in all honesty, I might want to finish it all and that is OK.
My whole relationship with food is a work in progress, but it has gotten so much better because I know my worth now and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I have one best friend who has seen my struggle and sees my growth with accepting my body and my relationship with food. Their support has helped me in ways I can’t express. This friend is proud of me, and more importantly, I am proud of myself and the progress I have made over the years.
My big question to caregivers and parents is “Why?” I understand wanting to make sure their loved ones are making healthy choices. If health is a concern and/or there is a valid medical reason for pushing healthy choices, that is one thing. However, if you are pushing your loved one to lose weight or make any life choices to make things easier for you and other caregivers and not considering their opinions or feelings, you might want to reconsider your approach. I want anyone that has a person with a disability in your life that you take care of to consider what will happen when your loved one moves on from your care. Will you still try to control their choices, or will you choose to be nitpicking their choices from afar? There must be a fair amount of trust put in your loved ones and they need to be given some freedom to make choices for themselves, even the occasional unhealthy choice.
Caregivers, parents, you are not bad people for wanting the best for your loved one with a disability regarding their food choices. However, I want you to understand that when someone is disabled, so many things are out of their control. If food is one thing they have a say over, they deserve it! Everyone’s weight fluctuates, able-bodied people and people with disabilities.
If your loved one chooses to go on a diet on their own or per the recommendation of a medical professional, that is one thing. In my opinion, what is not OK is controlling an individual’s diet to fit a caregivers’ needs and not their needs. I want caretakers to think of how you would feel if the roles were reversed and you were told to alter your food choices strictly based on the convenience of others. Sometimes we just need to take a long hard look at ourselves and come from a place of compassion.