My baby boomer mom was always dieting. I started doing it too, and finally broke the cycle when I became a mother.

A mother and daughter raise their arms in celebration as they put frosting on donuts.
Nicole Chapman is determined that her daughter, Sofia, won't feel negative about her appearance and weight.Courtesy of Nicole Chapman
  • Nicole Chapman was raised in a household terrified by the numbers on the scale.

  • Her baby boomer mom influenced her, and she followed some of the same starvation diets she'd tried.

  • Chapman broke the damaging cycle because she didn't want to pass the habits to her young daughter.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Nicole Chapman. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My 4-year-old daughter, Sofia, was due for a bigger car seat earlier this year. I helped her stand on the scale to check if she met the weight requirements.

The scale registered 34 pounds. She weighed enough to make the transition. "Yay," I said. "You're so strong."

Sofia looked delighted. "Look at my muscles!" she said. We celebrated that she'd gotten heavier — something I'd never done as a child.

My baby boomer mom raised me to dread getting on the scale, to fear every pound I gained. There was no ill intent — we love each other dearly — but the effect was damaging.

Motherhood made me break the cycle of disordered eating in our family. I'm determined that Sofia feels proud of her body at any size.

My mom would start a fad diet a few weeks before a special occasion

Mom weighed herself every morning. She'd come out of the bathroom and make comments that have stuck with me since I was 6. "I've gained weight," she'd say. She'd poke at her stomach in disgust.

A nice dress would tempt her while we were shopping. "I can't wear that until I've lost a few pounds," she'd say. If a special occasion were coming up, like a wedding or vacation, she'd start a fad diet about a month beforehand.

A mom and daughter sitting on a pebble beach
Chapman with her mom when she was a child.Courtesy of Nicole Chapman

They included the cabbage soup diet and a plan that involved eating only 500 calories on two days of the week.

She hated exercising. If she did it, she wanted to "burn off " calories. Low-calorie food was good. High-calorie food was bad. There was no in-between.

Her target weight was always 112 pounds. Her self-esteem was tied to that figure. As I got older. I fell into the same trap.

We did a low carb, high-protein plan together. We both tried shakes. I went on to do a "master cleanse" consisting of lemon juice, salt water and herbal tea.

But none of the diets were sustainable. Like my mom, I'd follow them for a while and then give up. My weight was like a yo-yo between my teenage years and my mid-30s.

Motherhood helped me notice the negative self-talk around the bodies of women

By the age of 21, I had a demanding job in the film industry, but I'd force myself to go to the gym five days a week. My motivation to exercise was always to get slimmer. I was a cardio bunny who did a lot of high-intensity interval training. It didn't help my stress levels and I felt burned out at work and at home.

Then, in 2016, I switched careers. I developed an interest in strength training and qualified as a personal trainer. A considered diet and exercise program made me feel physically and emotionally balanced.

But it wasn't until after my daughter was born in the fall of 2019, that I realized how much the disordered eating had taken out of me — and my mom.

I weaned Sofia when she was 6 months old. Like many new parents, I kept track of everything she ate by writing it down. After a while, it reminded me of the log that Mom and I kept for our daily calorie intake.

A woman hugging her young daughter with some balloons behind.
Chapman didn't want to pass on the obsession with dieting to her daughter.Courtesy of Nicole Chapman

I thought about all the time we wasted worrying about food. I don't blame her — her generation was raised to embrace the idea of looking thin, influenced by models such as Twiggy and advertisements for slimming products — but I'd inherited my body insecurity from my mom. The habit cycled through our family.

I didn't want to pass it on to Sofia. These days, I shut down negative talk about weight. I'll challenge my mom if she talks about "burning off" calories or "earning" a treat after going to the gym.

I tell Sofia that her legs let her run faster and climb higher

If I'm carrying Sofia, and it's hard to manage, I never say, "You're too heavy." Instead, I'll say, "I am not feeling as strong today."

We discuss the concepts of power and strength, like when we weighed Sofia for her new car seat. I'll tell her that her legs allow her to run faster and climb higher. The parts of her body are power tools.

I've created an online fitness program that doesn't involve calorie counting or restriction. It explains how strength training burns fat and makes you strong so daily tasks become easier.

As for my mom, she's 72 now. She's unlikely to stop watching her weight any time soon. But she understands my point of view. She's proud of me, Sofia, and our future as two strong women.

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