When Lakeena King’s mom would get home from work, she would snoop in the kitchen garbage. She would spy the candy wrappers or chip bags, and it was on.
“I told you I didn’t want those girls eating chips. Why did you give them those chips?” she would ask her mother.
“Those girls have to eat what they want,” King’s grandmother would say. If asked about the vegetables in the trash, Granny blew off her daughter’s concerns. “If they don’t want to eat that stuff, they don’t have to.”
Nearly every night it was the same argument.
“It would be really funny to watch them argue about what we ate,” King said.
By third grade, King was already getting a little heavy like her mom, although her younger sister took after their grandmother -- she could eat whatever she wanted and stay as thin as a rail. And, boy, they ate what they wanted with Granny.
Twinkies with vanilla ice cream, soda, chips – their grandmother would sneak them whatever snacks they wanted.
Her mom would question her when she got home: “Are you hungry? What did you eat?” King would try to lie about it, but her mom would have already seen the evidence in the trash. She often tried to explain to her daughters that snack foods were a reward, and not to be eaten all the time.
“Granny would say, ‘No, snacks are what you eat,’“ King said with a laugh. Her weight didn’t bother her too much in grade school. She was surrounded by a lot of people who loved her and supported her, and many people in her family were overweight, too. She started noticing it more when they would go shopping for school clothes in middle school. Or when she realized that she ran slower than the other kids.
King, now 27, works as a nurse and also attends beauty school in St. Louis. When she crossed over 200 pounds, she knew it was time to change.
She joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. She worked out hard in the gym, but she told her trainer that her biggest problem was going to be with food. Her trainer started teaching her how to eat healthier.
The first place that dietary change happens is not the kitchen. It’s the grocery store. So King’s trainer went grocery shopping with her. She taught her how to cook a variety of vegetables, like cauliflower, greens and squash, in a way that she would actually enjoy eating them. King started adding a lot more vegetables into her diet, and the weight started coming off.
But fast food was her weakness. She talked to her boyfriend and asked him not to eat it in front of her. Sometimes, they would take a different route home to avoid passing by certain fast food places.
She said she doesn’t blame her grandparents for her weight struggles.
“They just wanted to see their grandbabies happy,” she says.
But oftentimes, those who love us the most can be the ones who sabotage our food choices. Whether it’s a spouse, parent or grandparent, learning to work around that relationship can be the most critical part of improving your family’s diet. Setting boundaries with an enabler may be the one thing that helps sustain lasting change.
King said improving the presentation and seasoning of vegetables she had been served as a child would have made her more likely to eat them.
“I didn’t want to eat them because they didn’t taste good,” she said. It makes sense. Her tastes had been influenced by the heavily spiced, deep-fried food her grandmother enjoyed eating. She is continuing to work on improving her diet and losing weight. I asked her how she might handle the same situation with an indulgent grandparent when she has children.
“I think I would react the same way my mom did,” King said. “But I definitely would feed them before we go see her, so they don’t eat as many snacks. If that won’t work, they just wouldn’t see Granny as much.”