By the time I was 13, dieting was my favorite thing to do with my mom. While other friends and their moms played tennis together, mall-walked, baked cookies—which, to be fair, we did, too, but the butter was subbed out for applesauce and the sugar halved, so ours usually came out more like a savory chocolate-chip ragù —my mom and I spent our days encouraging each other to eat no more than 1,600 calories. Going to WeightWatchers meetings after school and stepping on their giant, window-facing (horrifying) scale. Buying nonfat yogurt to put on top of the microwaved potatoes we once ate for dinner 17 nights in a row. Openly disliking our fat rolls and trying to lose them together was almost a bonding ritual.

If I had to imagine a movie death montage of loving memories with my mom, half of it would be us holding down each other’s feet as we each attempted 100 sit-ups, or pouring a full box of Equal into a bowl of softened Philadelphia cream cheese to make zero-sugar cheesecake. Considering the latter, it’s incredible I haven’t had to think up a death montage yet.

Obviously, through the lens of 2023 (or even 2013) this was all absolutely toxic, to use the cheer captain of Zeitgeist-y words. It’s like looking at a vintage cigarette ad with copy that reads, The Best Cure for Asthma! But my mom and I had no idea. There was no such thing as “diet culture.” There were only diets. And women were always on them.

I didn’t understand that hating my 220-pound, Midwestern-farmhand body and constantly trying to morph into a Rachael Leigh Cook, wisp-of-grain-wearing-glasses type was psychologically damaging, the same way I didn’t understand that eating a whole box of SnackWell’s cookies was nutritionally damaging. (“But they’re fat-free!”)

Plus, it was fun. It was time together. It’s not like we were always actively hating on our bodies. That was just the thematic backdrop. As we went grocery shopping for SlimFast shakes, I’d download my mom on the latest goings-on in my friend group, or what sonnet I was planning on reciting for my English presentation.

It won’t surprise you that I developed a blip of an eating disorder in college. I’m not trying to be glib—it’s just that compared to what I know other women have gone through, it was a blip: a semester of over-exercising and eating balsamic-drizzled romaine lettuce and a bag of baby carrots for every meal until a girl in my dorm asked me if I had gotten a spray tan, because my skin was orange.

In my early 20s, when I first learned—or maybe it was more like really listened to—the concept of body positivity, it was mind-blowing. Sounds silly, but it was. The idea that you could simply choose to admire—or, even more envy-inducing, just not constantly think about—your own body was like Galileo realizing that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Or 17-year-old me discovering the Indigo Girls song “Galileo.” Simply revelatory.

At this point, I’ve had two decades plus to practice my own body positivity, and I’m still not perfect. Just this afternoon I saw someone eating a falafel wrap and thought, “That looks great,” then ordered a kale salad instead. I notice what other women eat and how much. I look in the mirror and think “Ugh” sometimes. O.K., a lot of times.

My lizard brain, which happens to have the unfortunate personality of Jillian Michaels, sometimes takes over for a minute or two. That’s when I find myself buying some scammy cellulite cream off Instagram from my bed at midnight. I think most of us who came of age during the 90s might always be a little fucked up. But it’s like my great-great-grandfather who came to America and toiled away on a factory line bottling jelly syrups his whole life—I’m trying to be better for the next generation. I just want my daughter to dedicate less of her overall brainpower to changing her body than I did. (Also, hi, Great-great-grandpa! Wish you could see me now holding a $12 latte in my very soft, uncalloused hands.)

It’s not like we were always actively hating on our bodies. That was just the thematic backdrop.

My daughter: she’s three years old. She’s still discovering her own personality, and we’re still discovering what we like to do together. (Top hits so far include racing around the apartment like cars and, oddly, sitting on my closet floor pretending to be dirty socks.)

But there’s one thing I know for sure: she will never, ever diet with her mother. She’s above the 100th percentile in weight every time we go to the pediatrician, and I refuse to even hear about potential “modifications.” Because, well, 1) she’s three years old, and 2) I’m just that mom now. The “we only talk about how strong bodies are” type of mom. The “no foods are bad foods” type of mom. The “I’m going to a spin class but it’s for mental health!” (it’s not) type of mom.

If she wants pasta for dinner every night, we have pasta for dinner every night. If she doesn’t want to play soccer anymore, I don’t force her to kick a ball around a field. If someone calls her “cute,” I immediately add, “And smart and funny!” (Truly, I might be an extremely annoying person?) But it’s all worth it for the moments when, after a meal, she lifts up her shirt, rubs her potbelly lovingly, and proudly announces, “There’s so much food in my tummy!”

I’m under no illusions that she won’t face some sort of negative feelings about her body during her childhood. It’s not like the world is suddenly ideal. It may actually be worse. Statistically, eating disorders have increased dramatically over the last three decades. The desire for a “desirable” body hasn’t gone away; it’s just gone underground. Think of the scads of women secretly shooting themselves up with Ozempic, while publicly attributing their changed body to a newfound love of evening strolls. We’re peddled 14-day juice cleanses to improve “vitality” and “energy,” which are essentially the same insane, now shameful regimens of the 90s, just with way better marketing terms.

It almost makes me miss the unabashed diets I used to do with my mom. At least you can look the cabbage-soup diet in the face and see it for what it is. At least no one was slurping up puréed roughage and pretending it was for general wellness or mental concentration. Maybe today’s version ends up being far worse, far more insidious, for my daughter than what I grew up with. All I can control is my end. The call, to loosely quote When a Stranger Calls, will not be coming from inside the house.

And I have a new memory to add to the death reel: My mom and I recently took my daughter to the Los Angeles Zoo. After seeing about two animals, my daughter spotted an ice-cream hut and started pleading for a cone. As I stood in line to get one, my mom came up and told me she’d like one, too. Then the three of us sat on a bench, enjoying our ice cream. There was no mention of calories or burning them off with steps or paying for it later. In fact, the only ounce of remorse displayed was when my daughter lost a sizable chunk of her soft serve to the ground. It was just wonderful.

Lauren Bans is a Los Angeles–based television writer who is currently on strike