I contemplated writing this post, and undoubtedly others to come on this topic, for months. Nonetheless, I have recently unearthed something significant about myself… I truly enjoy using my past experiences to help others.
I have decided to write some blog posts interspersedly about my struggle with and recovery from an eating disorder. Today, I work with clients that have disordered eating and as a dietitian it is my charge and my passion to use my own recovery process to help them heal. Eating disorders are completely isolating diseases. When I first began recovery, I felt immediate relief when my counselor said “I have been in your shoes and worse”. It made me understand that others had gone through what I had, that recovery truly was possible, and that I was not alone. This is what I want my clients and everyone else struggling with eating disorders to know; you are not alone and recovery is right within your grasp.
My story starts as a young girl. No family drama, no abuse, no bullying. Actually, my parents were, and still are, amazing humans. They gave me and my sister everything we wanted and more. My first real memory of what sparked my food and body image apprehension is as a 10 year old on an airplane. I was with my entire gymnastics team, heading to Las Vegas for our first big competition away from our home state. My mom was on that trip with me, serving as a chaperone to 50 excited and screaming adolescent and teen girls. I was walking back to my seat from the flight attendant cart, where I had gotten a bag of cookies for my mom (whom does not love to fly) when I was stopped by one of our coaches. He grabbed the cookies out of my hand and said “gymnasts don’t eat cookies, they will make you fat”. I remember being so confused and embarrassed, so when my mom asked what happened to her snack I told her the flight attendants ran out.
I certainly did not jump straight into an eating disorder after that day, but I do feel like this event set me up to worry about food and body image for the rest of my young life. After this, I started noticing the shapes of my teammates’ bodies and started paying attention to what they ate and drank. Worst of all, I started comparing. I am not a mother yet, but I do not believe this is something a 10 year old should worry about. I understand that people cannot protect their children from all the wrong in this world, but there are possible interventions, that if implemented early in their life, can help prevent eating disorders.
- Examine your attitude toward your own body and food – young children learn by example. Setting a healthy example for them at an early age will show them that loving your own body and eating to nurture that body is cool.
- Don’t talk about “dieting” – avoid talking about dieting and restricting in order to lose or maintain weight – this sends the wrong message to children. Youngsters still have those innate hunger and fullness cues, so encourage them to eat until they are satisfied and ask if they are hungry for more nourishing food for their developing bodies.
- Avoid eliminating foods or food groups – unless you have a cultural or moral reason for leaving out specific foods, avoid demonizing any food. Eating experiences can be huge in the self-control learning curve for kids. If your child wants ice cream every night, you can teach them that ice cream sundaes are for your special Sunday family nights, not every night.
- Leave your comments to yourself – avoid commenting on your own, your child’s, or anyone else’s body in a negative way. Hearing you say mean things about yourself or others makes them think it is okay to do the same.
If you are looking for more guidance on how to approach food and weight issues with your own children, I highly recommend any Ellyn Satter resource! She is a registered dietitian and family therapist who specializes in children’s food and eating behaviors. You can also reach out to me by going to my contact page if you are looking for support with your own eating struggles.