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How My Eating Disorder Past Is Helping Me Raise My Children

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From my late teens and into my early 20s, I struggled with a severe eating disorder that was all-consuming. In spite of of the severe physical and mental drawbacks that resulted as a consequence, I was fortunate to recover and find healing, reclaiming my life from years that had been lost to the eating disorder.

Starting a family, for me, was one of the single most motivating factors to overcome my eating disorder. I didn’t want my children to be burdened with my own turbulent relationship with food, nor did I want them to feel as though they couldn’t trust their own bodies or enjoy the pleasurable aspects of eating.

My eating disorder and chaotic relationship with food and my body had consumed much of my mental space and precious energy for too many years. Once we started our family, I knew I couldn’t allow the experience of my children’s childhood to be in competition with an eating disorder.

It is curious how we are often able to do for others what we cannot do for ourselves.

In many ways, having children helped me heal my own relationship with food and my body. Being part of the miracle of growing and birthing a baby into the world, despite my eating disorder past, was a testimony of my body’s resiliency.

Observing my own children’s untainted viewpoint of food and self-assuredness in their own bodies reinforced the importance of my own healing journey — not only for myself but for them and their future.

While the struggle with an eating disorder was one of the most painful experiences of my life, I am thankful that my own healing journey helped me understand how to raise my children to have a healthy relationship with food.

Here are the things I have focused on to encourage my children to nurture a peaceful relationship with food and their own bodies:

1. Honor the Feeding Relationship

Kids have a natural ability to eat intuitively — meaning, they are able to eat according to their own bodies’ needs and honor their hunger and fullness cues. Allowing children the space and structure to eat intuitively can be difficult for many parents.

We may interfere out of good intention, but underfeeding, overfeeding or not providing a regular structure where a variety of foods are served can hinder a child’s ability to eat what they need to grow at a pace that is right for them.

As parents, I think we can honor a respectful feeding relationship between ourselves and our children by:

  • Maintaining a division of responsibilities during mealtimes, where parents focus on what foods are served and kids take the lead on deciding whether or not they’ll eat from what’s provided and how much to eat.
  • Establishing a consistent meal structure with meals and snacks so children can trust that food will be available.
  • Refraining from commenting about foods or putting pressure on a child to eat certain things.
  • Avoiding talk about dieting, weight or numbers related to bodies.
  • Keeping all foods neutral and not labeling food “good vs. bad,” “healthy vs. unhealthy.”

2. Demonstrate Body Kindness

Kids easily pick up cues about body distrust and can interpret dieting around them to mean that their is something about their own bodies isn’t acceptable or needs to be changed.

Children can best learn to celebrate their own bodies, no matter their own shape or size, when they observe those closest to them doing the same thing.

So without casting judgement or being harsh on yourself, I think it’s important to reflectively observe your own relationship with your body. Are you critical of your body? Have you made negative comments about how you look or expressed frustrations about your weight and body size?

Learning how to demonstrate kindness to your body no matter your size or weight is communicating the message to children that they are deserving of the same kindness toward themselves.

In a culture that celebrates an unrealistic body type and teaches us to change who we are and how we look, children need an unwavering model of body acceptance and appreciation.

You can give them these roots and a strong foundation by demonstrating body kindness to yourself, first.

3. Celebrate the Family Meal

Family meals are harder to come by these days, with the majority of families being dual-income households. But the value of having a family come together and share a meal cannot be overstated.

Studies have found that families who gather for meals three or more times per week may offer a variety of health benefits for children and adolescents, including a reduced risk for developing disordered eating.

Shared family meals are more important than ever, giving parents an opportunity to engage with their children and intentionally connect when busy schedules otherwise dictate the course of a day. Establishing family meals at home also teaches children the need of taking time to eat and make mealtimes enjoyable.

There is no perfect way to implement family meals, and you can start wherever you’re at today. It can be any meal on any day; it can include take-out, leftovers or frozen dinners. However you do it, gathering the family together for a family meal can be a positive step for helping your children establish a healthy relationship with food.

4. Healing From the Past 

If I have learned anything through my journey, it is that good can come from pain; beauty does rise from the ashes. While my eating disorder took so much away from me, it also instilled motivation and desire to support my own children by building a nurturing foundation around food and their bodies from which they can grow and flourish.

My healing journey has helped me establish habits that can positively shape their relationship with food, and they have inspired me to be proactive about staying well to create a future of freedom for all of us.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, please remember:

We can only take our children as far as we have come ourselves.

If you are uncomfortable with your current feeding relationship with your children or need help healing from a chaotic past with food and your body, please connect with professional help. In every situation, there is hope for nurturing yourself and your children to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.

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Getty image via Vasyl Dolmatov

Originally published: June 29, 2018
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