As a teen and young adult, I battled anorexia. In times of high stress, I would ration my food, only allowing myself to eat when I started to feel dizzy or sick to my stomach. It became something I could control in my young-adult life, when things often feel out of control. As I got older, with the help of some dear friends, I was able to identify my problems with my body image and eating habits. Now, I can proudly say the worst of the disorder is behind me. Although thoughts such as “I wonder how many calories this has?” or “I shouldn’t eat that” still creep up on me, I have worked hard to learn how to manage it.
Being pregnant was rough. Though I dutifully fueled my growing babes with plenty of nutrient-rich food, my girls remained small. I felt guilt and shame that I wasn’t doing enough. Truly, I was (I just had small babies), but the thoughts of failing them were crippling at times. I couldn’t help but think that the struggles of my disorder were being passed on to my children. This was a terrifying wake-up call.
As a mother who has lived with an eating disorder, my biggest duty in life is to not let my little girls go down this dangerous path. As reported by the Mayo Clinic:
“Eating disorders are significantly more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings who’ve had an eating disorder.”
I think anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder will tell you, it doesn’t ever fully go away. You learn to identify and control the negative thoughts and behaviors, but it is always there.
I need to set an example to my girls by managing my mental health and modeling a healthy relationship with food and positive body image. Here are three ways I’m doing that.
Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food
In our home, no food is ever off limits. We have open conversations about food. Healthy foods and treats are balanced, and I give my girls the responsibility of balancing said foods. We talk about what each kind of food does to fuel our bodies, and we work on learning to listen to what our bodies need. I incorporate foods at snack and mealtimes that I know my kids enjoy (which sometimes are treats), especially as they are trying new foods. Kids Eat In Color on Instagram has great tips for talking to kids about food.
I have taken up a love of baking and cooking and have worked very hard to develop a love of food. My family is involved in meal planning and choosing our groceries for the week. I ask for their input on what snacks they would like to have around the house and offer a variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Many days, my younger daughter even insists on helping me cook. I truly hope I am instilling a healthy relationship with food in my girls.
Managing Mental Health
Managing my mental health is always a top priority. Stress has always been a trigger for my bad eating habits. As my children, get older we provide ways to help them alleviate stress in a positive manner. My older daughter knows she can always talk to us about anything without judgment. We try to provide healthy outlets for her when she is feeling stressed or angry. In times of stress, I have taken to journaling, where before I used to count calories.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. It’s a life I would not wish on anyone, most of all my two daughters.