As a teenager I went through all the dieting fads that many teen girls experiment with, but I always seemed to take them a step further or stick to them a bit longer. If a friend skipped dessert because she was “fat” I decided to skip the whole meal. If someone tried a diet pill to reduce their appetite I tried one a day for a week. I was a painfully self-conscious child and something about controlling my food intake gave me a sense of control over my life.
By my late teens I was diagnosed with anorexia. It took me many years to battle my eating disorder and I didn’t feel fully recovered until my mid-twenties.
My struggle with an eating disorder was long and draining and not something I ever want my 9-year-old daughter to endure. I want her to love herself and cope well with her emotions. So, in an attempt to keep her from following in my footsteps, I’m doing these things to help her develop (and maintain) a healthy attitude toward food and feelings.
1. I never talk about my own body in a negative way. She will grow up finding fault in all kinds of things about herself, as we all do. I am determined not to give her any flaws to search her on own body, so I never discuss what I think of my stomach or what’s happening to my upper arms in front of her. I have to work extra hard at this one when trying on clothes; she does NOT need to learn how to check out the shape of her backside in a mirror from me!
2. I don’t diet or exercise to lose weight. If I am eating healthy it’s because I want to feel good and because my body needs fuel, not because the sit-ups I do aren’t cutting it. I run in the mornings because it makes my legs stronger and gives me more energy. I encourage her to stay active for the same reasons, because being strong and healthy is important. The numbers on a scale are not.
3. We do not own a scale. When I hit rock bottom and ultimately ended up in an eating disorder clinic in my early twenties they made me remove the scale from our home and I’ve never looked back. I don’t want to give her a reference number to attach to her body. I don’t want her to think about a two pound difference between breakfast and dinner and regret that roll with butter. The numbers on a scale are inconsequential, so long as we’re leading a healthy lifestyle.
4. I talk openly about the female body, because I want her to understand all of the changes that are happening and will continue to happen with her body and to not feel uncomfortable about any part of herself. We’ve talked about having boobs, not having boobs, thighs that hold our strongest muscles, and those hips that seem to appear out of nowhere. I try to frame all of it as the positive parts of growing up and being a woman and talk casually about the changes ahead in hopes that we establish a comfort level that can continue as she grows.