I had a lot of body image issue growing up. I started developing early and that led to teasing and bullying, which in turn led to self-loathing and eventually an eating disorder. I struggled with what was eventually diagnosed as bulimia from the age of 11 onward and it got to the point where I would binge and purge numerous times a day. I still have the scars on my right hand from making myself throw up, and I’ve battled the physical effects of bulimia as well as the emotional ones.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of looking in the mirror and hating what you see everyday, unless you’ve been there. Unfortunately many people have, as up to 24 million people in the US alone suffer from some type of eating disorder. It’s a feeling I never want my daughters to feel, which is why I make an effort every day to be a good example for them. I try to stay positive about myself and, most importantly, I teach my girls that your personal worth isn’t tied to your appearance. You should eat the right foods and exercise to feel good and stay healthy, not to fit into some impossible ideal.
That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes. I can’t count how many times one of my girls has caught me looking in the mirror, calling myself fat or remarking on weight lost. I struggle to guide my kids on eating well instead of making judgments or placing unhealthy expectations on them, but those lessons may go right out the window when I don’t always practice what I preach.
It was becoming pregnant with my oldest child that gave me the courage to finally seek help for my issues with food.The changes in my body during pregnancy were scary and at first I rebelled, doubling up on my bad habits. I found myself purging five or six times a day. One morning I work up with blood pouring out of my mouth, from my gums. The final straw came at my 16 week check up when my OBGYN informed me that I hadn’t gained any weight whatsoever in the past month; in fact I had lost six pounds.
I knew I had to make a change.
For the first time, I told my doctor what was going on. He wasn’t surprised (he had brought up my weight issues in previous visits). He recommended a specialist and I started my journey towards some semblance of a healthy eating pattern. Which was weird, especially considering how different my body was. Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t like they show in those ridiculous Lifetime movies, where the person has a big realization and then everyone cries and gets better. It takes years of hard work. You make mistakes. You slip up. You have to cut people from your life who don’t support you.
The most important advice I was given by the doctor I first saw for my eating disorder was to take it one day at a time. This might sound trite, but it’s so incredibly important because looking at the big picture can be overwhelming when you’re struggling with this type of disease. I wish I could say I never relapsed, but I did, numerous times. Thankfully it’s been a long time since that’s happened. I’m also thankful I didn’t have to go away in order to be treated, as many people do. I don’t think I would have been able to handle that as a new mom and it was perhaps that fear that gave me the courage to do what I had to do to get better.
I wish I could say that was the end of my struggle, but it was just the beginning. Three kids and 10 years later I still battle with these unhealthy thoughts. It’s not always easy. You never really recover from an eating disorder. It’s not like other diseases where you can be cured; the dark thoughts always linger in the back of your head. Eventually your issues with food become obvious even to your kids. My oldest was maybe six when she started to pick up on my food aversions. It becomes even more important to make the right choices when you have little eyes taking everything in. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
Children learn through imitation which means it’s important to be the best role model you can be. Unresolved body image issues and unhealthy attitudes towards food and weight are easily passed on to your kids. But it doesn’t have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am doing my best to take back control so my daughters won’t have to travel the same roads I have.
If you’re struggling with disordered eating, I recommend seeking help here.
(photo: Jeyn Laundrie)