I have opened up before about the relationship I had / have with food and exercise. I am still not where I want to be, but I have come very far from where I was. My battle with disordered eating lasted for four years before I felt like I really had a hold on it.
Ever since I went public with my past, several mothers have questioned me about how they should communicate with their daughters to prevent or help them with their own struggles. While it breaks my heart to imagine anyone going through this horrible sickness, it is a very real issue that the judgmental world we live in pretty much encourages. Therefore, I want to do everything I can to help.
*disclaimer: I am not a parent currently. This is just my advice and what I wish my family and friends would have known. However there is no perfect way to handle this kind of situation and it can be very uncomfortable / problematic.
I remember when I first started becoming aware of my body and my diet, I got ridiculed for it. I grew up in a family that loved food. (NOTHING is wrong with that by the way. It was a delicious way of growing up.) However, I was constantly surrounded with homemade goodness consisting of fried this, creamy that, sugar-coated, and calorie filled. Back then it didn’t matter to me. I was an active kid and was never overweight. But for some reason between 9th and 11th grade, I decided I wanted to be skinnier.
I started running everyday and weighing myself regularly. I tried to eat what I thought was “healthy,” but really that was just me trying to eat as little as possible. When I ordered at a restaurant or fixed my plate at a family gathering, the comments started coming… “Are you not hungry Jennie?” “There goes Jennie eating like a rabbit.” “I can’t believe you aren’t eating MY dessert. My feelings are hurt.” (Of course I know now these were innocent comments and in no way intended for harm)
But instead of helping the loomg situation, their comments just made it worse and brought me shame and guilt. I became very defensive, paranoid, and emotional around eating. It got to the point where I would hide food and pretend I ate it to please everyone. Or even worse, I would binge everything and purge later. In the beginning I remember saying to myself, “this isn’t normal.” But for some reason I just couldn’t stop.
As it continued to get worse, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone becuase I felt so judged. But I was so absorbed in myself, that I wasn’t even noticing how hard and foreign this concept was to my family and loved ones. It took time, a few interventions, and a new way of approaching me, but my eyes were finally opened. I didn’t need opinionated views. I just needed love and support. At the end of my Freshman year of college, I finally decided to seek professional help. I learned, I forgave, I healed, and I am still trying to be better every day.
This subject has been heavy on my heart because A) my sister just had her second child…a baby GIRL!!! B) I recently taught a birthday Pilates class to 16 seven-year-old girls. And (sorry for cursing) I will be damned if I don’t do all I can to prevent this type of mindset from attacking them. My dream is for my new baby niece, those energetic little ladies, and all of my clients to have a positive outlook on food, exercise, and life.
As a teacher I really try my best to avoid talk of weight and weaknesses. I strive to keep the focus on feeling good, feeling strong, and feeling capable. I would never intentionally say to a group working out, “it’s time to burn calories and fat,” “let’s do this so you can look good in your bathing-suits!” or “tank top season is upon us, so let’s tone those arms!”
You never know when something you say may plant a seed that could impact the rest of someone else’s life. Communication is a wonderful and imporant thing, but it can also cause extreme damage. In all ways try to be encouraging, supportive, and loving. Everyone has their reasons for living a certain way. So we must try to understand and help instead of judge and tear down.
To those that are going through a similar situation: Please don’t be afraid to seek help. I am available to talk. There are therapists and health coaches all over the internet. You are not alone.
To those that know of someone that is going through a similar situation: Remember they don’t see the world like you do. Telling them to “just eat a burger” is not going to help. Show them love, support, and a safe place they can go for help. Because they need you now more than ever.
I can’t promise to fix all your problems, but I can promise you won’t have to face them alone.
“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15