Tasked with writing about health and well-being for this month’s column, I wanted nothing more than to avoid talking about my own screwed up relationship with food. But, the truth is, I struggle more with how to parent my kiddo without passing on my disordered eating than almost any other aspect of parenting. Given that a huge chunk of American women—and a growing number of men—struggle with eating disorders, I’m not alone in wrestling with how to shield my kid from the shame I’ve felt about my body since before I remember.
I’ve been thin now for over a decade, but continue to struggle to accept my body on an almost daily basis. And I worry constantly about how my fixation with my (self-perceived) flaws are penetrating my kid’s subconscious. Two years into this whole mommy adventure, I find that whenever I hit a wall wondering how to tackle a parenting-related challenge, it’s time to dig deep and figure out what ‘re-parenting’ work I need to do with myself to heal whatever wounds are getting rubbed by the situation I’m facing.
Seeing my son taking more and more responsibility for what goes into his mouth has sparked memories of my childhood eating: lying and sneaking to get the sweets and snacks calling to me. I binged and hid food all throughout my adolescence, but wasn’t completely out of control. Things went off the rails early in high school.
Always the funny friend, the smart friend, the girl who had ‘such a pretty face’, I was thrilled to find that a boy had a crush on me. After a whirlwind few weeks of seeing him, I found myself in bed and in a situation I had no idea how to navigate. Saying ‘no’ did not stop said boyfriend from going too far. The pain of having my voice ignored left me emotionally reeling, and unsure how to proceed in the relationship. Almost a year passed before I figured out how to extricate myself. When we were finally over, I dove headfirst into food to numb the pain.
I ate. And ate. And ate. I ballooned from a size 12 to 18 in the year following our breakup. Not realizing how damaging the relationship had been, I lashed out with anger towards everyone and everything around me. But the one who took the worst abuse from me was me. I was bad. I was fat. I was not enough.
I ate my way through my dream college, racking up pounds and insecurities and student debt. In ever-more desperate attempts to prove I was enough, that I was ok, I poured myself into dozens of activities, whirling around campus to keep up with the crushing schedule I had set for myself. I graduated school a year early, so hooked on the outcome of finishing that I forgot to enjoy the journey. I threw myself into finding a job, and was hired by a commission-only sales company, a perfect fit for someone who believed she was worthless without tangible proof of achievement.
The beginning of the end of my exhausting marathon of self-hatred and destruction was simple. A coworker causally mentioned she had lost 80 pounds a few years ago, and waited for me to ask her more. Days later she drove me to my first meeting of a 12-step program for people with eating disorders. Two years following, had shed 104 lbs., and found some semblance of peace with my body and my relationship to food.
Becoming a mom has shaken some of this stability. It has less to do with the little moments of noticing the pudge around my midsection when I step into the shower, and much more to do with how I pass on messages that self-worth is not determined by our size, nor by the food we put into our mouths. Keeping the messaging simple for my toddler helps remind me of this truth. There are no ‘good foods’ or ‘bad foods.’ There are simply foods that give us the fuel we need to run and jump and play, and some foods that can make us feel less than our best if we eat too much of them.
In our house, being healthy means prioritizing the things that bring us joy, that make us feel like we are being the very best versions of ourselves. Pursuing this type of health is not always easy, but completely worth the effort to make sure my kiddo has a rock-solid sense of self that has nothing to do with his size.
Enjoy this column by Elizabeth Mount? Find more of her musings on motherhood in the blog section of our website, here. Each month, she and four other Baltimore’s Child bloggers opine about every age and stage of parenthood.