Six Steps For Raising A Daughter with Healthy Eating Habits
Notes From An Eating Disorder Survivor
When I gave birth to a daughter, I was terrified. At twenty-three, I was still a girl myself, struggling with my own issues – an eating disorder, insecurities, and identity issues. If I struggled with my own body issues, how was I going to raise a girl with a healthy self-image?
Her birth forced me to face the underlying issues of the eating disorder. I didn’t want her to know the hell I lived beginning at fourteen when I became anorexic, then bulimic. I wanted her to have a life free of bondage, free of the obsession with weight and food. I wanted her to be healthy, something I’ve diligently pursued as a lifetime principle over the last twenty-three years.
As I watched my daughter graduate from college this spring with confidence and a healthy body image, I acknowledged six principles that contributed to breaking the cycle of disordered eating.
- Using the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” and eliminating the word “fat.” Since she was a toddler, I used these words to guide food choices and to help her understand the importance of balanced eating and body image. The first time she used the word “fat” she was in middle school. We had a healthy discussion about body image and I don’t remember the word “fat”being used by her again.
- Complimenting her character and not physical characteristics. I made a conscious effort to complement my daughter on character and behavior and not physical appearance. I tried to avoid comments, positive or negative, referring to her weight. A comment I received as a sixth grader sent me into a tailspin of losing weight. I was an 88-pound skeleton by eighth grade.
- Being conscious of comments about my physical appearance in front of her. When my daughter was young, I worked hard not to let her know my insecurities or pity-parties. I didn’t want her to know my struggle with my body or self-image. Something must have worked. It wasn’t until she was in her late teens that she was aware of my history with an eating disorder.
- Have the courage to deal with your stuff.There’s nothing magical about parenting that makes your issues, problems, or past go away. It’s easy to hide your struggles behind busyness or responsibilities of parenting. As my kids grew, their experiences triggered my own hurts. I had to choose to make myself emotionally healthy so I could model a healthy lifestyle for them. The healing process for any hurt takes courage and commitment, whether it’s through professional counseling, life coaching or a personal determination to stop destructive behavior. Your kids take self-esteem cues from you –for them to be healthy, you need to be healthy.
- Be accountable to your kids. Over twenty-plus years of living free of an eating disorder, there were times I was tempted to step back into destructive patterns as my default coping mechanism. But when I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I knew I needed to live honestly in front of her. It’s hard to face your stuff, but if you’re going to be real with your kids, you need to be real with yourself, too
- Make a lifetime commitment to be active. Dieting and weighing myself trigger unhealthy thoughts about weight and food for me. They’re not options for balancing food and weight. Instead, being physically active through walking, running or biking has kept balance in my life instead. Physical fitness for a lifetime has become a healthy priority for our family.
Living healthy has meant taking the high road on days I don’t feel like it. But when I see my daughter’s beautiful smile and healthy lifestyle, I’m thankful for the grace, strength and perseverance I’ve fought to incorporate into my life. Being a parent doesn’t make your life easier – it forces you to live honestly, seeking life’s best for you and your kids.
Do you have questions about body image issues for yourself or your daughter? Have any of these principles been helpful? What’s your story with food, weight or body image as a parent? Please comment below – we’d love to hear from you.
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