Welcome to Your Anxiety Toolkit. I’m your host, Kimberley Quinlan. This podcast is fueled by three main goals. The first goal is to provide you with some extra tools to help you manage your anxiety. Second goal, to inspire you. Anxiety doesn’t get to decide how you live your life. And number three, and I leave the best for last, is to provide you with one big, fat virtual hug, because experiencing anxiety ain’t easy. If that sounds good to you, let’s go.
Okay, friends, how are you doing really? How are you doing?
It’s summertime, you guys. Oh my goodness. We’re here. How did this happen? Just to let you know, I will be taking a break as I have done for the last several years over the summer. So I will probably take a few weeks off in July so I can have some time with my kids to really rest and repair and play and be human. It’s such a weird year. And so as I’m recording this, it’s not summer yet, but it’s crazy to think that we’ve landed in summer already of 2021. Am I right? Holy smokes.
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All right. So here we go. Today, I am talking about how I am protecting my daughter from an eating disorder. But what I’m really going to be talking about is how we, me and my husband, are protecting my daughter and my son from an eating disorder. The reason I preface that is because, number one, yes, while women are more likely to develop an eating disorder, there is an increase of prevalence of young men and young boys getting and experiencing an eating disorder.
There are many different types of eating disorder. It doesn’t have to be anorexia. They can be binge eating. There’s also types of eating disorders, such as bigorexia, which is around developing muscle. There’s orthorexia. There’s so many kinds of, again, bulimia anorexia, of course, we’ve discussed. There’s so many types and it’s so important that we recognize that this is not just a problem for women and girls.
So let’s talk about it. How myself and my husband are protecting my daughter and my son from an eating disorder. So there are two main things I want to discuss today. Number one is how we talk and number two, how we model. And so I’m going to give you much more detail into how we are doing that and how we’re choosing to do that and the struggles that we’re having.
I, myself, had an eating disorder. So I’m really, really protective of this topic with my children. It’s something I really want to try and protect them from while I know that I can’t entirely protect them. I can do a lot of education to give them everything they need to hopefully not have to go through what I have gone through and what so many people have gone through with eating disorders.
So, first of all, let’s talk about what we talk about. Let’s talk about what we talk about, shall we?
All right. So the first thing, and you guys have heard me say this probably before, the first thing we talk about is diet culture. This is where we identify how our society is teaching us to believe that we should be a certain way. Our bodies should be a certain way. Our skin should be a certain way. Our hair should be a certain way. We should look a certain way. And we want to be able to identify this so we can call the BS on it.
So the reason that I call BS on it is, just because society tells us our body should be a certain way doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, it’s entirely BS. Your body, my body, my daughter’s body, my son’s body, and my husband’s body – doesn’t have to be any particular way.
Society and diet culture is going to tell us that it should be thin. It’s going to give us all of these messages. “We should be thin. We should be strong. We should be tall. We should be short. We should be eating this certain thing. This product will help us with our metabolism. This product is bad. These foods are good. These foods are bad.” And there’s so many messages that are faulty and proven to be wrong. So, so important. So we talk a lot about this with my children.
When my daughter and I go shopping, which we haven’t done in a long time, but when we see advertisements, when we watch TV shows, when we look in magazines or pitches of books in books, when we look at Barbie dolls, we talk about diet culture. I might say, “What about her body? Let’s talk about Bobby.” And we look at Bobby and I’ll say, “What do you think about her body?” And she’ll be like, “It’s kind of weird. It looks kind of strange.” And I’ll say, “Yeah, why do you think that is?” And she says, “Well her waist is really small.” And I’ll have a conversation with her. We talked to her about, “Do you feel like you need that to be beautiful? No, no, you don’t.”
How might we change this? And I might say to her, “You don’t have to look anything like that. You know that your body is genetically set up to be exactly the way your body is and there’s nothing you need to do any differently about that.” So important.
Same with my son. Look at the action figures. We might say, “Your body doesn’t have to look like that.” That’s diet culture. You don’t have to have a six-pack of abs. He’s only six, but we’re still already having these conversations.
Now, what’s interesting is my husband right now is reading the book to our children, and it was a book that he read when he was a young kid with his parents. It’s interesting because there’s all these references to fat, like fat this and fat boy and fat girl, and she was fat and so forth. We talk about the word “fat.” We talk about, is that a good word or a bad word? No, it’s just a word. It’s a descriptive word. But would we use it to describe somebody else? No. We would use many other things to describe somebody than using that kind of word. Not that there’s anything wrong with the word. It’s just that we don’t want to encourage them to define a person by their body.
We try our hardest not to compliment our children’s body. You might think that’s crazy. Some people go, “Oh, no, no. My child won’t have an eating disorder. I tell them how beautiful they are every day.” I often will educate them and say, “That doesn’t actually prevent anything. In fact, it just adds to that kid and that child thinking that the way they look is important. Because what if their body changes? Then they’re going to be like, ‘Oh no, mom’s always complimenting me on my body, and now my body changed. So does that mean I’m bad?’” So we do our best not to compliment their body or anybody’s body.
I have worked really hard since my own recovery to never congratulate someone for losing weight, which is really hard. In fact, I’ve had one really difficult conversation with our friend where she was saying, “I really just want you to compliment me because I have lost a lot of weight.” And I’ve said to her, “That doesn’t line up with my values. I love you, but I never want to engage in something where you believe your worth is caught up in your body. I just can’t do that. I’m sorry. But I love you and I love everything about you, every part of you, whether your body is in a large body, a small body, a tall body, a short body, whatever color skin. I love you.” And we say the same to the kids. Now, of course, we also don’t ridicule their bodies. We don’t comment on their bodies, their ever-changing bodies, as they, my daughter moves into preadolescence.
We’re still in the talk section. We talk about what we do value. That person is very kind. He has kind eyes. She has a beautiful smile. She radiates love. She is a fun person. She’s very intelligent. My five-year-old son says intelligent a lot. “He is very intelligent. I am very intelligent.” Not that we want to overvalue that either. Because we want to really remind them that unconditionally, we will love them and that their worth is consistent. It doesn’t matter what. It doesn’t matter what. That they’re worth and our love for them is consistent.
And to be honest, I will say there is nothing more powerful than hearing that from a father, particularly if you’re a young woman, a young child like my daughter. For my husband to say, “I love you, no matter what. Don’t ever let a man judge you or comment on your body and you believe what they say, because you’re more than a body.” To teach our son that other girls and other boys are more than a body. To teach him that he’s more than a body. So important.
Now another thing we do is we praise all foods. We celebrate all foods. We are grateful for all foods. We do not have good and bad foods in our family. We don’t talk about things being healthy and unhealthy. While we do very much value health, we really try to help the kids understand that they can listen to their body and our body.
This is the kind of funny story, I’ll tell you. My daughter is going to be 10 and she can outeat anybody. It’s really quite phenomenal. She’s always hungry. And my instinct is to go, “You’ve already eaten. Stop eating. You certainly cannot be hungry.” I’m feeling full and she’s eating double what I have. But I really catch how we talk to her about her food and we celebrate, “Good for you, honey. You’re listening to your body.” She’ll often come to me and say, “Mom, I’m starving. What can I eat?” And we laugh. And she smiles. And I say, “Hun, what do you think I’m going to say?” And she rolls her eyes and she says, “You’re going to say, ‘You can eat whatever you want.’”
Now, of course, we have some rules around this. We don’t encourage and we don’t allow the kids to eat a lot of snacks before a meal. We try to really have them understand the importance of waiting for their meal. But that’s probably 45 minutes at the most. Often my daughter will have a full peanut butter and jelly sandwich 45 minutes before a meal and still eat her whole meal, and we praise her for that.
My son is really, really picky around food. There’s certain things he really, really likes. And interestingly, he has no interest in sweets. If he could choose between salty and a birthday cake, he would choose salty all the time. We encourage him to just listen to his body. I talk to them about me listening to my body. They’ll be like, “Mom let’s go have ice cream.” And I’ll usually sometimes not eat ice cream. That’s not because I’m restricting. I might say, “No, I’m listening to my body. I don’t really need ice cream right now.” And then there’s other days where I’m ordering three scoops of ice cream because I’m really hunkering down for some ice cream. So I try to also teach them that it’s okay to listen to your body as does my husband.
So these are all really, really important things we talk a lot about. And this is the last thing we talk about, which is health. What is health? Is health only eating sugar-free foods? Is health being thin? Is health being tall? No, none of those things. Is healthy eating only organic food? No, absolutely not.
Health is having balance and taking away judgment. We have to remember here too, health is not just physical, it’s mental.
I know people who eat the most “clean diet” and they exercise, but they’re not healthy because emotionally they’ve got a really unhealthy relationship with food and their body. They’re hard on themselves. They beat themselves up. Maybe they binge. So this is the thing to remember. Your definition of health might not be what is the real definition of health.
Now this is really true and I’m going to make sure I have some people on coming here once we get back after the summer on talking about health at every size. This is a crucial conversation we need to have. If you haven’t read yet a book called Health at Every Size, I urge you to. It’s so important to really understand the science behind that and understand the issues we have around how we have stigmatized people in bigger bodies as being unhealthy when we’ve actually got lots of science to prove that you can be really healthy in any size body, that health is not indicated by just your size.
Okay. So now we move on to what we model. This is similar, but very important. So my husband and I have two completely different body sizes. Not that that’s super important, but I feel it’s important for our children to have those two examples and to have family members with different body sizes, where we celebrate every single body, and we do a lot of modeling around that. We do a lot of modeling, celebrating bodies – all the body sizes, shapes, skin colors, nationalities, sexualities. We try to model to our children and normalize differences instead of things being like, “This is good and this is bad.”
We also model, like I’ve mentioned to you, how we eat. We try not to judge each other for what we eat in front of each other. We try to really encourage by modeling like there’s no time you should eat food. A lot of my patients will say like, “Oh, I had a bagel for breakfast so I can’t have a bagel for snack.” And we go, “No, you can eat a bagel for breakfast and for lunch if you want.”
My son loves more than anything to put cream cheese and sprinkles on his bagels in the morning. He loves really sprinkled-up bagels and we allow it. We figured it’s no different than him putting jelly or jam on his bagel. And so we allow it, we allow him to enjoy his food. Given that he’s a kid who doesn’t like a lot of sweets, we’re all for it.
We also model by not saying negative things about our own body. My son is a personal story, but my son once came in and I was getting out of the shower and he said, “Mom, your belly’s all jiggly,” which is most moms’ nightmare. You know what I said? I said, “Yeah, it is. Isn’t it beautiful though, that I had two babies in that belly? Isn’t that cool?” He might say, “Daddy’s belly is big,” or whatever he may say. And we’ll go, “Yeah, isn’t that wonderful? We have so much fun eating food and what a wonderful body. Isn’t it so great that we have our bodies, that our bodies do all these things for us, like pump blood and breathe and digest food and run and hold our hearts and hold our brains and filter nutrients and things like that? Isn’t that incredible?” We model body acceptance and body love.
This has been really helpful for us, particularly because I know a lot of women and men who’ve developed eating disorders because their parents were on a diet all the time, that their parents model these strict diet culture rules, and good and bad rules, and all of this stuff that’s so dangerous for young ears to hear.
Now, we also model this or share one more personal story is, so much of eating disorders is around restriction. Over the last two years, my daughter has had some medical issues where she had to restrict several different food groups and this was really uncomfortable for me. I was very strong against it. I had said to her pediatrician, “I’m very uncomfortable with this. I do not like the idea of her restricting.” And he really coached me through. “You have everything you need to help her protect against this becoming something eating disordered. And just because she needs to do this medically doesn’t mean we have to make it about her body,” which was really helpful for me to hear. And so, yes, she has had to restrict several really important food groups because of some stomach issues that she was having.
And so it’s been a really interesting thing for us to have these conversations around what is a diet and what does that mean and why would we go on a diet and what are some reasons that we probably would not encourage her to go on a diet around and so forth. And so, that has been really, really fascinating to watch her navigate that.
There’s been a couple of times where she said like, “Mommy, I know I’m supposed to check on the ingredient list for certain things.” But she said, “That has made me really uncomfortable having to do that.” And I so appreciated her talking to me about that. And so we came up with basically a strategy that she could know basically what is in certain different foods. And from there, she wouldn’t have to look at the nutrient lists anymore, the ingredient lists. I was so happy that she felt comfortable saying, “This feels not right for me. This feels like it could become a problem.” And so, that has been really, really huge.
I think the only thing I would add from there is, for me as a therapist, but mostly a mom, I’ve had to really allow a lot of space for anxiety around this stuff because I never want my child to have to go through that. I have caught myself being hard on myself and feeling a sense of hyper responsibility, like it’s your job, it’s your job to protect her. I’ve had to really pull back on that as per my conversations with the pediatrician in terms of saying, “Kimberley, you can do what you can do, but you don’t have control. It will be what it will be. You can model and you can talk and you can be the best you can be, but we also have to let go of control and just be uncertain.”
Like I’m always telling you guys, it’s an uncertain thing. There’s no promises that we can do the best that we can. If we make a mistake and we mess up, we apologize and we share and we talk about where that mistake in that era came from, where did we learn it, what triggered us in that moment. And so, that has been really, really important for me as well.
So I hope that that’s being helpful. Those are the main pieces that have helped us as a family to protect our daughter and our son from an eating disorder and body image issues. I do hope that even one point has helped you in navigating this.
If you haven’t, if you’re not the parent of somebody, these are also messages and things that you’ll have to do for yourself, to model to yourself, talk to yourself about. And if not, go and find an eating disorder specialist who can help challenge this and work through the beliefs you have around food and diet culture in your body, and that can be really, really, really helpful.
Okay. I love you all. Have a wonderful, wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to do the really, really hard thing and you’re doing it. I know you are. So, I will talk to you very, very soon.
Have a wonderful, wonderful day.
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