Why I'm Telling My Daughter About My Eating Disorder

weightAdults spend a lot of time editing our life stories for our kids, making them child-friendly. Honesty is one thing, but kids don't need to know everything. And when it comes to little girls, they certainly don't need to hear their moms talking about weight issues.




Just about every study out there will tell you that's a surefire way to raise a daughter with an eating disorder. But how much editing should we really do? One expert says our daughters should hear absolutely nothing about weight matters, nothing about diets, nothing at all.

And yet, I'm going to tell my daughter about my eating disorder.

Not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not for awhile, in fact, but it will happen sooner rather than later.

Because I disagree with Dr. Leslie Sim, clinical director of Mayo Clinic's eating disorders program and a child psychologist, when she says that the answer to raising a healthy daughter is:

Zero talk about dieting, zero talk about weight.

Never acknowledging the elephant in the room can be just as dangerous as moaning about your weight.

Take it from me, a recovering bulimic whose parents never mentioned the long hours I'd spend in the bathroom, the retching noises. Maybe they never noticed; I don't know. 

But they also never talked about eating disorders with me, never warned me against them. I won't make that mistake with my daughter.

More From The Stir: 7 Truths About Eating Disorders Every Parent Needs to Know

She needs to know that she is beautiful and that her body is perfect. She needs to know about eating healthy foods and exercising. But she also needs to know the truth about eating disorders.

Because she will hear about them. I did. I had friends with whom I bonded in no small part because we shared a secret -- we threw up our meals. We would exchange tips about throwing up. And although I was smart enough to know I probably shouldn't be doing it, there was no one telling me why, no one with any authority presenting a convincing argument against bulimia.

This is my duty to my daughter: to prevent her from making the mistakes I made as a kid, to be the voice of reason on all matters rather than letting her take another kid's advice (because we all remember getting some particularly bad advice on the school bus, don't we?).

We talk about other issues with our kids, other things they shouldn't do. We warn them against the dangers of drugs and alcohol, warn them not to smoke cigarettes or ride in a car without a seatbelt. And we start it all pretty young. Thanks to an uncle who smokes, my daughter was getting the "no cancer sticks" talk when she was a mere toddler.

So why not talk to her about eating disorders? Because they relate to weight, and weight is a no-no?

Unfortunately, weight exists, and kids talk about it.

And at times in a girl's life, your weight changes. You want to know why, you want reassurance. You want to know what to do about it -- if you have to do anything. 

Right now my daughter is 8, all slim hips and non-existent thighs. But she's getting so close to puberty, that I went out and bought her one of those books on a girl's changing body to prepare her for what will happen -- for acne and body odor, for her period.

I don't want her to be alarmed or scared. I don't want her making poor choices -- such as skipping the deodorant or pretending that blood isn't real, mistakes that are easy to make when you're a kid who doesn't understand why these things are happening and just wants to go back to the way things were. Nor do I want her to feel bad about the weight that often packs on as you gain hips and breasts, to do something drastic to try to reverse it.

This is why I'll talk to my daughter about my eating disorder. So she knows that it's the wrong choice but also so that she knows she's not alone as her body changes.

How do you talk to your daughters about weight? Do you have a 0 weight talk policy or do you talk about some things?


Image by Jeanne Sager

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