Why I'm Telling My Daughter About My Eating Disorder

Mom Moment 8

weightWe adults 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

food, girls, kids nutrition, kid health


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Books... BooksandWine

I plan to as well. I think honestly about our struggles only help us bond and understand our children.

littl... littlebeanmom

How can you really never never talk about weight?  Considering that so many people are overweight, it seems reckless.  Parenting advice is always so ridiculous.  It's going to be a balancing act between being a healthy weight and not obsessing about a perfect body.  There is no simple answer.

Kacia Gonzalez

I think you misjudged the doctor's findings. She is saying to not discuss YOUR weight or your daughter's weight. Saying things like "Oh, I need to go on a diet" or "Honey, you're gaining a few pounds" is what does the damage to our little girls. I'm sure everyone agrees that girls should be educated about eating disorders but I have sworn that I will never comment on my daughter's weight gain or mine.

nonmember avatar Jenn

I see NOTHING wrong with arming your children with the knowledge you have gained throughout your life. IMHO, it is an act of love.

As much as we hate the fact that society still judges on appearances, it is the reality we live in.

Teaching your child about the negative consequences is important, in any situation.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Knowledge and positive alternatives are gifts we give our kids as they grow and learn to make their own choices in life.

nonmember avatar Mara

Talk to your daughter by all means, but don't refer to an eating disorder as the "wrong choice." They are NOT choices.

Karin... KarinJune

I don't remember specifically talking about eating disorders with any of my kids. However, I have never owned a bathroom scale as an adult (my mom had one), nor have I ever obssessed about my weight or my kids' weight, or clothing size. Healthy and comfortable with themselves is what I was after and so far, at ages 24, 21 and 14, they are good. Lucky me, I guess.

Jessica Potts Lahey

It's too bad (and certainly not the author's fault) that The Stir allows the ads underneath this post to appear. "Stores Struggle to Keep Fatburner in" [sic] and "Worst Celebrity Beach Bodies" (twice!)? Unfortunate confluence of messages here, editors, and if I were the author of this lovely post, I'd be quite upset.

Misty Cox Jording

Actually, they can be choices. I MADE a choice to have an eating disorder. I read books, watched movies, and essentially taught myself how to do it. Now, eventually, it was out of my hands and the ED took over, but initially, I knew EXACTLY what I was doing.

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