After Bulimia, Talking About Weight With My Daughter Scares Me

mother and daughter

"Mama -- look at my belly! It is so big!" 

My 4-year-old lifts up her shirt and sticks her belly out at me. She happily pats it and grins when I tickle her ribs. She is solid and strong and has no idea what a thigh gap is or why she'd want one. Figuring out how to help her always feel this way about her body is one of the most important jobs I have as a mom. So why does it feel so scary?

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When I look at my daughter, I see myself. I was strong and solid and though I went on to be a successful athlete in high school and college, I was always thinking about my weight. I always felt like I was too big and that my life would be better if I just lost some weight. Now, I look at pictures of myself as a child and a teenager and I feel such sadness. I was healthy and my body was built exactly as it should have been, so I could be a fast swimmer. 

And I never saw it. I never appreciated it. Instead, I worried and dieted and tried every manner of unhealthy behavior -- up to and including bulimia -- to try to shrink myself to some imaginary perfect weight. I grew up feeling that food was both a punishment and a reward. Nobody ever told me that healthy was better than skinny. Someone in my family was always on a diet, and eventually that someone was me. 

So, maybe the scary part when it comes to my daughter is that I have to figure out how to help her to love her body when I'm still learning to love mine.

More from CafeMom: Why I'm Telling My Daughter About My Eating Disorder

I feel confident that part of raising a daughter who is healthy -- both physically and mentally -- when it comes to weight starts with the messages she hears at home. So, at our house, we don't talk about food in moral terms. There aren't "good" or "bad" foods. We don't talk about having an extra snack or a nighttime bowl of ice cream as "being bad." Instead, we talk about food as a thing that helps us grow and to be a fast runner. We talk about how our bodies want lots of types of food to be healthy. She cheerfully tells me that strawberries make her taller and so I buy strawberries in bulk. 

Beyond how we talk about food, having a daughter has forced me to consider how I talk about weight, including my own. I'm overweight, and there are times when it's harder to feel love for my soft belly and both of my chins. But my daughter has never heard me be unkind to myself, and I'm determined to keep it that way. When she asks me why I'm sweating as I churn away on our spin bike, I tell her that exercise makes my body feel good. I don't use the word diet. When she asks me why I'm "so big," we talk about how bodies come in all sizes and that this is just my size. 

I tell her I love my squishy belly, and I try really hard to mean it. 

I don't know if all this will work. I know I'm competing with a culture that is basically insane about weight and body issues. But I'm going to keep trying and to keep making our house a safe space for her to grow healthy and strong. 

She is perfect and right now she knows it. It's my job to make sure she doesn't forget. 

 

Image via Sarah Hudson Photography/Wendy Robinson

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