When I gave birth to a daughter, I felt ill-equipped to raise her. 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?
I didn’t want my daughter to relive what I did. At fourteen I was anorexic, then bulimic until my early twenties. Parenting a girl forced me to face the underlying issues of my eating disorder. I wanted her to have a life free from bondage, free from an obsession with weight and food. I wanted her to be healthy, something I’ve diligently pursued as a lifetime principle.
As I’ve watched my daughter have a healthy body image and relationship with food, I’ve praised God. I’ve also reflected on six principles we were intentional about implementing that contributed to breaking the cycle of disordered eating.
- Using the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” and eliminating the word “fat.” Since my daughter 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 rather than physical characteristics. I made a conscious effort to compliment my daughter on character and behavior rather than 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 my self-talk. When my daughter was young, I worked hard not to let her know of my insecurities. I didn’t want her to know about my body or self-image struggles. 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.
- Having the courage to deal with my issues. 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 parenting responsibilities. 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 my family. The healing process for any wound 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.
- Being accountable to your kids. 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. If you’re going to be real with your kids, you need to be real with yourself, too.
- Making 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 have kept balance in my life. Physical fitness for a lifetime has become a healthy priority for our family.
Healthy living has meant taking the high road on days I don’t feel like it. But when I see my daughter’s smile and healthy lifestyle, I’m thankful for the grace, strength, and perseverance I’ve developed instead of unhealthy behaviors. Being a parent doesn’t make your life easier. It forces you to live honestly, seeking what’s best for you and your kids.