Being a parent is complicated. I entered recovery from my 30-year eating disorder when my daughter was 10 years old. I chose recovery because I didn’t want to pass my eating disorder on to my daughter. Not sure if this was possible, I was willing to try. Recovery has been hard but well worth it. And my daughter has thrived with the knowledge and skills I have gained.
Here are the five things I’ve done since entering recovery that helped me become a better parent:
Forget dieting and weight loss
For the first 10 years of my daughter’s life, I was constantly trying special diet plans, restricting food, and living either in pursuit of weight loss or fear of weight gain. When I went into recovery for my eating disorder, I had to release all my dieting and weight loss strategies.
Recovery meant learning the futility and the risks of being obsessed with my weight. I spent too many years as a parent weighing, measuring, pinching, and regretting my body. I didn’t want my daughter to feel the same, and I was ready to let go of the idea that I was in control of my weight.
So our household is now free of dieting, weight loss, and weight control. We don’t own a scale, and we don’t control our diet with the goal of managing our weight. My daughter doesn’t currently know her weight, and she has never dieted or restricted to pursue a lower weight.
Embrace All Foods
During my 30-year eating disorder, I banned almost every type of food.
Recovery meant opening my plate and my mouth to every food without fear.
I’ve learned to make choices about food based on how it tastes and feels in my body. I no longer judge food based on its calorie content, what someone else told me about it, how it is marketed, or what popular culture says is “healthy” or not.
In our house, we eat what we like. Sometimes this can feel revolutionary. When my daughter hit puberty, lots of her friends started dieting and bringing diet-type food to school. But we kept talking about the food that she likes and the food that feels good in her body. While her friends cut out “bad” foods regularly, my daughter eats anything that tastes and feels good to her.
Promote a healthy body image
I spent decades thinking there was something wrong with my body. Of course, like so many people, I look back and wonder why I felt so bad!
There was never anything wrong with my body. But there’s a lot wrong with our society’s view of bodies.
Social media has made having a healthy body image even harder. My daughter is bombarded with perfectly curated and filtered images of people who seem much more relatable than magazine models. And they are mostly very thin and conventionally beautiful.
We talk about body image a lot. We don’t aim for feeling body-positive all the time or never having negative thoughts. Instead, I’ve taught her to catch her negative body thoughts and reply to them as she would a friend. This helps because there’s no shame in having bad body thoughts, but we don’t want them to sit around without being challenged.
Teach media literacy
When I was growing up I devoured magazines aimed at teens. “Heroin chic” was a big thing, and models seemed to get smaller and smaller every year. At the time, nobody ever talked to me about how unrealistic those images were. When I started reading Health and Shape, I thought the models’ bodies were not only within my reach but something to which I should aspire.
As a parent, I am very aware of how different life is today. My daughter doesn’t read magazines, but she is constantly connected to social media like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.
We talk about the people she sees on social media, and I’ve taught her how algorithms work. For example, people who are thin and conventionally pretty are more likely to be seen and liked, and thus are popular on social media.
I ask her to intentionally diversify her feed and follow marginalized bodies. She also knows to unfollow anyone who makes her feel bad about herself, promotes weight loss, or makes fatphobic comments.
Talk about weight stigma
My eating disorder was complex and layered. But one of its roots was weight stigma. In its simplest form, my eating disorder kept me from being in the body I was destined to have based on my genetics and environment.
Part of my recovery was unpacking weight stigma and understanding how our society’s fear of fat drives so many serious health problems.
Most people mistakenly believe that a larger body is less healthy and that a larger person is less intelligent and less disciplined than a smaller person.
I’ve taught my daughter about weight stigma and its dangers. She is surrounded by fat jokes and stigmatizing comments about weight. But she knows that weight stigma is factually incorrect and bigoted. We have a lot of conversations about how weight stigma impacts her friends, popstars, influencers, and everyone living in a body.
Thanks to my recovery
My recovery taught me these five things, and as a result, my daughter is growing up in an environment that is safe and healthy for her body. At the same time, in many ways, being her parent has strengthened my own recovery. Teaching her to respect her body has helped me respect my own.