For the past ten years, I have had the privilege of sharing sacred spaces with mothers. They come to me for help with food or child feeding but boy does food open up the opportunity for deeper conversations and a better understanding of our relationship to ourselves and the world around us. I’ve sat across from countless mothers of all ages and backgrounds, tears in their eyes, pleading with me to help them not pass their food and body “stuff” down to their children. “How do I keep my child from suffering from an eating disorder,” “I have to control my daughter’s weight because I can’t bear to see her suffer like I have,” “How do I not screw up my kids?” The fear is palpable, the pain is deep and the answers are not easy. If you’re reading this and can relate, this is what I want you to know…
Stop beating yourself up about your own poor body image and food struggles.
This work starts within you but it’s not your sole burden to bear. Given the fact that the diet culture legacy has been passed down for generations, odds are you weren’t given the roadmap to food and body healing. Neither was your mother/father/parent, nor theirs’. So, you might be the first to pave this new path and that’s going to require a lot of grace and compassion. And guess what? You don’t have to have a “perfect” body image or relationship with food to do that. It certainly helps to be aware of your own stuff and committed to working through it but you don’t have to have it all figured out. Depending on your child’s age or circumstance, a listening ear, a word of validation, an apology for times you said something you wish you hadn’t, or an honest conversation about cultural messages and how to think critically, might be all it takes. Oh and let’s get one thing right – this is NOT just the role of the mother. I’m so tired of blogs and social media posts telling moms not to pass down their “shit” while the SAME medium dishes out fatphobic, diet culture bullshit to MOMS. NO. NO. NO. Get outta here. WE ALL create and participate in this culture and, mama, you should never be expected to carry this alone. Let that guilt go. This job is all of ours.
You can’t keep your child from having an eating disorder.
Parents don’t cause eating disorders. There are many factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder – including genetics, certain personality traits and trauma. Sure, certain family situations and dynamics can increase one’s risk, especially if there is a genetic predisposition but ultimately, we can’t and shouldn’t blame parents. Any amount of parent blame is “old school” eating disorder treatment rhetoric and it really needs to go. Perhaps one of the most painful parts of this message is that we aren’t in control. There is no perfect way to parent so that your child won’t develop an eating disorder or any other mental illness and that sucks. So, what can we do? We can do our best to help our kids understand their emotions (this is really hard if we are just waking up to our own…trust me, I know) and de-stigmatize therapy, mental illness, struggling etc… I’m not the expert but there are lots out there like Janet Lansbury, Dr. Daniel Siegal and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson.
Controlling your child’s weight will not keep them from challenges with food and their body.
This is a common move by loving, caring, attentive parents everywhere. I see it constantly and I get it. I really, really do. In a world where people living in larger bodies are faced with serious and pervasive oppression it’s understandable to want to help your child escape that by controlling their body size – especially if you’ve experienced this oppression, too. Not to mention we’re conditioned to believe that weight gain or living in a larger body = being unhealthy so you may also have your doctor, school, neighbor, in-law, or whoever, pressuring you to “do something,” and that “something” might be a diet in disguise. Unfortunately, this typically increases the chance of your child having a disordered relationship with food and their body. It reinforces the message that their body is not ok and that they are less worthy of food, enjoyment of food, and responding to their hunger, just to name a few. I know that’s not the intention. Instead, if you have concerns about your child’s weight, seek the support of a weight inclusive RD who is trained in child feeding. Listen for keywords in their philosophy like, “Division of Responsibility,” “Ellyn Satter,” “Responsive feeding,” “Health at Every Size®,” “weight-inclusive.” If there is something going on that’s causing a change in weight (up or down) that seems to be inconsistent with your child’s growth curve this professional will be able to assess this through a weight-inclusive lens and support you and your child in a way that will foster a healthy relationship with food and their body.
The moment you began to explore the idea of passing down a different story to your children, the legacy of food and body suffering began to crumble.
You’re already changing the body love narrative.
Your child has been given a unique gift having YOU as their parent. The moment you began to explore the idea of passing down a different story to your children, the legacy of food and body suffering began to crumble. How lucky are they to have a parent who has decided they want to send a message of body love, acceptance and joy with food – even if it isn’t perfect. We can’t keep our children from feeling pain but we can create a safe, accepting place for our children to return to when the world tells them their bodies are not ok. We can also fight like hell against the culture but that’s for another blog. I believe that’s exactly what it looks like to end the diet culture legacy. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just have to be present, willing to make mistakes (and own them), be open to exploring your own food and body healing journey and be ready to throw a whole lotta self-compassion and grace at yourself along the way.
Interested in exploring your own food and body stuff? Check out my free mini-course, Intuitive Eating Starter Series for Moms.
AUTHOR: Lindsay Stenovec, MS, RD, CEDRD-S, CLEC
Lindsay is the owner of Nutrition Instincts® San Diego Nutrition Therapy and the founder of the Intuitive Eating Moms Club. She is a mother, speaker, educator, podcast host, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and an Iaedp approved supervisor. Lindsay is the host of The Embodied and Well Moms Show and speaks regularly on the topics of intuitive eating, eating disorders during pregnancy and postpartum, and child feeding.