There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good
She was very, very good
And when she was bad, she was horrid
The above nursery rhyme, from what was initially a poem, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, feels similar to an eating disorder for me.
If you’re ‘good,’ you’re amazing. If you’re starving or purging or over-exercising, you’re fabulous. If you’re horrid, or bad it’s because you’re eating, eating anything, even drinking just water.
This is what I hear from my clients. What I learn from their experiences. What they live when they are entrenched. This is why in every initial session with a client I suggest we don’t use these four words around food or our bodies – good, bad, sorry, should.
A long time ago I got on a scale. This is when I was about 14 years old and as a skinny, gangly young teenager weighed exactly 100 pounds. I remember standing on the scale, in my parent’s bedroom, in the morning before school.
My mom weighed herself every day. At least this is what I remember. She looked at me that morning – she was still lying in bed – and asked me my weight. When I told her ‘100 pounds,’ her response was, ‘You should always try to stay under 100 pounds, Robyn. Men like thin women.’
At the age of 14 I was not that interested in men. Boys, yes, but even so not very much at that time. I was planning to study abroad and was heavily involved with my friends, school, church, and family. That comment stuck with me though.
Everywhere it seemed the women I knew were infatuated with their weight. Not so much my friends, rather the adult women around me. I also remember my mom saying things like ‘I shouldn’t eat this I should just tape it to my thighs.’ So many comments about weight gained in 3 pregnancies and never lost. And then there was ‘I’m just going to eat what Robyn eats because she’s skinny.’
When you’re young, these comments stick with you. In fact, there is research to suggest that even infants are learning their parents’ body language and attitudes toward food at this very young age. Other research suggests this all begins in utero which makes total sense.
Hearing, listening, wondering, observing, and even learning (not positively) these thoughts and behaviors around food, weight, and bodies was definitely what drew me to my career. Even as a young teen I knew there absolutely had to be a better way to feel about your body. To think and relate to food. What did the scale matter anyway? But it did. For a long while.
It was not until I got to college and upper division nutrition classes that I really began to understand how to position my own nutrition choices and body image around facts. Around science.
I literally decided the infatuation around food and weight and negative body image was not going to be my life. But it took years and hard work. Others around me struggled with eating disorders or disordered eating. A college friend passed away, losing her battle with her eating disorder, shortly after graduation.
We do our best as parents. Every single day – even every single hour or moment for that matter. But we are based on our past and present environments and certainly genes. Eating disorders are genetically related. The science is impassable in this regard. I don’t think my mom knew her comments or thoughts about herself and her relationships with food, her body, and her weight were sitting in my heart. In fact, I know she didn’t. It took a lot of undoing though. And I think I am lucky.
Society and the media are just now starting to really accept bodies that come in different shapes and sizes. We have a long way to go. Thank goodness for Lady Gaga and her Superbowl performance. Kudos to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. And to Athleta for including bodies of every size in their monthly catalogues and on their website.
When every day can seem harder or every meal can seem like a mountain to climb, don’t give up. Don’t let that boy, girl, friend, mom, dad, sister, brother, parent, or anyone else give up either. There IS way more than the scale.
Eating and food can be enjoyable – fun, even. A certain weight to be loved is NOT positive self-esteem. Just my 2 cents and part of my journey for #EDAW2017. Here’s to the Recovery Warriors who know themselves or not.
Resources for eating disorders awareness week: