With my Houston clients who are coming in to deal with disordered eating, I always do a body image and weight history. This helps us get to the root of what may have caused their disorder. When I asked one of my anorexic clients, Claire, about her earliest memories of her body, she recalls being 10 years old when her mom took her to a weight loss clinic. Claire's mom wanted to lose weight, and felt that Claire could stand to lose a few pounds as well. So, they both went on diets.
Claire commented that this is the first time she realized something was wrong with her body, and that her mom would be happier if she was thin. For her, being thin meant being beautiful, and being accepted. Claire became hyper health conscious. Nine years later, she is at a point in her life where she feels guilty if she even eats something like fruit, because "it has too much sugar." She thinks about food, exercise, and weight obsessively. People who know her would probably describe her as healthy and fit, but the truth is, she is struggling with a debilitating eating disorder.
The really sad thing about Claire's story is that I am sure her mom meant well. She probably felt she was helping her daughter be healthy. But there was something in Claire's perfectionistic personality that made her gravitate towards being extreme about health.
This may sound like a cautionary tale about mistakes parents make, but I really want to focus less on blaming and more on how you can be proactive with your kids to help them develop a healthy relationship with food.
One of the foremost experts on eating and feeding children is Ellyn Satter. Satter is a registered dietitian and family therapist. Her guidelines for feeding children are a great place to start. When it comes to feeding your kids, Satter feels that children should choose how much and whether they eat, whereas parents should choose what, when and where they eat. Kids are very intuitive eaters if we allow them to be.
The other thing to remember is that kids are still growing. It may seem like your child is eating so little they might starve or so much they might become obese, but their bodies are changing all the time, and it is important to let them grow into the bodies they are meant to have. Making a big issue about your child's weight, or letting others make a big issue of it, can sometimes lead to kids who don't feel worthy both physically and intellectually. If you are genuinely concerned about their weight, you may want to talk to their pediatrician privately about it. For more specific tips on how to help your kids with food, check out Ellyn Satter's website.
Parenting is incredibly hard work. It is normal for good parents to ruminate or even feel guilty about their parenting choices. Am I doing the right thing? Am I going to screw up my kid? Please, God, help me not mess this poor child up. No parent can make perfect choices all the time. Instead of dwelling on parenting guilt, reminder yourself that the guilt shows you care deeply about your child. Hopefully this will help you give yourself some grace about your choices, and start focusing on your goals for how you want to parent your child going forward.
If you would like some direction with parenting, or to discuss the stresses that come with parenting, counseling can help. Contact our Houston counselors today to find out how counseling can help you.