It's been my experience that when you come through something difficult, you either build your life around getting over it (by talking about it, writing about it, learning about it, etc.) or you shut it away in a box and pretend it doesn't exist.
For me, I think I sort of divvy up those two things. I talk pretty openly about my issues with eating disorders, but when it comes to my own kids, I think I've put that part of my life away in a box.
I think part of it is that I don't have the answers of how to overcome an eating disorder. I think the mental illness aspect of it didn't have such a grasp on me, and I think (as cliche as it sounds) that God just kind of brought me out of it. Like Jonah getting spit out of the whale's mouth.
But I now have a daughter heading into fifth grade.
Did I just write that? How did that happen? And fifth grade was one of those years for me. Isn't it like that for most girls? Their bodies start to change and they aren't sure how to keep up with it?
I started to notice Sophia developing a few of the same bad habits I did when I was her age, and I had every intention of ignoring it. I thought if I didn't address it, if I never said anything negative about her eating out of boredom or not being active, then she'd be more secure in herself. She'd be more confident. She wouldn't tie all of her self worth into the way she looks.
Because those things are really important.
It's important that she understands her self worth has nothing to do with how she looks or what she does. That's important to me. Because I'm 35 and I'm still learning it.
But how do you teach that to a child?
This weekend, when she and I were singing the Dixie Chicks and painting Ethan's room, she asked me for a snack (again) when I knew she couldn't possibly be hungry. And it dawned on me that I can't ignore this behavior away. She'll never understand how this all works unless I give her to tools to do so.
I kept all of the focus OFF her appearance, and I told her the way I used to eat when I was her age. I gave her personal examples of what I did that I now know was wrong... At that time, there hadn't been a "fitness craze." There was no bottled water. We drank soda and ate junk food. And no one thought twice about it. There weren't studies about childhood obesity.
We didn't have the information...and we suffered for it.
But now, I have the information, and I was holding onto it. I knew I couldn't do that anymore. I told her I noticed sometimes she does what I used to do--eats when she's not hungry. She eats because she's bored. And I said "Sophia, that's dangerous because pretty soon, you'll wanna eat when you're happy or sad or frustrated or depressed. You'll eat because of your feelings, and not because your body needs fuel."
Because that's all food is, isn't it? Fuel to make our bodies go. I explained that food needs to have the right things in it in order to be effective in giving us energy. This was all stuff we didn't know when I was her age.
How could I deny her this information now? It could help so much. If I can save her from going down the same road I went down, you better believe I'm going to do that.
I told her about some of the things that trigger eating when you're really not hungry:
- Feeling like you have to "clean your plate." (I never make my kids do this--I save the food for later and reheat it if necessary.)
- Eating because it's "time to eat." Who decided you're going to be hungry at noon? And then again at 5:30?
- Seeing a treat and thinking you have to eat it right now otherwise you won't get any. (I made Sophia a promise that I'd put treats away for her to eat when she's actually hungry.)
And then we talked about the difference between "hungry," "satisfied" and "stuffed to the gills."
I never, ever meant to talk to Sophia about this. I was content to let this thing play out and ignore her into not having my issues, but I realize now, after having the talk, that denying a child knowledge is no way to handle a problem. It's my job to educate her, to equip her, and to help her learn from my mistakes.
These "hard talks" are getting more personal and more important...and I'm so glad we're having them now instead of when it's too late.
I guess this is the part of "seeing yourself in your kids" that I sort of dread... but instead of running away from it, I guess it's time to face it all head on.
It's just too important to ignore...